Undisputed Attitude: Slayer’s Unsung Tribute to Punk

In the 1990s, punk rock was everywhere. Kids had t-shirts, posters, and aesthetics. Stereos were blasting songs of angst, adolescent indifference and all the workings of doing what one wants to do without elders standing in the way. The once frowned upon sub-genre of rock was not only accepted in the mainstream, it was burning up the charts and finding it’s way into just about every home across America. Bands like Green Day and The Offspring were dominating the charts and becoming some of the most successful bands of the decade. While it was cool to see such exposure for an important movement, there was still a glaring problem: Green Day and The Offspring weren’t exactly the best representation of punk.

There’s always an argument about which bands were legitimate punk or just what is or isn’t punk itself. And in no way am I discrediting the hard work those bands put in to get the success they experienced (or still experiencing). There’s no question they paid their dues and they’re loved by millions. But for most old school punk fans, “When I Come Around” and “Self-Esteem” seemed to be just as far from punk ethos as Engelbert Humperdink. Included in this train of thought was Slayer’s Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King.

YouTube player

The mid-90s were strange times for music anyway. As grunge came and went, Cobain dead and Hip-Hop slowly becoming the dominant genre in terms of popularity and cultural significance, many established hard rock and metal acts were experiencing awkward growing pains. Metallica adapted Alternative vibes with their commercial flavored Load, Megadeth sheepishly followed suit, Pantera were on to new things, and the less said about Anthrax’s 90s output the better. Rising acts like Marylin Manson, Korn, and The Deftones were inadvertently pushing the genre into uncharted territory and the older acts were forced to adapt or be forgotten. Where did this leave Slayer?

The beginning of the decade saw Slayer as the most dangerous band in metal. Completely unphased by the MTV movement and never once vying for mainstream acceptance, Slayer had just come off the high of the greatest trilogy in Heavy Metal history. Reign In Blood, South of Heaven, and Seasons In The Abyss put Slayer at the center of Metal’s Mt.Rushmore and still sound as devilishly delicious today as they did back then. But sadly, the follow-up, 1994’s Divine Intervention, didn’t go as smoothly as one would hope. Production issues, Paul Bostaph replacing founding member Dave Lombardo, and obvious label interference, Divine Intervention felt the aches of the cultural shift in metal.

YouTube player

Despite the civil wars between punk and metal fans, thrash was essentially founded upon punk elements. It really wasn’t until Suicidal Tendencies both genres’ fandoms could somewhat peacefully coexist. While most early metal acts (including Slayer) often site Judas Priest and/or Black Sabbath as major influences, all the speed and aggression comes from the punk side of the spectrum. Even the granddaddy of all successful metal bands, Metallica wouldn’t exist without the influence of The Misfits. So while bands like Green Day and The Offspring expanded upon what The Ramones and The Clash did, it was inevitable King and Hanneman was insulted by the then-current state of the genre that influenced them to start Slayer.

As a direct result of the mainstream punk acceptance and the weariness of metal’s uncertainty, Slayer decided to record an entire album dedicated to the real punk bands who stood for punk as a movement, and not sticking your tongue out for the camera and wearing eye-up, as MTV and FM radio suggested. Undisputed Attitude was born.

YouTube player

Recorded in only 3 weeks under the helm of D. Sardy and Rick Rubin, Undisputed Attitude featured songs originally recorded by Verbal Abuse, D.I., Minor Threat, T.S.O.L., Dr. Know, D.R.I., and The Stooges. Also included were two songs written by Hanneman, “DDAMM” and “Can’t Stand You”, originally intended for his short-lived 1985 side project Pap Smear (featuring Lombardo and Suicidal Tendencies’ Rocky George). The end result was ugly, fast, aggressive, and the genesis of what made so many fans fall in love with Slayer to begin with.

Released on May 28th, 1996, Undisputed Attitude peaked at number 34 on the Billboard 200 and was considered a failure by both critics and fans alike. Where most journalists criticized the band’s reliance on speed and anger, die-hard fans were disappointed it wasn’t the follow-up to Seasons In The Abyss they were hoping for. It’s also worth noting the metal scene was turned on its head just a week before with the release of Metallica’s single “Until It Sleeps”, showing the band in a new Alternative-inspired depiction. Even 25 years later, I still can’t tell if the public’s disappointment in Undisputed Attitude is due to the wrong place at the wrong time, or metal was struggling to stand on its feet in a world where fans questioned what makes metal, metal.

YouTube player

No matter how you feel about the record, there’s no denying Slayer was fearless in their decision. It was obvious they didn’t care about charts or critical acclaim, they just wanted to do what they wanted to do. The only Slayer original on the album written for this release is “Gemini”. Even that track goes against the standard Slayer conventions. It’s dark, moody, and relies on groove instead of speed. This track was not only an unofficial preview for what was to come on the following Slayer album, but it showcased their willingness to think outside the box for a cause instead of shock.  For King and Hanneman, it felt like they needed to show some love for the original punk acts being misrepresented by MTV and Top 40 radio.

I had just turned 13 when this album dropped and I remember buying it on cassette not realizing it was a covers album. It sounded like Slayer to me on the surface, but I had no idea it was really a make-shift history lesson. Undisputed Attitude single-handedly introduced me to Minor Threat, Verbal Abuse, and even connected the dots between Iggy Pop and The Stooges for me! So for my experience alone, Undisputed Attitude educated me in a style of music that was already important to me as a kid as well as an adult.

To that I say, mission: accomplished.



About author View all posts Author website

Aaron The Audiophile

Son, brother, uncle, musician. I enjoy music of all genres, shapes and sizes, preferably the good kind.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.