"We started up as a band," Araya explains, "and within a few years we got an offer to do a song for the Metal Massacre series [a compilation series of unsigned metal bands put together by Metal Blade Records founder Brian Slagel that also included first recordings by Metallica and Ratt]. So we got the previous Metal Massacre album, and decided to write a song better than what we heard. We knew we could do something better, we wanted to out-do the other guys. So we went ahead and did that."
The resulting tune was, appropriately, titled "Aggressive Perfector," and it ushered in an era during which the band ditched the fake blood and histrionic shock of their formative days in favor of head-down assault. Or, as Araya says, "We started out with devils and demons, but we evolved to focus instead on the true devils and demons of society." Which explains why the band ditched the D&D-esque vibe of early records like Hell Awaits and Show No Mercy in favor of a scorched-earth vivisection of society's bleakest moments, often pairing their musical blitzkrieg rush with a lyrical preoccupation with war's atrocities. Songs like "Mandatory Suicide" (from 1988's South of Heaven) and "War Ensemble" (from 1990's Seasons in the Abyss) combined a musical gut punch with lyrical odes to the senselessness of conflict that, to many, signified that Slayer were a band of their times, commenting on the brutality of the pugilistic Reagan/Bush years.
Luckily for Slayer, the war-torn 1980s and the conflict-filled '90s didn't lead to a peace-filled utopian period of bliss in the 21st century, meaning that their chronicling of society's decrepitude never went out of fashion even as the band entered their second and third decade of existence. This was made especially clear when their ninth studio album, a tough ode to the dangers of America's hypocrisy regarding both religious fundamentalism and foreign policy, God Hates Us All, dropped on September 11, 2001. "That spoke volumes to me," says Araya. "You know, you can be like 'Show me a sign!' to the heavens, and then that record came out on that day, and it was like 'Well, there's your sign!' "
Then again, given the band's proclivity for don't-give-a-fuck statements, it's maybe surprising that this sort of thrash serendipity doesn't happen more often. "We don't have a message, or set out to do anything like that. We might have opinions, but that's about it. We're not trying to sell anybody anything." The band's legacy rests on some of metal's finest riffs and compositions, as brutal breakdowns and squalling screaming solos flit about in seamlessly arranged warhorses that are captivating and overwhelming. But the band has always aimed to shock, especially with the numerous from-the-perspective-of-a-serial-killer investigations of evil that pepper every album from their earliest days to their latest long-player, 2009's World Painted Blood. Not having a message has allowed the band to drape itself in whatever atrocity happens to fit its howling musical fury, whether its Satanic nihilism ("Raining Blood," "Spirit in Black," etc.) or the vicarious thrill of messy bloodlust (too many examples to mention).