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Thirty-Five Years Later: Slayer – Show No Mercy

If you’re ready to blast your way through the boundaries of Hell and practice some black magic, your portal is here and awaiting your arrival. I say this because the best way to get there is through Slayer’s groundbreaking, one-of-a-kind debut record Show No Mercy. More importantly, this album is now celebrating its thirty-fifth anniversary, and with the band on their final tour, it’s a bit emotional to look back on the first release. Amazingly enough, when I saw them, they actually did “Black Magic” live, which was quite impressive for their older age. It’s even more impressive when you consider how much this displayed their youth and the amount of “angry guys in their twenties” that comes though.

That’s a great thing in this case because that’s what helped it stand out so much. A year prior, Slayer were making music along the lines of their heroes Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, but once Metallica dropped Kill ‘Em All (another one-of-a-kind record), they decided to top it with something even heavier; boy did they deliver! I’ve always considered Show No Mercy to be like the evil backside of Kill ‘Em All. As far as I know, there aren’t early demos to be found in circulation, so the band wound up dumping all of their eggs into a full length from the start. With borrowed money from Kerry King’s father, along with some money Tom Araya had made with his previous job as a respiratory therapist, they were able to pull together and make a solid album with shoddy production. This shoddy production wound up being one of the key ingredients to making it so great.

At the time of this release, thrash metal was beginning to boil up, along with NWOBHM breaking through, and glam metal beginning its rise as well. With such a large amount of contrasting heavy metal piling up at the same time, it was sure to burst and boil over soon. If Metallica’s debut was the bubbles hitting the lid of the pot, Show No Mercy was the overflow, and to me, this record is Slayer’s response to all of it. You won’t find any glam in this (however, Slayer did cover some Motley Crue songs in their young days – check it out here), but the heavy metal and other early thrashers pretty much built the foundation for this. Fast picked guitars make the base ingredient for almost every track, and it still doesn’t get stagnant for a second. “Black Magic” is the most popular tune, riding in on messy speed only to introduce steadier rhythms into the equation and tie it all together with Dave Lombardo’s relentless drumming. The vocals in this are beyond hellish, and the high pitched screams project perfectly from the lower vocal outbursts, produced with a bit of an echo.

“The Antichrist” and album opener “Evil Has No Boundaries” are my other two favorite tracks, as they lay down the rhythm layers better than ever. Hell, even the solos in this album didn’t have that sloppy nature that would soon become normal for the band. The way that Jeff Hannemen and Kerry King take turns with the lead guitar position also gives this advanced musical writing. “Metal Storm / Face The Slayer” and “Die By The Sword” bring in a bit more melody, and allow the NWOBHM influence to show its colors, as the entire song isn’t engulfed by thrash riff after thrash riff. The track that truly reveals this the most, however, is “Crionics.” If there’s one song that stands apart the most, this one is it. Basically, it sounds like it could have come right off of an Iron Maiden LP, just made a bit more intense. Tom Araya’s vocals come closer to clean singing here than anything else on the record. The way you go from this into the furious title track led by Dave Lombardo’s insane drum intro is absolutely beautiful.

“Tormentor,” “The Final Command,” and “Fight To Death” are where the insane, hate-fueled thrashers meet the more melodic tracks. Tom gets to shine a bit more on this, as his voice is no a solid mixture of fast and clean, enough to understand clearly. The suspense and buildups on this album don’t hesitate at all, and are established best on the longer intro of “Metal Storm / Face The Slayer.” Overall, the entire record gives such an uneasy feeling in the greatest way, as it makes you want to thrash all around with a dark and evil energy underneath. The fact that music like this was made with hook after hook is incredible. Every riff is memorable, and the entire thing is extremely consistent and well crafted without getting repetitive for a second. If Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing’s famous dual guitar formulas didn’t do it for you, these ones should.

Wow, do I really need to address how well this holds up? If it isn’t quite obvious that every Slayer album up to and including Seasons In The Abyss had a massive impact on the scene, then you may have been living under a rock. Of course, none of the other Slayer albums sound like this one, even though some may have been received better. Mercyful Fate’s debut definitely did a number for us, but Show No Mercy gave birth to the really extreme influences, helping start death metal, and boiling up ideas for the messy and frantic thrash movement that was being cooked up over in Germany.

The late Jeff Hannemen in the early Slayer days

Show No Mercy is still, thirty-five years later, praised by thrash metal fans all around the globe. I don’t think I’ve yet heard anybody tell me that this album sucks or have heard any kind of negative thoughts towards it. Everything that thrash metal is and was is encompassed here, and it was an album that needed to happen. Metallica had the aggression, speed, and attitude. Venom had the harsh overlay. Mercyful Fate (as well as Venom) had the Satanic imagery, all within the same year. At the end of the year, Show No Mercy was the end result. This was what needed to happen, and Slayer responded to all of this perfectly.

This album is attainable in every format, easy enough to come across, save for original vinyl. There are plenty of re-pressings to go around, but an original copy of this is very rare, and I was lucky enough to stumble across one at a music expo a few months ago. If you haven’t heard this yet, then get your ass to it. If you’re a long time fan like myself, get your ass to it again.

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