It seems impossible, but at the beginning of 2018, Slayer announced they would be embarking on their farewell tour. They had released what now appears to be their final studio album, Repentless, in 2015, after a tumultuous period that saw not only the second departure of their founding drummer, Dave Lombardo, but also the tragic passing of their founding guitarist and central songwriting figure, Jeff Hanneman.
It’s been almost 40 years since Slayer first emerged onto the scene, lasting a hell of a lot longer than any band of scraggly avant-garde punk and metal enthusiasts really could have expected. In that time, their sound, a mixture of the theatrical Satanic prog-flecked heavy metal of Mercyful Fate and Judas Priest, the stiff-armed thrash of Metallica, and a heavy dose of straight-up hardcore punk, managed to crest far beyond the shores of the underground, seeing them partnered with Rick Rubin as they set out to become one of the most legendary and influential metal bands of all time.
Like any band of consummate age and productivity, narratives have formed around Slayer’s albums, and especially in the light of the closure of the band’s studio work, it’s a fine time to reevaluate the material on its own merits. After all, we now apparently have the complete set and can view records not merely as better or worse than the holiest of thrash holies but also determine how each fits within the arc of the band’s career as a whole. Slayer demand this kind of respect from the world of metal; for decades of work, for near-endless influence on bands large and small, and for some truly exceptional heavy metal albums, including a couple that easily rank among the greatest of all time.