Slayer’s Debut “Show No Mercy” Turns 40

Slayer is so monolithic in the heavy metal world that it’s nearly impossible for contemporary audiences to imagine them in their infancy, as a bunch of guys learning to play music and deciding who they want to be. In the 40 years since their debut, Show No Mercy (released on December 3, 1983), they became arguably the biggest metal band on the planet, rivaling juggernauts like Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden, if not quite equaling them in crowd sizes or album sales. For decades, one of the formative experiences for any metal fan was acceptance into the metal tribe through a violent Slayer pit. Reign In Blood sits at or near the top of any “best of” metal album list. Slayer’s roughly decade-long run from Hell Awaits until Seasons In the Abyss is untouchable. In the words of MCU baddie Thanos, Slayer is inevitable.

Show No Mercy (one of Metal Blade’s releases) was one of the first extreme metal albums I heard, not long after Venom’s Black Metal and Welcome To Hell. Show No Mercy and the Live Undead EP were on a perpetual loop on my second-generation Sony Walkman as I rode the bus every morning to another likely shitty day in middle school. This angry and defiant music formed the soundtrack of my early teenage years, both a lifeline and a door to a different path. Show No Mercy immediately takes me back to what it felt like to be young, confused, and sometimes alone. This album is consequential because it helped me work through those feelings.

In 2024, it’s hard to believe that the inevitability known as Slayer started with Show No Mercy, their vicious, imperfect debut. It’s far from a bad album – it’s an early thrash classic – but it is best viewed as a teaser for what would come. Show No Mercy is an act of becoming and self-discovery, the infancy of something that will become truly special. The album has all of Slayer’s integral parts: Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King’s twin leads, Tom Araya’s shrieks, and Dave Lombardo’s best-of-class drumming. It also has some now canonical Slayer songs; “Black Magic,” “The Antichrist,” and “Evil Has No Boundaries.” Slayer was one of the first metal bands to love and understand punk and hardcore and combine those sounds and energy into metal. Slayer was the proto-crossover band in many ways, edging out bands like Corrosion Of Conformity or Stormtroopers Of Death.

Show No Mercy also has some unnecessary baggage. While Slayer always reviled religion and authority and courted the dark side, the Satanic shtick never worked. The massive spiked armed bands were also a distraction. Strangely, a band that would become peerless relied on their peers for their early look and lyrics. Slayer’s formative look and aesthetics are perhaps the only time they followed rather than led in their career.

Nonetheless, Slayer’s anger and delivery and that foreboding sense of destiny – not to mention their budding virtuosity – made Show No Mercy feel truly special, even if many of the reviews were lukewarm. The music had an ominous drive and presence, even if the execution needed refining. The question anyone who heard Show No Mercy in the early 80s asked was: “I wonder where this goes next.”

Slayer went on to write some of the best metal music ever. The first notes of “Hell Awaits” made parts of Show No Mercy seem almost quaint. By the time Slayer released Reign in Blood in 1986, they owned the heavy metal genre. There weren’t any bands that could touch them, and there weren’t many audiences that would tolerate bands that played before them. Slayer was the metal alpha until somewhere in the mid-90s, a fallow decade owned by a motley coalition including American death metal, Norwegian black metal, and even nu-metal bands.

Slayer established their blueprint with Show No Mercy 40 years ago. Listening to it today, it’s clear that this album (made with money from Araya’s respiratory therapy work and a loan from King’s father) would lead to something special. There was once a metal world without Slayer, as hard as that is to imagine. That world changed forever with this album. Show No Mercy is a giant’s first loud footstep. Are you afraid of the night?

Metal Blade is releasing two versions of Show No Mercy to celebrate the 40th anniversary. The vinyl package includes the story of Show No Mercy written by Decibel’s J. Bennett.