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The 5 Essential SLAYER Albums

These titans of thrash need no introduction and with 12 studio albums over what was an incredible 36 year career to choose from, we had a hard time whittling ’em down to, what we believe to be, Slayer‘s 5 essential albums…

5. Divine Intervention (1994)

While Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax were all pratting around with their sound, trying desperately to maintain the attention of an apathetic audience, Slayer ignored changes in trends completely and, in 1994, released a no holds barred thrash album; no ballads, no groove metal, no rapping, no country music crap….just 100% THRASH!!

Proving to be the bands last truly great album – don’t argue, their releases were undeniably patchy since Divine Intervention‘s release – Kerry King took the lion’s share of the songwriting duties and swapped the accessible nuances of Seasons In The Abyss for ferociously corrosive short-bursts of barely controlled rage.

Re-familarise yourselves with “Sex.Murder.Art” and “Dittohead“, songs that are as rough and ready as they are clinically effective as ample proof that this was one 90’s thrash album that hadn’t even noticed Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains etc quietly stealing their audience. No sir! Slayer didn’t need to worry about changing trends in 1994, they just needed to keep on thrashing; which is exactly what Divine Intervention did!

4. Seasons In The Abyss (1990)

Seasons In The Abyss is the one Slayer album which successfully combined the all-out assault of Reign in Blood with the more considered, ominous grooves of South Of Heaven…. and the result was arguably the most accessible album of Slayer’s illustrious career.

All out thrashers such as “War Ensemble” and “Hallowed Point” cosied up to ‘catchier’ material such as “Blood Red” and “Skeletons Of Society”, while on “Dead Skin Mask” and Seasons In The Abyss‘ epic title-track, Slayer proved they could stretch thrash metal’s boundaries without sacrificing their distinctive macabre sound.

Slayer achieved a deft balancing act on Seasons In The Abyss, with the fantastical, hellish themes of old jostling with our planet’s real life atrocities (War/Urban Gang Violence/Serial Killers) to create an atmosphere with as many peaks and troughs as their many varied riffs.

By the time the 90s rolled round, their peers may have deserted them but Slayer held strong; defiant to the very end!

3. Hell Awaits (1985)

Slayer – Hell Awaits (2016, Vinyl) - Discogs

Slayer‘s Hell Awaits was conceived to shock and awe…..and it worked, perfectly!

In 1985, Hell Awaits was the sound of pure evil filtered through squealing feedback, archaic chanting and progressively technical dark-thrash odes to Satan and his happy home. The ghastly and terrifying title-track remains one of Slayer’s defining moments and while “Necrophiliac” and “Kill Again” foreshadowed Reign In Blood‘s oncoming speed and ferocity, it was the likes of “At Dawn They Sleep” that truly established Slayer as the most mesmerisingly macabre band around.

Featuring what is probably the most progressive and diverse material of their entire career, Hell Awaits may be indicative of a fledging band still finding their way but its overall impact on extreme metal cannot, should not, ever be underestimated – for without Hell Awaits, the evolution of metal in general may have been very different indeed.

Slayer were arguably never this progressively minded again and Hell Awaits has stood the test of time as a cornerstone in thrash metal and extreme metal’s development. Maybe we should have ranked it higher!!

2. Reign In Blood (1986)

Trying to write a ‘fresh’ review of this metal masterpiece would be virtually impossible as everything has already been said – and argued over – time and time again. Suffice to say, 1986 is remembered as the greatest year in thrash primarily because of Reign In Blood.

So, what we will say is this…..

29 frantic minutes, 10 blistering tracks; this virtual peak of thrash perfection was created by a band who epitomised the scene like no other. Dave Lombardo’s aggressive and revolutionary drumming, Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman’s piercing, puncturing riffs and Tom Araya’s growling bass and vocals somehow merging to create an extreme metal benchmark which transcended genre and solidified Slayer‘s position among the thrash elite.

Revolutionary….but not our favourite….

1. South Of Heaven (1988)

This could be divisive…. but hear us out!

Yes, Reign In Blood is/was a monumental thrash metal release. But, South Of Heaven is simply a better album.

Purposefully slowing down and experimenting like never before, South Of Heaven may ‘feel’ like the odd man out when sandwiched between both the genre defining Reign In Blood and the monster that was Seasons In The Abyss, but Slayer arguably perfected their sinister groove on the likes of the title track, while chugging harder than ever on “Behind The Crooked Cross” (with Tom Araya’s singing proving equally as effective as his familiar lion-esque roar) and thrillingly combining the old with the new on “Ghosts Of War”.

The pummelling “Silent Scream” may have reminded the world that this was still the same band who penned the unfathomably ferocious Reign In Blood just two years prior, but South Of Heaven was distinctly the sound of a band becoming stronger, more confident and ready to challenge pre-conceptions at a time when Reign In Blood Part II would surely have been the safer option!

With South Of HeavenSlayer were carving their own path; embracing melody, atmospherics and political/socio lyrics (alongside the horror-show subjects that had built their reputation) to broaden their palette. However, fans weren’t immediately enamoured with this tempered approach and South Of Heaven was initially lambasted for its seemingly unconventional structure. More speed and more aggression was desired but Slayer knew they could not top Reign In Blood (as did the fans if they were true to themselves) and by embracing experimentation they were ensuring their longevity.

As is often the way, once South Of Heaven’s intricacies had ‘grown’ on Slayer’s rabid fanbase, the album took on a new form, eventually being revered for the very changes that had initially caused concern and is now considered one of Slayer’s finest ever moments (and our favourite Slayer album).

South Of Heaven……35 years of a thrash classic that seems to only get better with age! 

Slayer discography:

Show No Mercy (1983) / Hell Awaits (1985) / Reign In Blood (1986) / South Of Heaven (1988) / Seasons In The Abyss (1990) / Divine Intervention (1994) / Undisputed Attitude (1996) / Diabolus in Musica (1998) / God Hates Us All (2001) / Christ Illusion (2006) / World Painted Blood (2009) / Repentless (2015)

Also in this Series

The 5 Essential TESTAMENT Albums

The 5 Essential HELLOWEEN Albums

The 5 Essential SAXON Albums

The 5 Essential MEGADETH Albums


The 5 Essential PESTILENCE Albums

The 5 Essential ANTHRAX Albums

About Chris Jennings (1986 Articles)
I love metal. Always have. Always will. As editor of Worship Metal - a site dedicated to being as positive about metal and its myriad of sub-genres as possible - my aim is to 'worship' metal through honest reviews, current news and a wide variety of features; offering the same exposure to underground bands as we do to mainstream/well known acts. Our mantra; the bands are partners and we exist to serve the bands \m/

5 Comments on The 5 Essential SLAYER Albums

  1. Are you guys really Slayer fans though? Or just journalist posing as Slayer fans just to get a read? The reason I ask is because you said the name of there final album was “Relentless” when every real fan of the Slayer knows its real name is “Repentless”…

    • Chris Jennings // December 7, 2023 at 7:15 pm // Reply

      Cheeky fucker! Of course we’re Slayer fans!! Jesus, one typo and your credentials are immediately up for debate. Cunt.

  2. Steve'sStump // December 10, 2023 at 2:23 am // Reply

    I love “South of Heaven”, but I think is probably 4. And “God Hates Us All” was the last great Slayer album. But a solid, inoffensive list.

  3. Yep. Right on the money. I’d throw the Haunting The Chapel EP in there as well for good measure.

  4. James Denner // December 11, 2023 at 2:31 am // Reply

    I’ve never been more wrong about an album. South IS a KILLER album, I discarded it when it came out. Hell Awaits is 1 for me, and Undisputed Attitude is, without a doubt, in the top 5

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