I have always embraced each Slayer release, including the much-maligned Diabolus in Musica. What I have always loved about Slayer, and thrash in general, is the way that punk was integrated into metal, despite the fact that the respective scenes' fans were in often opposition to each other. One of the most brutal pits I've ever experienced was at the Channel in Boston when Motörhead and the Cro-Mags toured together — skins and metalheads essentially beating each other up with the soundtrack being provided by two legendary punk-metal-hardcore bands in their prime. It wasn't until D.R.I., Corrosion of Conformity and Suicidal Tendencies opened the door with "crossover" that metalheads and punks were able to unify. For kids like me who loved Black Flag and Mercyful Fate, Slayer were THE band. They had the speed, intensity and darkness of early hardcore punk; add to that, they had songs about Satan, evil, serial killers, hate, Nazi atrocities, anti-religion and nuclear war. They seemed more "real" to me, as opposed to Iron Maiden and Judas Priest — great bands, but groups that maintained a distance from their audience, and just weren't genuinely scary and anti–status quo in the same way. You would never be able to enjoy Slayer with your parents back in the late Eighties and early Nineties because they stood in opposition to the very fabric of society.
Hardcore punk once stood in opposition to the fabric of society, too. Take as prime example Black Flag, who seemed to be at odds with the LAPD for their entire career, and were one of the prime architects of change inside the heads of young people during the Eighties. Black Flag's Chuck Dukowski broke down the reason why the cops were trying to shut them down in a talk show interview curated online by BlankTV: "They're scared. We represent change," he said. "Change scares anyone that is part of existing structures like families, your job … the status quo."
But by the time mainstream culture caught on with it's corporate-sponsored events like Warped Tour, what the general populations perceived as punk was a shadow of its former glory. Sure, there still were bands like His Hero Is Gone, Poison Idea and Rorschach that were making crucial music that falls under the catch-all term "hardcore punk," but they weren't on the radar of the mainstream. There, it lost its intensity and became just another style of hair dye for sale in the numerous "alternative" lifestyle shops dotting America.
With the 1994 release of Green Day's major-label debut Dookie and the Offspring's Smash, it seemed like the plot had been lost, that someone dropped the ball along the way. Oxymoronically, these records created a version of "punk rock" that you could play for your parents and in the mall. It wasn't music for riot and rebellion. I always thought both bands were kind of silly. Of course, Green Day were no posers — prior to their major label career, they had paid their dues as true D.I.Y. warriors — but this didn't change the fact that, as far as I was concerned, Dookie was pure dookie.
Well, Kerry King didn't like any of this one bit, either. He went on Metal Hammer's Spotify series in 2016 stating, "Everyone called them punk bands and me and Jeff were, 'This isn't punk, guys.'" But King and Hanneman's most strident statement of that opinion came on May 28th, 1996, in the form of Undisputed Attitude, a record consisting mostly of hardcore punk covers (the exceptions being "Gemini," a dirgy Slayer original, and the two songs by Hanneman's side project Pap Smear). In King's words: "We did Undisputed Attitude in 1996 in rebellion to Green Day and the Offspring."
I was with Kerry regarding his analysis of the bands that were being passed off as "punk," and when Undisputed Attitude came out, I was all in. How could you go wrong? The track selection was cool: classics by Minor Threat, TSOL, the Stooges, Verbal Abuse and others. There was something powerful about hearing those songs executed with Slayer's lethal precision. It was a confirmation that punk was darker than what was being sold to the masses. Make no mistake about it, Slayer were not an underground band. Reign in Blood, Seasons in the Abyss and South of Heaven were all gold records, and it's likely that by 1996 Slayer were completely detached from the underground. Their commentary on the mealy state of punk music was aimed at the mainstream brand of punk.
Some of the standout moments on the record are the Minor Threat covers of "Filler/I Don't Want to Hear It" and possibly their most misunderstood song, "Guilty of Being White." Naturally, Slayer gleefully courted controversy by modifying the lyrics of "Guilty of Being White" to proclaim "guilty of being right," which in one fell swoop changed the song from having an anti-racist sentiment to having what could be read as a white supremacist message. In an interview with Steven Blush for his book American Hardcore, Ian MacKaye, who penned the original lyrics to the song, declared that the Slayer cover was offensive to him — but offending people has always been a core part of Slayer's modus operandi. In an audio interview with toaszted.com, King stated that the song was performed in the spirit of "tongue in cheek" humor, and as any fan knows, the ultimate irony is that Tom Araya, the guy who delivered the revised line, is a person of color, being of Chilean descent.
Undisputed Attitude is rife with other notable tracks, such as "Abolish Government/Superficial Love" by T.S.O.L. and "Spiritual Law" by D.I. Overall, the quality of the songwriting is to be acknowledged first and foremost — the original tunes slay in their own right. But, with the addition of Slayer's intense precision, psycho-killer guitar solos and the tangibly evil vibes and taboo-defying subversiveness that they bring, any of the cuts on Undisputed Attitude easily pulverize the best that Green Day, the Offspring or any of the other "punk" bands of that era would offer.
Most critics dismissed Undisputed Attitude when it was released, but Slayer didn't build a decades-spanning career by abiding critical opinion. From the beginning, they have been a unique band cutting their own path through popular culture, forcing us to face our darkest fears and accosting the monotonous, grinding, unremarkable wheel of normality. This was the original intent of hardcore punk, too, and on Undisputed Attitude, Slayer put on exclamation point on that message of rebellion.