by MythofRock

40+1 years after its release, we embark on a journey through the hallowed halls of Slayer’s debut opus, “Show No Mercy”. With every blistering riff and venomous lyric, we pay homage to the unholy group of Kerry King, Jeff Hanneman, Tom Araya and Dave Lombardo, whose collective prowess forged a sonic crucible from which emerged the quintessential embodiment of metal’s darkest desires.

by Alex Nikolaidis

Before “Reign In Blood”, there was “Hell Awaits”… and before “Hell Awaits”, there was “Show No Mercy”…

In the early 80s, for teenagers from Huntington Park, California, guitarists Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman, drummer Dave Lombardo and bassist/vocalist Tom Araya, decided to scare people. They formed one of the biggest thrash bands ever; a band that -among few others- defined the genre. Slayer’s magnitude is vast; you cannot perceive the term “thrash” without reserving a prominent place for the moniker of four swords that form an unfinished pentagram and the right-leaning fonts, within a yellow circle (a Lombardo’s concept).

Initially, they were playing cover songs of other bands, mainly Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest and Venom. No one suspected that they would contribute to the change of music. What should people expect from a tribute band of some friends, who were playing at parties and local clubs in Southern California? They were just a bunch of teenagers, who were having fun…

One night, they drew Brian Slagel’s attention, founder of Metal Blade Records. Initially, they agreed to record an original song, “Aggressive Perfector”, for a compilation album of the newly founded label, which opened the way for a recording contract… and the rest is history…. During times of financial constraint for the label and the band, Slayer entered the studio in November 1983 and unleashed their fierce instinct. The recording process was rather short (three weeks only), and “Show No Mercy” was released the next month, gaining popularity and recognition for the band.

Although Slayer’s debut was one of the early releases that forewarned people of what thrash was going to be, it had a clear heavy/speed metal feeling, clearly influenced by Venom’s darkness and Iron Maiden’s logic in riffing. Hanneman and King took NWOBHM’s elements and, combining them with the former’s interest in punk, transformed them into something more violent, aggressive, and relentless. The first Slayer’s riffs appeared, which would accompany us ever since in fastest and fiercest editions; and, of course, Araya’s screams and sadistic tone, were perfectly incident to the satanic lyrics inspired by Mercyful Fate’s themes (that was a strong trend back then).

These first Slayer’s ideas were an attractive, punky, speedy thrash, full of dynamism and sadistic coldness, although some details weren’t approached properly by the band, leaving a sense of something “unfinished”. The primitive production, which left some band members unsatisfied, today may seem dated; but, considering the lack of money, it was a fair approach that highlighted the “archaic” character of the songs. “Show No Mercy”, despite the rather “poor treatment” it received in the studio and its immaturity compared to later releases, influenced many speed and thrash metal bands alike. Songs like “Evil Has No Boundaries”, “Antichrist” (its sick, unholy riff still haunts me), “Tormentor”, “Crionics” etc. are simple and daring, yet with multiplying effect in metal. Among the ten tracks, “Black Magic” could mainly be considered the closest point to Slayer’s thrash standards of later years; the way intensity is escalated and the hellish storm that follows, made it an instant hit and a classic song until today (I love Slayer, but I think it was a huge infelicity for them not to start their live shows with this hymn…).

“Show No Mercy” had a cult status that couldn’t withstand the ferocity of the tremendous albums that followed. Soon, people (and Slayer themselves) forgot it, and most of its songs were consumed by Lethe; only “Black Magic” and “Antichrist” survived the passing of time, appearing sometimes in Slayer’s setlists. However, its importance is as undisputed as the spherical shape of the Earth: it was Slayer’s entry to the world of thrash.

Forty years ago, Slayer sounded determined to change the world’s perception about extreme metal, before changing into something else. Their raw, fierce and dark debut signified the start of their legendary, classic era, that lasted till 1990’s “Seasons in the Abyss”; an era which marked extreme music irrevocably, influencing countless bands and making thousands of metal fans worldwide be Slayer’s fans.

“Show No Mercy” was the jagged rim of the cliff where Slayer stood, staring down the depths of the abyss. In “Hell Awaits” they made the bold step forward, enticing us to follow their fall… and in “Reign In Blood” they told us what happens there, at the bottom, where hell might be…

But before the fall, there was the stare…

Some Facts

  • Metal Blade didn’t budget for the album. “Show No Mercy” was self-financed by the band; Slayer used Araya’s savings (he was working as a respiratory therapist these days) and some money that King had borrowed from his father.
  • According to Araya, the recording was taking place at LA’s Track Studios every night, from 11PM to 7 in the morning, because these hours the sound engineer’s fee was much lower!
  • During the tour that followed the release of the album, Slayer didn’t have a proper crew of technicians; the crew consisted of the band’s friends and relatives. That’s what we call a “DIY concert”!
  • Also, there wasn’t a tour manager; Doug Goodman, who knew the band and was working at a grocery store, took some days off and became the band’s “manager”! Today, he tour manages Green Day, among others.
  • Lombardo wasn’t satisfied with the recording of drums. Due to the loud sound, and after the engineer’s suggestion, they dampened the cymbals with towels, and recorded toms and cymbals separately.
  • Parents Music Resource Center sent a letter to Slayer, complaining about the band’s image and lyrics, and requested that they stop releasing records. Of course (and luckily for us), Slayer ignored them!

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