Slayer crawled from a dark and forgotten grave, in late 1981, outside of Huntington Park, CA. Kerry King, who had previously been in a band with Tom Araya, put together this black cult by recruiting Jeff Hanneman and then Dave Lombardo, before bringing Tom into the fold. Within months, Slayer had begun to play small clubs, covering songs by the likes of Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. Into 1983, the band was noticed by Brian Slagel while playing at a club called Woodstock. He had just recently started Metal Blade Records. He asked them to record a song for the upcoming compilation Metal Massacre III. They contributed the song "Aggressive Perfector", which was all Slagel needed to motivate him to sign the band to record a full-length album. Slayer entered the studio in November 1983, thanks to financial assistance from King's father and Tom Araya, himself. Within a few weeks, Show No Mercy was unleashed upon the metal underground.
Just thinking of this album leaves my mind clouded with nostalgia. This classic opened up a whole new world for me, musically speaking. The intense speed-picking that would become the backbone of Thrash Metal was not new to me. However, this was much darker than anything found on Kill 'Em All, for example, which was released just six months earlier. This kills anything released from the NWOBHM bands that inspired them, even the mighty Venom (which I had yet to discover by this point). Listening to Show No Mercy for the first time was like stumbling through the gates of Hell. I had an idea of what it would be like, but nothing could have prepared me for this. Some consider this Speed Metal while others think of it as Thrash Metal. Given the overtly Satanic content of the record, this belongs to the first wave of Black Metal as much as Venom, Mercyful Fate or Hellhammer (who were just entering a proper studio for the first time, around the time this was released in December 1983). The lyrics were already taking a deeper meaning for me, at that early age:
"...You never should have come this far..."
Entering the dark realm that laid before me, I knew that I would be forever changed. I paused, momentarily, to consider what I was about to do. In a sense, I felt like it was destiny. I was meant to experience this album at the precise time that I did. I was ready and I marched forward, awaiting the horrific sights and hellish sounds.
Show No Mercy wastes no time in going straight for the throat. One might expect a sinister intro, such as the one found on Satan's Court in the Act. However, much like Venom's debut, this album begins with full intensity. "Evil Has No Boundaries" starts with a chaotic and wicked solo, joined by Tom Araya's high-pitched screams from the pits of Hell. This song features the only time this band used a chorus of backing vocals, which included Gene Hoglan (later of Dark Angel). The fast-paced musical attack is accompanied by evil lyrics that suit the atmosphere.
"Satan our master in evil mayhem
Guides us with every first step
Our axes are growing with power and fury
Soon there'll be nothingness left"
The lyrical content was the most evil thing to be found, along with the likes of Venom and Mercyful Fate. Despite the fury of this aural assault, this possesses a great deal of melody and showcases brilliant songwriting.
"The Antichrist" begins with a very recognizable riff, before Tom's vocals rise from the fiery depths. There is a bit of Rob Halford influence, possibly, in the higher notes yet his regular style, at the time, seems to owe more to Cronos. The riffs and song structures, here, hearken back to the classic days of early heavy metal. The solos found on this song are much more thought-out and melodic than what would come later. While it is easy to make comparisons with early Venom, the main difference is that this is tighter, faster and more powerful than anything found on Welcome To Hell or Black Metal. Listening to this song, the memories return of a time when I had begun to really put a lot of thought toward questioning established religions and realizing how worthless they were. The lyrics echoed my own growing sentiment at the time.
"Searching for the answer
Christ hasn't come
Awaiting the final moment
The birth of Satan's son"
The next song is "Die By the Sword". This one is another fairly fast-paced tune, quite similar to the first two, yet possessing a clear identity of its own. After a minute or so, the song slows down a bit, allowing the hellish atmosphere to grow as the flames consume you. Tom's vocals take a much more sinister feeling, as do the guitar harmonies. The solos are a bit more conventional and melody-based on this album, such as the descending/tapping run in the ending solo of this song. Despite being just a few minutes long, this does well to create somewhat of an epic feeling.
"Fight Till Death" is one of the fastest songs on Show No Mercy. This is one of the earliest pure Speed/Thrash Metal classics, utilizing less of a traditional approach. There are a few riff changes, though the song has a clear theme. Only in the closing moments do things really slow down, as Tom's inhuman shriek makes your blood run cold.
Supposedly, the band was rushed through the recording to save on studio costs and this has been blamed for poor production. It is a good thing that they had only eight hours to get this done, as everything about the sound is perfect for this music. The next offering is the epic masterpiece "Metal Storm / Face the Slayer". Rather than unleashing the full demonic fury of Hell upon the listener, this takes you on a dark and eerie journey through the murky shadows. The guitar harmonies put Tipton and Downing to shame, as King and Hanneman work together to create something truly hellish and yet nocturnal in spirit. As the intro section bleeds into the main part of the song, the tension continues to build and this is evident not only in the guitar riffs but in the vocal delivery. Certainly, this has to be the darkest piece of the album, up to this point; something that must be experienced to truly understand. From the soul-shattering screams to the wickedly evil solos, this is like a raging beast, out for human blood. Of course, the lyrics perfectly suit the feeling of the song.
"I'll trap you in the pentagram
And seal your battered tomb
Your life is just another game
For Satan's night of doom"
As Side Two begins, you find yourself in awe of what you just experience. Now, "Black Magic" slowly rises from the depths, building up until it explodes with a bloody vengeance. This is one of the most energetic songs to be found on the album. The heightened intensity can even be heard in the vocals, which also take on a much more evil tone. Tom still utilizes the high-pitched screams (some of the best of the L.P.) but he also makes use of a deeper sound, putting Cronos to utter shame. The thrash riffs slow down a bit, near the end, but this doesn't last long. More scathing solos work carries the song to its conclusion.
"Tormentor" is the next song. This one really has an old and dark feeling. The guitar harmonies would be perfect if used for a movie trailer for the original Halloween. I'm not sure if it was because I was obsessed with the old Halloween movies around the same time that I discovered this album or if there is something more, but I can picture the girl running through the nocturnal maze, being chased by a psychotic killer. Even the lyrics go well with this imagery:
"Afraid to walk the streets
In the coldness, all alone
The blackness of the night
Engulfs your flesh and bones"
The story is simple, yet effective, and it plays on a very primal fear that has plagued humanity since the dawn of time; the fear of the dark and of the unknown. There is no way to know what lurks in the shadows, waiting to claim your life. Musically, the song is pure genius. Every melody and vocal line flows perfectly to create an atmosphere of nocturnal terror.
As the album continues with "The Final Command", it is remarkable that there is no filler to be found here. After an interesting build-up, this song unleashes still more intensity. As hard as it may be to believe, this song is even faster than those that preceded it and yet it is no less melodic and memorable.
By the time "Crionics" rears its head, the listener is near the point of exhaustion. Thankfully, the galloping pace is a little more relaxed than on previous songs. This one features a bit of a departure from the lyrical approach found elsewhere on the record. The twin guitar melodies are brilliant, though nothing less could be expected of this duo, by this point. This is dripping with an epic aura, even before the killer solos begin to take root in your brain. Forget Priest, Maiden, Satan, Raven or Metallica. This kills all of them.
This eternal classic concludes with "Show No Mercy". Just when you think you might have earned a bit of rest, having little left to offer, this one raises the intensity levels and seeks to leave nothing left but twisted, burnt remains. These are not the sounds of a mere Satanic ritual, this is the wrath of Hell being unleashed upon your feeble souls.
"Roam throughout the endless wars
Hold high his name we must
Warriors from the gates of Hell
In Lord Satan we trust"
This fast-paced assault blasts through, destroying everything in its path. Tom's vocals are filled with conviction matching the tension of the various guitar riffs, all working toward a single goal. The screaming solos foreshadow the endless agony that you will soon suffer, dragging you into the fiery depths as they fade.
What can be said about this timeless classic? This record put Slayer on the map and established them as one of the most lethal bands in the underground. With Show No Mercy, they managed to blend dark melodies with the rage and fury of Hell, creating an evil atmosphere that few, if any, could match. Obtain this at any and all cost so that you may worship at the altar of Slayer.