We roll on with our series of revisiting and ranking the back catalogues of some of our favorite metal acts. Last summer The Candyman and I ranked every Iron Maiden album, only to find that we drastically differed on some and were in lock step on others. A couple months ago we tackled the studio output from death metal legends Bolt Thrower, where despite some minor differences in our lists we both agreed their catalogue is pretty flawless. It’s time now to tackle one of heavy metal’s most iconic acts – SLAYER. (And yes, you have to yell it when you say it.)
Let’s get to it, but one piece of housekeeping first. As always we are only ranking full-length studio albums. EPs and live records have their place for sure, just not on these lists. However, after much mulling we did decide to include Slayer’s punk covers album. (For the record, yes, I would have rated Haunting The Chapel and Live Undead much higher than most of the band’s full length albums.)
12. Diabolus In Musica
As we saw last year, even metal titans like Iron Maiden can have an album or two that are huge missteps. For Slayer, this was the hugest of them all. This record came out in 1998, at a time when the mainstream press was fully buying into nu-metal and “alternative metal” (not an actual thing). Slayer being Slayer, they could have come out and just blown every popular trend back into the toilet it crawled out of. Instead it sure sounds to me like they decided to try and ride that poop train in order to maintain some mainstream relevance. Whoops. We highly recommend just avoiding this record altogether.
Candyman Ranking: Diabolus In Musica – No. Just no. I love Slayer so much but this album is really disappointing. Anyone who doesn’t think this record is terrible needs to reflect on their life choices.
11. God Hates Us All
Released in 2001, this album’s biggest claim to fame nineteen years later is that it was released on the same day as the World Trade Center attack. Unfortunately, for me, that was literally the only thing I remembered about this album when it was time to go back and re-listen. It’s the second album in a row where they essentially eschewed their thrash roots for something a little more groove-laden. The results, while not as heinous as the previous album, still fall completely flat. Unless you are the type of collector that needs to own all of the output from a band this one is also best left alone.
Candyman Ranking: God Hates Us All – I’ve seen people rank this is high as the sixth best Slayer record and I’ve heard others call it trash. I tend to agree with the latter. Their attempts at experimentation don’t go over as well as they probably thought they would and I almost ranked this album last.
10. World Painted Blood
To say that the 2000s were Slayer’s roughest decade would not be an understatement, but they finished on a bit of an uptick with 2009’s World Painted Blood. While this album still pales in comparison to their classic material, by the end of the decade they had finally traded in their ill-advised attempts to distance themselves from thrash metal and created an album that at least partially hearkens back to what made Slayer fans fall in love with them in the first place. My only complaint is that there isn’t a single stand out track on this album that could carry the rest of the record. Every song seems to run into each other and just like when I first heard it over a decade ago, I found myself ready to put something else on by the end of it.
Candyman Ranking: Undisputed Attitude – I don’t dislike this record at all. There are some really well-done covers here but that being said it feels unfair to rank a covers record any higher than this based on the strength of their remaining albums.
9. Christ Illusion
It was a total toss-up for me as to where to place this album and World Painted Blood, but in the end I decided to show a little extra love to 2006’s Christ Illusion because it was the first album in over fifteen years to feature the original Slayer line-up. The excitement within the metal community at the time was palpable and the hope was that the band would return to form after a subpar run. While, again, I wouldn’t put this album anywhere near the top of this list, the mere fact that they were at least attempting a return to their thrash roots was refreshing. My sole complaint about this record mirrors that of its follow-up. There isn’t that one track or tracks that could help to elevate this record past a handful of listens without aural complacency setting in.
Candyman Ranking: Christ Illusion – This is an album that many say is a return to form. In many ways they are not wrong. But I have a similar complaint as The Metal Dad in that the songs just seem to run together after awhile, so therefore I couldn’t justify ranking it any higher.
8. Undisputed Attitude
Listen, did any of us ask for or need Slayer to do a punk covers album? No, no we did not, but as someone who grew up listening to a lot of punk rock I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t thoroughly enjoy this record. The members of Slayer also grew up on punk rock and if you couldn’t feel those influences in their earliest releases you simply weren’t paying attention. I can distinctly remember when this album hit in 1996 a large swath of the metal community was clutching their pentagram necklaces because pop punk was getting some love from mainstream press and festivals. The thought was that the timing of this record was Slayer’s way of cashing in on the “punk fad”. I scoffed at this notion then and I still do today. Slayer wasn’t covering Green Day and Blink 182. They were covering underground legends like Verbal Abuse, Minor Threat, and DI, among others. Again, did we need or ask for this record? No. But almost twenty-five years later it’s still a fun album to revisit.
Candyman Ranking: World Painted Blood – Out of all the post-1994 albums this is probably my second favorite. There are some tracks in here I definitely would consider on the borderline of classic. I clearly liked this album more than The Metal Dad did.
7. Divine Intervention
The state of the metal world was in flux in 1994. Grunge and alternative/college rock radio had declared metal “dead” and it seemed like every mainstream metal band was having a collective identity crisis. One of the few constants to weather this initial storm was Slayer. (Which of course made their apparent trend grab at the end of the decade even more of a head-scratcher.) This album is a direct continuation of what they had created on Seasons In The Abyss, and while it’s a vision that is not as perfected, it’s an album that remains a memorable one. It was well worth the front-to-back listen we put into it for this exercise, and the title track is still easily one of the best they recorded in the ’90s.
Candyman Ranking: Repentless – I have mixed feelings about this album, but there are days when I’m totally on board and think it’s the best album they did post-1994. There are definitely a handful of modern classics on this record that make me think of classic ’80s Slayer.
Every time we do this exercise there is an album that I surprise myself with how high (or low) I wind up ranking it. Admittedly, I come into these posts with preconceived notions and it’s always refreshing to hear an album with new ears, so to speak, and put it up against the rest of a band’s discography only to find it’s simply not how I remember it. For Slayer’s catalogue that album also happens to be their last, 2015’s Repentless. While I liked this record upon its release I’m not sure I was ever ready to call it the best Slayer album since the beginning of the 1990s. Yet here I sit doing just that. Perhaps there is some recency bias going on here as I got a chance to see Slayer live twice since the release of this record and the tracks they pulled from it sounded fantastic in the live setting. Whatever the reasoning, when I went back to listen to this record I was surprised by just how many tracks I found myself completely engaged with (and how many riffs stuck with me, unlike most of their recent previous efforts).
Candyman Ranking: Divine Intervention – Up until this point every Slayer album had been perfect in my eyes. So while this album is a slight let down it’s only so because of the high bar that had been set before it. This is a quality album though and worthy of your record collection.
5. Seasons In The Abyss
To me there can be absolutely no disputing how important the first five Slayer full-lengths continue to be to the history of heavy metal and we begin our top five with the final of these albums, 1990s Season In The Abyss. The final album, at the time, with original drummer Dave Lombardo contains some of the band’s most untouchable tracks (and ones they continued to pull out live right until the bitter end), including “War Emsemble”, “Dead Skin Mask”, and the title track. While not as lightning fast as some of its predecessors, Seasons showcased the band’s ability to write atmospheric tracks that could truly haunt the listener. Picture if your favorite slasher film director decided to make a Gothic ghost story as their next picture. The transition might feel clunky at times, but you are probably guaranteed to get something unique and genre-bending. To me this is what Seasons In The Abyss did for thrash metal.
Candyman Ranking: – Seasons In The Abyss – We have entered the part of this list where every album left is untouchable and completely essential. This is a classic album filled with essential Slayer tracks. I love this record enough that I originally had it ranked higher but after some deep contemplation dropped it down slightly, but only because of how amazing the next four records are.
4. South of Heaven
I can’t imagine writing a genre-defining album and then finding yourself back in the studio trying to best it but that’s where Slayer found themselves in 1988. There are those that have defined South of Heaven as the band’s magnum opus. I’ve never been ready to make that designation, but it’s hard to argue with this album’s merits. Slayer was able to take the atmosphere and brutality of their earliest releases and run it through a new sense of technicality in their songwriting. The end result is one of the most memorable albums in metal history. (The opening riff to the title track alone may be the greatest they ever penned.) This one is certainly still worthy of every listen you’re willing to give it.
Candyman Ranking: Show No Mercy – Slayer thrashed their way into the metal world with their debut record. This is an essential album for anyone who considers themselves a metalhead. The only reason I have this album ranked as low as I do is because this album really does precede Slayer finding their classic “sound”.
3. Show No Mercy
I had a real hard time with how I was going to order these next two albums. While I think Hell Awaits has the stronger songwriting, it was extremely difficult to place 1983’s Show No Mercy at third. Upon its release this album helped to define almost all extreme metal that has been birthed since. It gets rightfully lumped in with albums from Venom, Bathory, Celtic Frost, and others to be considered first wave black metal. It absolutely had a hand in the formation of death metal, and it gave thrash metal its teeth and severed it once and for all from its traditional metal roots. There are a handful of debut albums that not only put some of metal’s biggest names on the map, but redefined everything we thought we knew about heavy metal at the time, and this is absolutely one of those records. It’s also the rawest, nastiest Slayer record in their catalogue (and if you’re looking for pristine production you’re looking in the wrong place), which only adds to this album’s legacy. I truly wish I had been old enough to hear this record upon its release in 1983. I can only imagine how mind-blowing, and possibly frightening, that must have been.
Candyman Ranking: Hell Awaits – Slayer returned with an album even stronger than their debut. Slayer managed to take all of the excellence on their first album and somehow expand upon it. It’s a great album through and through and continued to push Slayer into even more brutal territory.
2. Hell Awaits
I think everyone knew before they clicked the link what album would be number one on this list, but honestly no one should be surprised by number two either. Outside of our top album, I think I’ve spent more time over the years listening to 1985’s Hell Awaits than any other Slayer record. Take the raw brutality of their debut and combine it with a new sense of atmosphere and Hell Awaits could potentially go down as their most unnerving album. To me this is what hell would actually sound like to someone who spent Sundays in church and the rest of the week shitting all over the world and people around them. I love everything about this record. I love their newfound sense of technicality, I love the production, I love the songwriting. It’s frankly a near perfect album in my book and one that gets overshadowed a little too much by both its follow-up and its predecessor when discussing Slayer’s legacy.
Candyman Ranking: South of Heaven – After years of Slayer pushing to go faster and more aggressive the band decided to slow things down for this record. But that did nothing to diminish the band’s legacy. This is classic Slayer, full of near perfect songwriting and easily one of the greatest thrash albums of all-time.
1. Reign In Blood
It’s been called the greatest thrash record of all-time and it’s hard to argue that designation. Regardless of whether you think it bests every other thrash record in existence, it was the easy choice for me as Slayer’s greatest album. I’ve spent more time with this record than any other and no matter how many listens I give it never gets old or feels stale in any way. That’s the mark of a truly classic, genre-defining album.
Candyman Ranking: Reign In Blood – Slayer is one of my all-time favorite bands. I’ve spent a lot of time listening to their albums. For me there is no argument. This is indeed the greatest thrash album ever made.