SOH and Seasons were the first Slayer albums I ever heard and not until '94 (my musical evolution has been pretty slow) and, to be honest with myself, those two are still my favorites. Divine Intervention, Reign In Blood and Show No Mercy are on the next tier down, but I still love RIB. Some of you guys are more analytical in your approach to music criticism than I am. I just know that RIB still makes me bang my head, turn up the volume and roll down my windows so everyone else can hear how much I LOATHE their shitty pump music.
In my listening experience, I either like just about everything a band puts out or I don't. If a band I like puts out something that doesn't reach me at first, then I blame it on myself and listen to the fucking thing until I "get it". As a result, I forced myself to listen to Divine Intervention until I got used to Bostaph's drumming style and, suddenly, it clicked for me.
Diabolis and GHUA were what I call 50/50 albums (50% filler, 50% good). Christ Illusion, with Lombardo back, works for me all the way through. I hope Dave sticks around. I like the way he can put a groove into metal drumming.
I actually think that an album or band being a gateway for someone's musical growth IS relevant here. There's no objective way to account for why an album appeals to your ear or not. It either does or it doesn't and it's usually based on something subjective, like when or where or with whom you first heard music that changed your life.
I'll give an example. Take a look at Steve Morse or, even better, Steve Vai. While neither of these guys are technically "metal", they're both highly skilled guitarists. They both have awesome technique. If music was objective, these guys would be everyone's favorites. "Wow, look how fast Morse is. . .and so clean!" -- "Man, Vai really knows his scales and modes and theory!"
Instead, and I hate to say this because I used to really idolize the guy, Steve Morse's music is so precise and clean and lightning fast that even live it sounds overproduced and soulless. Yawn. And, Steve Vai, don't even get me started. I despise Steve Vai's music (I'm sure he's a nice guy and all that). It's horrible. The poor, sad, yet technically precise and theoretically innovative motherfucker can't songwrite his way out of a wet paper bag.
Music is a language. Unlike spoken language, IMO, music can convey emotion directly. When speaking with words, it doesn't matter how fast you say something or how precisely you say it. It only matters if the meaning you're trying to get across actually gets across.
Slayer may not be the most innovative, precise or theoretically demanding band to listen to, but they sure know how to get their message across. It seems to resonate with a lot of people. It certainly resonates with me.
For me, Slayer confirms what Bill Hicks called "the voice of reason inside us all". I don't have any emotions that correspond to whatever fruit-loopy fantasy world Steve Vai is trying to convey. I definitely feel a lot of rage and disgust with the world at large, however, and Slayer provides a mighty good outlet.