SLAYER albums ranked: From worst to best | Revolver

SLAYER albums ranked: From worst to best

A critical look back at the thrash pioneers' imposing catalog
slayer_0372.jpg, Travis Shinn
photograph by Travis Shinn

What, do you they really need an introduction? They're motherfucking Slayer. The thrash legends are no more as of their 2019 retirement (much to one member's chagrin), but their discography lives on forever. Sure, there were some peaks and valleys across their 12 studio full-lengths, but how many metal bands can claim at least five (some would argue seven, others would even claim the full dozen) certified masterpieces? Not many.

Below are all of Slayer's albums ranked, from worst to best.

12. Undisputed Attitude

Pissed at the rise of pop-punk bands like Green Day and the Offspring, Slayer aimed to remind folks what real punk rock is all about with this rip-roaring covers album. The thrash titans courted controversy tweaking Minor Threat lyrics and capped the whole thing with two ripping Jeff Hanneman originals, but Undisputed Attitude is still undisputedly the least essential entry in the Slaytanic catalog.

11. Christ Illusion

2006's Christ Illusion had the makings of a monumental album: the Big 4 thrashers' first with OG drummer Dave Lombardo in 16 years and their first with cover art by Larry Carroll since their defining Reign/South/Seasons trilogy. Sadly, it landed with more of "wah wah" than a "SLAAAAYER!!"

There are standouts, of course, like the Grammy-winning "Eyes of the Insane" and the unhinged "Jihad," but coming after the god-tier God Hates Us all, most of the album feels too by-the-numbers, self-conscious and, worst of all, unmemorable.

10. Repentless

Slayer went out with a bang: an almost-two-year farewell tour and this 2015 swan song, which served as a respectable, if not earth-shaking, cap on the band's trailblazing career. Slayer's only album recorded without Hanneman (and with Exodus' Gary Holt), Repentless still bears the late, great guitarist-songwriter's mark, in the form of "Piano Wire," a chilling WWII-themed horror show penned before his 2013 death. It's title track, meanwhile, served as a spirited send-off and summation: "No looking back, no regrets, no apologies."

9. Diabolus in Musica

Its detractor will forever knock Diabolus in Musica as "Slayer's nu-metal album" — but to us here at Revolver HQ, that's ain't such a bad thing. Sepultura's "nu-metal album," Roots, fucking rips, and so does Slayer's.

Sure, it doesn't thrash like Reign in Blood, but songs such as "Stain of Mind" and the almost-Snapcase-ish "Love to Hate" instead bring a compulsive bounce and groove to the band's sound. Diabolus is also a stark rebuke to critics who've scoffed at Slayer for supposedly making the same album over and over. In that context, this shit is positively experimental.

8. World Painted Blood

After the disappointing Christ Illusion, Slayer (mostly) re-calibrated for what would ultimately be their last with Hanneman and Lombardo. Similar in motive to what Metallica offered the year before with Death Magnetic, this was Slayer's return to the thrashy speed of their late-Eighties golden years, foregoing much of the nu- and groove-metal influence that'd seeped into their sound on recent LPs. Songs like the title-track and "Snuff" are fucking awesome throwbacks to classic Slayer, and the record sounds powerful from front to back.

Sadly, it's the trite lyrical themes of "Americon" and "Hate Worldwide," as well as a sagging back-half, that make World Painted Blood — despite its refreshing nod to old-school Slayer — a weaker record than, say, God Hates Us All.

7. Divine Intervention

Divine Intervention is a polarizing album both among Slayer fans and within the band itself. Kerry King was notoriously unhappy with the final mix, and many Lombardo lifers think Paul Bostaph's perfectly suitable drumming makes the record less viscerally intense than the ones that came before it.

Maybe so, but songs like "Dittohead," "Killing Fields" and the title track are some of the heaviest, darkest material in their whole catalog, and there isn't a true dud in the tracklist. Sure, Divine Intervention does sound marginally weaker than its unrivaled predecessors, but it's a way more brutalizing album than the haters give it credit for.

6. Show No Mercy

In retrospect, Show No Mercy is one of Slayer's least Slayer-y albums. On their shoestring-budget debut, the enterprising heshers were still wearing their first-wave-of-black-metal, NWOBHM and hardcore-punk influences on their sleeves, which come through in the Venom-style riffage and when Araya lets out a Halfordian shriek on "The Antichrist."

Still, even Slayer at their most primitive makes for a formidable beast of a sound, like the churning groove in "Die by the Sword" and the mind-blowing soloing on "Fight Till Death." Show No Mercy is an essential document of early thrash, and an unquantifiable influence on the foundation for black metal, death metal, grindcore and more.

5. God Hates Us All

Released on 9/11, Slayer's ninth studio album is the band's last bona fide masterpiece, an utterly ferocious mission re-statement that spoke perfectly — if somewhat intendedly — to the fear, rage and unrest of its moment. "Disciple," with its repeated roar of the album's biting title, is a total classic, but songs like "Threshold" and "Payback" also stand out, capturing Slayer at their most pissed and real. Gone are the Satanic imagery and the other more fanciful or historical elements of past lyrics. This is Slayer surveying the everyday world around them and expressing their all-too-relatable disgust.

4. Hell Awaits

All these years later, the way this album starts — with a transparently satanic, backwards-spoken "join us" chant — still sends tingles up the spine. Slayer's second full-length is when they truly became Slayer, the band with the fearsome screamer, the Luciferian lyrical odes, the body-mangling riffage and the fastest drummer in all the land. Harder and scarier than anything of its time, Hell Awaits is as gleefully speedy, savagely shreddy and lyrically over-the-top as thrash metal's ever been. Amazingly, it's only one of Slayer's hall-of-fame opuses.

3. South of Heaven

After the insanely fast Hell Awaits and the inhumanly fast Reign In Blood, Slayer found themselves in a tough spot. "We're not going to be able to top that whole album," Hanneman told Revolver, recalling the band's mindset when it came time to follow-up their 1986 thrasherpiece. So they did the opposite of what fans expected from Slayer: slowed down the speed, cleaned up the production and let Araya sing instead of hellishly scream.

For all those reasons, South of Heaven was a bit of a grower on Slayer's fanbase, but heshers eventually came to appreciate just how heavy and menacing the band sounded when they sunk into mid-tempo grooves like "Mandatory Suicide" and "Behind the Crooked Cross." Or how wild and uproarious it was to scream along to its damn-near-doomy title track. Or how haunting "Spill the Blood" was, and how foreboding their cover of Judas Priest's "Dissident Aggressor" sounded. Eventually, Slayer fans realized South of Heaven fucking rules.

2. Reign in Blood

Listen, we get it. Some of you are smashing your screens right now after seeing that Reign in Blood isn't reigning at No. 1. For so many reasons, we see where you're coming from. Is Reign in Blood Slayer's fastest, most ferocious album? Yes. Does it have their most savagely grotesque cover art? Yes. Is "Raining Blood" their best song? Yes. Is "Angel of Death" their second best song? Could be!

So yes, of course Reign in Blood rules. The first entry in Slayer's undeniably fucking brilliant trilogy is only paralleled by the greatest albums in metal history (including another one of Slayer's own). The raw aggression they captured will never be topped by any other band. Its influence is staggering. We're never, ever upset to hear it on the stereo. But as a full body of work, is it Slayer's most perfect of several spotless records? We say, respectfully, nay.

1. Seasons in the Abyss

By 1990, death metal was in full swing. Grindcore was going strong. Hardcore was only getting heavier. In other words, straight-up thrash was losing its edge, but Slayer still found a way to make a record that destroyed everything in its path — and still does. At once bigger-sounding and better written than South of Heaven, and heavier, darker and more dynamic than Reign in Blood, Seasons in the Abyss is an absolute monster that captured the band's classic lineup in peak form.

"War Ensemble" and "Dead Skin Mask" are unfuckwithable classics. Hanneman's riffs on "Blood Red," "Spirit in Black" and "Seasons in the Abyss" are jagged enough to cut through the earth. The album's cohesive flow is enthralling. The grisly, reality-based lyrics leave nothing to the imagination. And Araya's vocals strike the perfect balance between devilish and devilishly catchy. It's Slayer's best album. And, on the right day, it's metal's best, too.