10 lesser known Slayer songs that everyone needs to hear
There’s a Slayer song for every occasion. Every bad occasion, anyway. But so often have they written about war, violence, murder, Satan, religious fanaticism, death and gore in all its carrion-flecked horror that it’s easy to lose track. For every big gun like Chemical Warfare (about chemical warfare) Angel Of Death (Nazi war criminals) or War Ensemble (just plain old normal war), there’s at least one other lurking in the shadows.
So, for a band who write quite a lot about deep cuts, when compiling Slayer’s deep cuts there’s a fair bit to choose from. Truly, they were a band who turned documenting the dark side of man into a vocation, and the sheer amount of giblets that wouldn’t be your first choice for a setlist yields some fantastic forgotten gems.
In dissecting their discography in search of lost gems, you’ll note that there’s not a single song here from Reign In Blood. There are many reasons – the band played the whole thing in full numerous times, loads of the songs were in the setlist anyway – but the truth is that as the greatest thrash album ever made, if you don’t know it back to front you’re a poser and have no business here anyway.
So, onward, into the dark, shadowy crevices of Kerry King and co’s output…
The Final Command (Show No Mercy, 1983)
The really, really early stage of thrash that happened just before it properly solidified into its own genre often sounds like NWOBHM records being played at the wrong speed. It’s not quite the game of ‘Spot-the-borrowed-riff’ that Metallica played with Diamond Head and Saxon bits on Kill ’Em All, but this ripper from Show No Mercy is still basically Iron Maiden on fast-forward. Although the classic Slayer crunch might not be quite present yet, this is as feral and unreasonably aggressive as befits the Slayer name…
Crypts Of Eternity (Hell Awaits, 1985)
Again with the Maiden-isms, Crypts Of Eternity it notable not just for the guitar melodies, but also for the way it mostly eases off the speed. Rather than running full-pelt at you (as Slayer had already made their trademark), there’s a bit more of a thumping groove that proves they could wield a sledgehammer just as ferociously as they could a chainsaw. Of course, when it breaks into a sprint around the five-minute mark, it’s the usual Slayer aggro we know and love, but this also showed Slayer were already developing multiple ways to do a murder.
Cleanse The Soul (South Of Heaven, 1988)
Kerry King always says this is the Slayer song he’d put in the bin. “It doesn’t hold up,” he’s told us more than once. True, it’s a bit subs’ bench next to MVPs Angel Of Death or South Of Heaven, but guy’s also talking quite a lot of shit. Good riff, punchy intro bit, banging squealy solo, good tempo. So, we know the foolishness of making this point twice to a man of Kerry King’s size and hardness, but the truth is important: guy’s talking shit. This rules.
Born Of Fire (Seasons In The Abyss, 1990)
Yes, you can pretty much sing the lyrics to Altar Of Sacrifice from Reign In Blood over this and get away with it. No, this forgotten David of a tune was never going to slay the Goliaths with which it shares album space (War Ensemble, Seasons In The Abyss, Dead Skin Mask), but there’s an anger to Born Of Fire that rages hard, even when the band aren’t reaching for the nuclear option.
Circle Of Beliefs (Divine Intervention, 1994)
Other than Dittohead, Divine Intervention as a whole is an oft-overlooked bit of Slayer history. Shame, as this is just one furious example of the damage inflicted within. There’s something about the piercing guitar solo near the end that properly sets your teeth on edge, and Tom Araya’s vocal fury has started to age into something with a more cynical edge that just makes Slayer’s enterprise seem even darker. A whole album to rediscover here.
Can’t Stand You (Undisputed Attitude, 1996)
A big amount of Slayer’s anger and fist-in-the-nuts aggression came from the influence of hardcore and punk. In particular, Jeff Hanneman was a massive fan of bands like Minor Threat, D.R.I. and G.B.H., so much so that he briefly had a hardcore project of his own, the delightfully dubbed Pap Smear (although they never actually released anything). Can’t Stand You is one of two PS tracks featured on the band’s Undisputed Attitude covers album, and it’s absolutely raging. It’s like Slayer with any finesse or cleverness removed, with the focus purely on drywall-punching caveman strength.
Bitter Peace (Diabolus In Musica, 1998)
Siegfried Sassoon didn’t write about war as much as Slayer did. Once again, on this opener to the much-overlooked Diabolus In Musica, man’s oldest way of sorting out its differences takes centre stage, as Tom Araya casts a wry look at the impossibility of peace and how we just really enjoy killing each other. Admittedly, the intro sounds like a lazy jam, but when Tom’s spooky bassline gives way to the frantic main riff and he starts yelling that ‘Mutually assured destruction will occur’ and later instructs to ‘Just slaughter one another’ because we ‘Can’t stop the warring factions’, you realise how much you miss having the shit knocked out of you watching the band live. Ah, memories…
Scrum (Diabolus In Musica, 1998)
Is writing songs about sport metal? And even if it is, is that really any business of Slayer’s? Since Kerry King likened American football to war when talking about Scrum, yes it is. Fortunately, he hasn’t made it into some naff thing like you just know some YouTuber will try for England’s Euro 2021 appearance, and instead talks about it in terms of combat, rivalry, spilt blood, pain, glory, domination of your opponent, ‘ripping flesh’ and ‘spitting teeth’, things which are ‘sacrificed for victory’. Sadly, he doesn’t call the referee a wanker, which is remiss of him.
Addict (God Hates Us All, 2001)
A song about a murderer really enjoying his business is nothing new for Slayer, but there’s something about the woozy grooves of Addict that find them with feet on fresh ground. The dark, slow riffs are almost like Alice In Chains at their nastiest in places, while a read of the lyrics will really make your skin crawl.
Human Strain (World Painted Blood, 2009)
‘Humans are the virus’ chimed clever, edgy people early last year as the pandemic took hold. Yeah, great, but Slayer already said it over a decade ago, poser. Between war, disease, over-consumption and our sheer hubristic stupidity, they reckon here, we’re doomed to be doomed. There’s also a weird, spooky, horror soundtrack bit in the middle here, which is very cool.
Read this next:
Legendary Slayer guitarist Kerry King clearly has some regrets about the thrash titans calling it a day in 2019…
Architects are releasing their 2020 Royal Albert Hall livestream show on vinyl and video-on-demand.