Show No Mercy (1983)
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
"...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
"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.
(13 Apr. 2009)
Haunting the Chapel (1984)
Slayer's debut album, Show No Mercy, had sold over 40,000 copies worldwide and the band
were performing some new songs live, which made producer Brian Slagel want to release an E.P. The album was recorded in Hollywood
with sound engineer Bill Metoyer. Slagel was acting as executive producer. Metoyer, a filthy Christian, was not bothered by
the lyrics to Show No Mercy; however, he was so terrified by what he heard, while recording Haunting the Chapel,
that he thought he would go to Hell for contributing to this blasphemous creation. Since the studio had no carpet, Dave Lombardo
set his drum kit on the concrete and it went 'all over the place' while playing. Gene Hoglan was given the task of holding
the kit together and was given some credit for coaching Lombardo with regard to double-bass. Unleashed from the fiery depths
in August 1984, this completely destroyed anything being released by their so-called peers. It annihilated At War With
Satan, slaughtered Apocalyptic Raids and massacred Ride the Lightning, which was released a week or
After becoming very familiar with the classic Show No Mercy (listening
to it, over and over, every night), I still had an insatiable thirst for more. My best friend and I had a weekly ritual of
hanging out, on Friday nights. After walking through the cold streets, in the dead of winter, we went back to his house. His
parents were gone to a party or something, meaning that the good stereo was at our disposal. Sitting in a broken chair in
the middle of the room, surrounded by several large floor speakers, he handed me his latest musical acquisition. The cover
featured simple artwork; the familiar image of the Slayer logo in the middle of a pentagram made of swords (minus one) with
the title of the album written across the top, in blood. It was simple yet effective. Despite being obsessed with this band,
for quite some time already, I was not prepared for what was about to happen. I remember looking up with wide eyes and seeing
my best friend saying something, but the volume was all the way up and I was unable to hear him. Chances are, I wouldn't have
comprehended what was being said, anyway, as I was blown away by the aural assault. Surrounded by the blasting speakers, I
could feel the music battering my skull. Suddenly, I was no longer feeling the cold chill of winter on my face; rather, I
was burning in the flames of Hell.
Haunting the Chapel opens with "Chemical Warfare". The song begins with
very intense thrash riffs and the rumbling drums, building a sense of tension, before exploding with hellish vengeance. Tom
Araya's vocals are far more evil and sinister than anything heard on the previous album. The lethal attack of Kerry King and
Jeff Hanneman is backed by the furious drumming of Dave Lombardo. This is incredibly violent, yet it possesses a deceptive
sense of melody. As the song shifts gears, into the somewhat mid-paced part, Tom's voice can be heard screaming in the distance.
The production may not be top notch, but it perfectly compliments the music and adds a dark quality to it. Listening to this,
you can almost smell the flames rising all around you. The guitar solos attack you from all sides, shredding through your
feeble brain and leaving you defenseless as Tom's demonic laughter almost mocks your pathetic condition. While the lyrics
deal with war, they are done so in a different manner than what would come later. It is still approached from the Satanic
"Falsified spirits, farther they fall
Soon they will join us in Hell
See the sky burning, the gates are ablaze
Satan waits eager to merge"
This one song was all it took for Slayer to completely decimate anything that had
come before, in terms of speed, aggression and pure evil. After hearing this for the first time, I felt like my heart had
nearly exploded. It was an intense experience that got the adrenaline flowing and the blood boiling, yet it wasn't over.
"Captor of Sin" begins with a slightly more relaxed pace, bursting forth with a
scream and an explosive lead. The immediate feeling is reminiscent of Venom, yet as the intro bleeds into the main riff, you
realize that this is more vile and unholy. Tom's vocals, in particular, are far more venomous and possessed than even the
previous song. The music on this E.P. seems to build upon the foundation created by "Black Magic", leaving behind most of
the NWOBHM influences to create something beyond evil. The sounds of this record drag you down into the pits of Hell, to a
place of eternal torment. Of course, this was their intent all along, as Tom goes so far as to scream this in an ominous tone.
"I'll take you down into the fire"
This incredible collection of early black/thrash concludes with "Haunting the Chapel".
Something must be said of the production on this E.P. as opposed to the later albums. This sounds less up front and in your
face, while being even more lethal. Part of the beauty is that there is a little breathing room in here, as if the band is
surrounded by dismal fog and raging flames. The production and songwriting go a long way to create an atmosphere of pure evil.
The opening guitar riffs eviscerate the listener as the pounding drums crush your bones into dust. The lyrics tell the tale
of a dark ritual, raising the dead and sending them to attack the church. This is another masterpiece of early black metal.
"Ghosts from Hell invade this feeble shrine
Heaven's holy house will fall in time
Satan's morbid soldiers chant in lust
Destruction of the church we'll burn the cross"
The vocal delivery, once again, is filled with hatred and scorn. Tom's tormented
screams are absolutely inhuman. Musically, there is nothing up-tempo about this. As the song increases in speed and intensity,
your heart bursts from your chest as you burn in the fiery depths. Your charred corpse further violated by the wicked lead
solos, dismembering your blackened remains.
With Haunting the Chapel, Slayer declared war on the underground. This
tore through anything and everything that existed at that time, obliterating Venom and even rendering the first Bathory album
obsolete before it was ever released. This had a lasting impact on thrash and death metal, though bands like Kreator, Possessed
and Death never managed to touch this in terms of evil or intensity. This is essential listening for any fan of black, death
or thrash metal. The last two lines of the E.P. say it all.
"Haunting the chapel, Hell's demons prevail
Death has come, the house of god has failed"
(15 Apr. 2009)
Live Undead (1984)
After the release of Haunting the Chapel, Slayer
made its live European debut at the Heavy Sounds Festival in Belgium. before returning to the US to begin the Haunting The
West Coast tour. Following this, Kerry King temporarily left Slayer to join Dave Mustaine's new band Megadeth. Jeff Hanneman
indicated that the band would find a new guitar player and continue on. While Mustaine wanted King to stay on a permanent
basis, King rejoined Slayer after five shows, stating Megadeth was taking up too much of his time. Following his return, the
band embarked on the 1984 Combat Tour, with Venom and Exodus, and released a live album titled Live Undead in mid-November.
I got my hands on this album within a few months of getting Haunting the Chapel.
Of course, there were no new songs to be found on Live Undead, but I was obsessed with getting any Slayer album that
I could. The horrific cover featured the band members depicted as rotting corpses thrashing out in a foggy graveyard, surrounded
by an eerie mist, beneath the full moon. This was a very fitting image for the band. Initially, I believed this to be a recording
of some club gig that they had done. As it turns out, the album was recorded live, in the studio, in front of about 50 of
their closest friends. They ran through a few different sets, that night, playing nine different songs. Only the best versions
were kept for this release. Though this was done in a studio, it may as well be considered the same as a club gig. There's
an intimate setting with a small and energetic crowd. Live Undead pretty much captures the feeling of those early
shows, even down to Tom's humorous intros to some of the songs.
The album begins with a very frenzied crowd going insane as "Black Magic" builds up.
They never settle down, throughout the entire song. Musically, the song is executed flawlessly. The atmosphere isn't quite
as evil, just for the fact that there are several (probably drunk) people, screaming like rabid animals.
This flows, seamlessly, into "Die By the Sword", as Tom says, "They say the pen is
mightier than the sword. Well, I say fuck the pen, 'cause you can die by the sword!" Great stuff. This live album does well
to display the raw energy of not only the band, but their audience. Slayer's following has always been very devoted and obsessed,
even in these early days. The band's playing is very tight, yet not an exact replication of what is heard on Show No Mercy
or Haunting the Chapel. Speaking of the latter, the next song is the only one from that E.P. to be featured on here.
"Captor of Sin" begins as Tom makes a pleasant dedication. Possessing much the same
atmosphere as Venom, this song doesn't seem to be too affected by the live crowd. Their insane screams actually compliment
the aura, to a degree. The band truly seems to be feeding from the energy of the crowd and vice versa.
While some albums are much better appreciated when alone, this is the type that is
perfectly suited for hanging out with a friend or two, throwing it on after watching a few old horror movies, like The Evil
Dead or Phantasm. "The Antichrist" is just as intense, here, as on the L.P. Even the high-pitched vocals are retained. The
most interesting part is near the end, however, as the crowd all seem completely possessed, screaming as if they are being
dragged into the flames of Hell.
The silence ends as "Evil Has No Boundaries" erupts from the abyss, complete with screaming
and wicked leads. This version seems to be a little faster than the L.P. version and the crowd serves as the back-up for the
chorus. By this point, Tom's throat sounds shredded. Kerry and Jeff trade off lethal solos as Dave keeps up a maniacal pace
on the drums.
Not bothering to take a breather or to address the crowd, the band immediately follows
this up with "Show No Mercy". Again, this sounds a little faster than the studio version. At some points, the crowd seems
louder than the band, especially with regard to the vocals. The last thirty seconds features them chanting 'Slayer' as the
song winds down.
The final song is "Aggressive Perfector", which is also faster and more intense, sounding
less out of place than the version that appeared on Metal Massacre III. Tom's vocal performance on this one is awesome.
This is actually the most interesting song on Live Undead, as they really bring it to life. I like the original version
just fine, but this is a little more in tune with their established sound.
All in all, this live album is not as essential as their other Metal Blade releases,
but it is still a worthy addition to anyone's collection, especially die-hard Slayer fans. Despite the circumstances around
the recording, it offers a rare glimpse into the past.
(16 Apr. 2009)
Hell Awaits (1985)
Hell Awaits is Slayer's second full-length album, released in September
1985. It was their fourth effort on Metal Blade Records, expanding on the darkness of Haunting the Chapel. Much like
Venom's At War With Satan, this record featured longer and more complex song structures, making this Slayer's most
progressive offering. This masterpiece of black metal was financed by Brian Slagel, rather than making the band pay for the
recording as with Show No Mercy. This bloody offering of seven Satanic rituals is the best aural depiction of Hell
ever put to tape.
Already well acquainted with the first few releases, I thought I had a good idea
of what was to come when I purchased Hell Awaits and took it home, on that cold January night. The lights were turned
off and the candles were lit. This wasn't done for effect, it was simply how my room was, most of the time. I wasn't sure
if I should expect more blackened NWOBHM (of which there remained only faint traces) or the vicious assault found on the previous
E.P. In a sense, I got neither. As soon as I put the album on, something strange began to happen. It was as if my room had
been transformed into a dungeon or a forgotten crypt, no longer of this realm. I was about to go beyond the point of no return.
The album begins with hellish, twisted sounds of feedback, demonic voices and tortured
guitar solos, squealing in the distance. As it becomes clearer, one can barely detect the wailing of tormented souls. It all
grows louder and louder, building a sense of tension and creating an atmosphere of doom. The backmasked voices are urging
you to join them. This continues building until an indecipherable growl, saying "Welcome back" backwards. At this moment,
the feedback ceases with a thunderous crash of drums. Slow, mid-paced riffs build the tension and dread, layer upon layer,
accompanied by the rumbling drums. Despite the murky production, the guitars are sharp as razors and the drums are crisp and
lethal. Suddenly, a lone guitar erupts, followed by the rest of the band. The vocals are spewed forth at a pace as frenetic
as the guitar playing. They are far too fast to comprehend. What can be clearly understood is the demonic voice, chanting
"Hell Awaits". The frenzied solos are enough to make your ears bleed. The only downside to this song are the frantic
attempts of Tom Araya to keep up, during the verses. In this sense, a little feeling is lost by the fact that the lyrics are
going by too fast to have any lasting effect.
There is but a brief pause before "Kill Again" continues the vicious assault. As
the song opens, the drums take on the feeling of a war march alternating with the tremolo-picked riffs that add a sense of
urgency. After another riff change, the murderous vocals chime in with a sinister echo. This song is incredibly intense and
Tom's vocal approach seems to be even more dark and aggressive than before. The solos attack from both sides, still containing
some sense of melody, bleeding into a high-pitched wail from the diabolical frontman, who sounds absolutely deranged by the
closing moments of the song.
Dark and evil harmonics introduce the next song. "At Dawn They Sleep". This song
tells a story of vampires in the service of Satan. They are not only satisfying an insatiable bloodlust, they are serving
the master of Hell. This song is fairly mid-paced, though it speeds up a little bit for the bridge. The lyrics are morbid
and evil, and the vocal delivery adds a great deal to this sinister atmosphere.
"Unveil the hidden coffin
Lift the lid of terror
Feel the deadly cold
Freeze you from inside"
The bass is quite audible as the song slows down the rhythm changes to unleash
a heavy onslaught of mid-paced thrash. Tom sounds completely possessed as the background voices, repeatedly, chant "Kill".
Building to a bloody climax, the song then resumes a faster pace. As the final verse concludes, a perfect slide introduces
the solo. Once this is finished, there is nice interplay between the two riffs as the less melodic one fills up the space
between its counterpart, but this space is gradually closed shorter and shorter at each interval, building the tension until
everything stops for an explosive drum solo. After this, the main riff returns to finish the song out.
"Praise of Death" then erupts at full speed, offering you no time to recuperate.
Tom's bass is a bit more prominent in the mix, doing well to keep up with Kerry and Jeff. After the first chorus, there is
a nice drum roll that leads into the second verse. This may be the most straight-forward song on the album. While it does
feature some complexity in structure, the pace rarely wavers. The blistering guitar solos are aggressive as they howl through
the darkness. A little past the midway point, the pace slows down by half as more solos pierce your brain. Everything then
ceases, leaving only hellish feedback that seems as if the guitars are screaming from the eternal flames, before everything
picks up again. The vocals are filled with unholy passion as the chorus is, maniacally, scream one last time.
"Stricken to live, Hell on earth
Shackled and bound we lie
Praise of death, life's a dream
We're only living to die"
The next song is "Necrophiliac". This begins with a very distinctive and evil riff.
The pace is fast and frenzied, though going through a rather intricate chord progression. The vocals join this hellish sound,
creating a very morbid feeling. Alternating between thrash and tremolo riffs, the song is carried forth by the pounding drums.
After Tom screams, "The bastard now must die", his voice seems to trail a bit as the tempo shifts to something darker, calling
from the black abyss. The atmosphere could not be more evil than this. What you hear now is pure Hell.
"...Lucifer takes my dark soul
Down to the fiery pits of Hell
Down to the fiery pits of... HEEELLL!!!"
As that last line echoes through the abyss of torment and flames, a chill goes
up your spine as you see what lies ahead. As the pace speeds back up and more insane solos are unleashed until the song abruptly
ends, you are left in a state of awe and terror.
"Crypts of Eternity" slowly rises from the darkness, creating a morbid and gloomy
atmosphere. A slow build erupts into screaming lead solos that have come to rape what is left of your tormented soul. By this
point, there isn't much left. Hell Awaits was the most evil album released by this time. Others may have been faster
or more brutal, but nothing touches this in terms of pure evil. This epic masterpiece utilizes a variety of changes before
the first verse, maintaining a more relaxed pace than the previous song. The chorus is very memorable and blasphemous at the
"I have seen the darkened depths of Hell
Sorcery beyond the witch's spell
Robbed the crypts of death's eternity
Killed the priest and cursed him, endlessly"
This displays a wicked sense of melody, particularly the dual guitar harmonies
heard before the eerie lead solo, around the four minute mark. The lead then gives way to a very tense build-up of instruments
and shrieking vocals before Tom devastates the listener with an inhuman scream. The final verses are interrupted by searing
solos that incinerate your flesh. Again, this is one of those songs that really needs to be heard and experienced to be comprehended
The final song is "Hardening of the Arteries". Lyrically, this is a very nihilistic
piece that carries a somber tone. The guitar tone still maintains the same dark and evil feeling throughout this fast-paced
and straight-forward assault of black/thrash. A few more intense solos precede more dismal lyrics delivered in a hateful and
aggressive manner before the song shifts gears and returns to the same theme that began the album. This adds a sense of musical
symmetry, as Hell Awaits fades out with the same sounds that faded in at the beginning, minus the chanting. This
only serves to add to the epic feeling of this nightmarishly haunting record.
It's safe to say that Hell Awaits is the most evil and twisted Slayer
album. It may be the most wicked and vile thing ever recorded. This is about as graphic of a representation of Hell that one
can find without losing your soul. The sounds contained on this record go well with the cover art; an image of demons torturing
pathetic mortals in the fiery pits of the Kingdom Below. Hell Awaits stands as the most complex and mature release
from the band. The fuzzy and echoed production is reminiscent of their earlier works and only adds to the dark atmosphere,
giving it room to breathe. This is the highlight of Slayer's career, being vastly superior to what came after it. It is a
shame that they didn't continue down this path, further exploring and pushing their boundaries. Worship this or with cloven
(17 Apr. 2009)
Following the success of Hell Awaits, Slayer was offered a recording contract with Def Jam
Records, which was a rap label, of all things. Seeing the opportunity to broaden their fanbase and spread their music far
and wide, they accepted this deal with the enemy. Prior to releasing Reign In Blood, they put out a few singles.
One of these was the Postmortem 12", released in 1986.
Side A featured one of the best songs from the upcoming album, "Postmortem". This song
begins with kind of an epic build up, before going into a mid-paced thrash riff. This would see the birth of a drum technique
that Dave Lombardo would wear out, over the next few albums; riding the cymbal far too much, but it isn't enough to hinder
this song. Tom's vocals retain the dark and evil feeling from the previous albums, if not a little bit restrained. He still
manages to throw in a high-pitched scream when needed. After a couple minutes, the song begins to speed up. These riffs don't
sound as if they would have been out of place on Hell Awaits. The only difference is that the song structure appears
to be more straight-forward and less complex. The last verses see Tom racing at full speed to keep up with the riffs, suddenly
stopping and fading into oblivion.
Side B starts with "Criminally Insane". This version fades in, using the same intro
that would be heard for "Raining Blood", minus the sound effects. Once the song begins, there is another hellish solo before
the first verse. The riffs are very much the same as on the L.P. version, but the drums are very slow, with too much use of
the cymbal. For the solos, the drums pick up the pace a bit, actually complimenting the sound better than the album version.
Again, these riffs would have fit on Hell Awaits, somewhere in the middle of a longer song. For the last verse, the
drums pick up the faster pace that many may remember this song having. This song does more to create a dark atmosphere, but
the drumming is annoying during the first two verses.
The final song on here is a re-recorded version of "Aggressive Perfector". This is
a bit faster than the original (that appeared on Metal Massacre III). Tom's vocal delivery isn't completely on par
with the first recording, but he does still scream at the top of his lungs, when it is called for. The hellish solos, near
the end, add a nice effect. This sounds pretty much like the live version from Live Undead, but it lacks a little
bit of the atmosphere from the original. This sterile sound would have a huge effect on the upcoming L.P. as well.
This isn't as essential as Haunting the Chapel, but it is an interesting release.
It may be difficult to come by, but well worth checking out if you are a die hard Slayer fan.
(21 Apr. 2009)
Reign In Blood (1986)
Reign In Blood is the third full-length album from Slayer. This was their
major label debut, for Def Jam Records. With an experienced producer and a large recording budget, the band underwent a sonic
makeover resulting in shorter, faster songs with clearer production. Gone were the complex arrangements and lengthy masterpieces
featured on Hell Awaits, ditched in favor of stripped down, thrash metal song structures. Def Jam's distributor,
Columbia Records, refused to release the album due to its graphic cover art and lyrical themes. Already, the band became aware
that things worked quite differently in the big leagues. The album was distributed by Geffen Records in October 1986.
This is one of those records that people seem to love or hate. My first experience
with Reign In Blood was at a young age. I bought the album for my best friend, as a gift. I forget if it was for
a birthday or Christmas, but I held on to it for a week or so before giving it to him. During that time, I couldn't resist
tearing into it and listening to the record, over and over. This was at a time when I was able to just enjoy a new Slayer
album for what it was. There was no internet so I had no idea how overrated this L.P. would become. Years later, when I discovered
what a large following it had, it seemed strange that anyone would rank this above any of the Metal Blade releases. So many
consider this to be the pinnacle of the band's career, seeming to forget classic records such as Show No Mercy, Haunting
the Chapel and Hell Awaits. Understandably, the simplistic thrash metal approach is more accessible to the masses
than these early black metal albums. However, this is not the be all, end all of Slayer's catalogue. Reign In Blood
borrows the formula of Haunting the Chapel, and some ideas from Hell Awaits, and then strips them of the
dark atmosphere and packs it all into short, lethal bursts of thrash metal.
The album begins with "Angel of Death". The opening features a dramatic build up
that includes Tom Araya's opening scream turn into a murderous roar. This song hearkens back to the sound of "Chemical Warfare"
in its straight-forward approach. The production lacks the dark atmosphere that the aforementioned song possessed, but the
execution is flawless. This is one of the most structured and thought-out songs on the album, featuring shifts in tempo that
work well to add feeling to the music. The slower section helps to build tension and adds to the impact of the latter half
of the track, as the pace picks back up. The lead solos add nicely to the song, with Hanneman's being the more hellish of
the two. After a brief drum solo, reminiscent of "At Dawn They Sleep". This wouldn't be the only idea borrowed from the previous
album. The song ends with fury as Tom screams with murderous conviction.
"Piece By Piece" begins with an unexpected drum beat, before launching into a full
speed attack. The song is very short, yet they seem to cram the same amount of riffs and verses into this ephemeral blast.
Of course, to keep up with this raging inferno of a song, the vocals are spewed forth at a rapid rate as well. To convey a
sentiment that may be repeated throughout this review, there are some nice ideas expressed in this song that would have benefited
from being expanded upon.
The next, and shortest, song is "Necrophobic". This goes right into the first verse,
bursting forth at high speeds. It only slows down for a few moments, before blistering lead solos attack you from all sides.
Near the end, Tom emits a piercing high note that adds to the song, with the pace slowing down to half for the last few lines.
In these brief moments, one gets a glimpse of how the song might have sounded if it was a little slower. That isn't to say
that a fast pace is bad, but a minute and a half is hardly enough time to explore these themes.
"Altar of Sacrifice" begins with the briefest possible build up, before launching
into another high speed attack of thrash. This song works very well at this speed, and is one of the few to feature the typical
Satanic lyrics that Slayer had become known for.
"Altar of sacrifice, curse of the damned
Confronting the evil you dread
Coalesce into one your shadow and soul
Soon you will meet the undead
Enter to the realm of Satan!"
This last line is very reminiscent of the last line of "Captor of Sin", having
the same pattern as when he proclaims, "I'll take you down into the fire!" At any rate, that line was one of the most memorable
parts of the album, having quite the impact when I first heard it. The solos on this song work well to create a hellish feeling,
this being one of the few tracks that really manages to accomplish this. Tom's vocal delivery during the closing moments of
this song is truly remarkable as well, adding to the dramatic effect. As it nears its conclusion, everything slows down until
it bleeds into the next song.
Without even a moment of silence in between, "Jesus Saves" picks up from the last
fading notes of the previous song. It begins with a mid-paced thrash riff that cycles a few times as the drums are utilized
to build a dramatic feeling. This one is slightly related to the previous theme, though taking a pronounced anti-Christian
stance rather than a Satanic approach. After the intro, the song blasts at full speed, featuring vocal delivery that is a
bit too fast to be comprehended but some decent solos that give a chaotic feel to the track. The opening riff is, probably,
the most memorable part of this song.
Next up is a faster version of "Criminally Insane" than what was heard on Postmortem.
The pacing of the riffs and vocals are pretty much the same, but the drums are vastly different, adopting a faster approach.
This also lacks the intro and the early solos that were on the other version. The missing solo really takes something way
from the song, but the faster drums, during the verses, works a lot better. With a little more work, mixing and matching different
parts of the two different versions, this song could have been even better.
"Reborn" is another extremely short song, yet it manages to fit in just as many
lyrics as a track twice as long. The best parts, vocally, are when Tom slows down and stretches a few words out. Short songs
are one thing, but racing through lyrics that were meant for a longer song just drains the words of any power that they may
have had. King and Hanneman still manage to weave plenty of wicked solos into the song, though they aren't so memorable once
it is all said and done. Also worth noting is that the bass is a little more audible, similar to Hell Awaits.
This is followed by "Epidemic", which is a vast improvement over the formula that
has been used on so many of these songs. This one is very short as well, clocking in at under two and a half minutes, but
it's executed perfectly. The pacing of the vocals is much more natural, rather than trying to fit in way too much. The thrash
break at the 1:30 mark is very memorable, leading up to another high-pitched scream from Tom.
"Postmortem" begins with a dramatic build-up, possessing the feeling of a war march.
This is followed by a mid-paced thrash riff and some of the darkest vocal work that the album has offered, thus far. The lyrics
have a dark and morbid feeling.
"Funeral held for the depression of man
Holds the key to his own death
Entering a tomb of a corpse yet conceived
Tighten the tourniquet around your neck"
However, one of the true highlights is when Tom screams, "Await the final call!"
The first half of this song has kind of an epic feeling to it, before it speeds up to a frenetic pace. It continues to build
a sense of tension until reaching its climax and then bleeding into the next song.
[Something else that is worth paying attention to, here, is that the older versions
of the CD, this song cuts off at the 2:44 mark, just before the fast part. This error wasn't fixed until more recently. It
is impossible to count the number of times that I've read reviews of this album, in 'zines and online, where they talk as
if the ending of this song is actually the beginning of the last one. For years, I imagined that I was the only one to realize
that the song simply continues during the first 50 seconds, or so, of the next track. It seems that most people are not very
As the previous song fades, the sound of thunder and rain introduces the last song
of the record, "Raining Blood". This uses some of the hellish, tortured guitar sounds that were found on the intro for the
version of "Criminally Insane" that was on the Postmortem single. Slowly, the drums make a thunderous sound of their
own. As the evil guitar riffs join this flurry of malevolence, the epic feeling grows. Suddenly, the riffs change and the
song transforms into a monstrous thrash assault. What this lacks in darkness and evil, it makes up for in pure energy. As
it progresses, the pace quickens ever more, matching those songs that preceded it, yet the vocal delivery is far more fitting.
There are plenty of riff changes. The song then slows down, building a sinister feeling with the darkened guitar riffs and
Tom's murderous scream:
From a lacerated sky
Bleeding its horror
Creating my structure
Now I shall reign in blood!"
This memorable verse is followed by noisy and chaotic guitar solos as the song
gets faster and faster, reaching an insane climax, with everything ceasing with the roar of thunder and the albums concludes
with the sound of blood raining from the sky.
Reign In Blood is overly praised by many and then torn apart by others.
Everyone has an opinion on this. Mine is that it is a good thrash metal album yet it fails to deliver the dark feeling that
was prevalent on their earlier works. Often, the album seems to go by too quickly, with the first and last tracks being the
only ones anyone really remembers. I would add "Altar of Sacrifice", "Epidemic" and "Postmortem" to that list. Five out of
ten songs isn't so bad. There was a lot that could have been improved with more complex arrangements and simply more time,
but this was not Slayer's goal. In the end, the band succeeded with what they set out to do. They wanted an incredibly fast
and brutal album of straight-forward thrash metal and that is what they recorded. They may have sacrificed atmosphere for
speed, but this is the lasting impression that they wanted to leave with this album. One could say that Reign In Blood
is very derivative of their earlier works, but they may have seen what they did as trimming away the extra elements to create
a more streamlined representation of the Slayer sound. The overly Satanic approach of the black metal albums that they released
on Metal Blade probably had to be toned down for a major label, whether they intended to make this change or not. More importantly,
they lost the atmospheric features that made their early work so special but, ultimately, this is the direction that they
wished to pursue.
(21 Apr. 2009)
South of Heaven (1988)
South of Heaven is the fourth full-length album from Slayer. Released in July 1988, this
record was met with a mixed reaction from fans and media alike. After the speed-fest that was Reign In Blood, the
guys made a conscious decision to slow things down. The result was not perfect, but it was a step in the right direction.
Unfortunately, Slayer's creative juices were soon to dry up, in the coming years. For whatever the songs may lack in intensity
or darkness, they make up for by being far more well-developed than many of the tracks on the previous album. Brilliant or
not, at least the ideas are developed and filled out, being taken to their logical conclusion.
For me, this album came at a time when I didn't analyze music to such a severe
degree. It never crossed my mind that it wasn't as dark as Hell Awaits or as energetic as Show No Mercy
or as brutal as Haunting the Chapel; To me, it was simply another Slayer record. It was there to be enjoyed as yet
another piece of the puzzle. As a matter of fact, this may have served as my introduction to the band, though it wasn't fully
digested until some later time, by which I'd dug deeper into their albums and become more familiar with the early releases.
The title track begins with a haunting melody, imbuing the listener with a sense
of dread. It slowly builds up, creating tension. The vocals seem a bit cleaner, yet filled with evil as Tom says:
"Before you see the light, you must die!"
The pace is fairly relaxed, especially for a Slayer record. The doom aspect that
was present on Hell Awaits has returned, yet in a different form. This is still dark, by comparison to the output
of their thrash metal peers, but it is pretty tame when laid side-by-side with their earlier works. As the opening song of
the album, it serves well to set the tone and let listeners know what to expect. The riffs and lyrics are very memorable and
it all does well to add another dimension to the Slayer sound.
"Silent Scream" arises from the feedback that ends the previous song. Here, the
pace has quickened and the intensity has increased. The vocals are somewhat restrained, having a rather calm feeling. The
solos are decent enough and the whole thing comes off pretty well. The idea may be somewhat rehashed, but the delivery is
adequate enough and it fits well at this point of the album, providing variation in the tempo.
The pace changes, yet again, as "Live Undead" begins. One of the great things about
this album is that the riffs are easily distinguishable from each other. It takes mere seconds of a song to identify which
one it is. This one is more mid-paced, possessing some nice double bass and solos. However, it's when the song speeds up a
bit that the genius comes through. One of the best moments of the record comes around the 2:13 mark, as Tom returns to the
high-pitched screams of earlier years. Of course, the lyrics have long ago lost the power and darkness that they once held,
but they have not deteriorated so far as to be bereft of any quality.
"Laughing as you eternally rot
Searching for human flesh and life's blood"
"Behind the Crooked Cross" returns to the Nazi theme, explored previously in the
song "Angel of Death". The vocal delivery is a bit flat, sounding a little too clean for some tastes. Regardless of this,
the riffs are very memorable and the song moves along well enough. The pace picks up, after a minute or so. To compare the
musicianship of South of Heaven to Reign In Blood is to have no real comparison at all. Where the former
lacks power and intensity, to some degree, the latter was filled with too many half-developed ideas. Lyrically, this is another
anti-Nazi song, which seems to have been fashionable at the time. The lyrics are memorable and easy to sing along to, if that's
your wish, but they're quite tame when thinking of older songs.
"March on through the rivers of red
Souls drift, they fill the air
Forced to fight, behind
The crooked cross"
Side A ends with "Mandatory Suicide". This one begins with another easily identifiable
riff and even the drumbeat could not be mistaken for being the work of anyone other than Dave Lombardo. This song is nothing
groundbreaking, but it's good for headbanging as you're driving down the highway at 90 mph. It's no wonder that this was a
good seller for the band, as it is very catchy. By this point, it is obvious that the band has truly loosened their grip on
most all Satanic or occult imagery in favour of a morbid fascination with war. This was, of course, present from the very
beginning, but it took a few albums to usurp the throne as the dominant theme.
Side B starts out with "Ghosts of War". I've always heard that this song was supposed
to be a 'sequel' to "Chemical Warfare", especially something about the intro. Maybe I'm listening to it wrong, but I never
really got that. Perhaps, it's like those paintings that you had to stare at with your eyes blurred to really see. At any
rate, this song doesn't hold a candle to its predecessor, but it's pretty decent in its own right. At this point of the album,
Tom's vocals seem to have gotten a little rougher, thankfully. The speed and intensity of the song is much more in line with
what Slayer fans were probably expecting from this record. About halfway through, it slows down, but the mid-paced riffs are
quite similar to those found on their debut album, possessing a lot of feeling. Following this, there's a thrash break that
is designed for maximum headbanging during live shows, more than likely.
"Read Between the Lies" is up next. It picks up from where the previous song left
off, keeping a sense of continuity throughout the album. Much like all of their thrash metal peers, Slayer had to write a
song regarding the lame televangelists that were quite popular in the mid-to-late 80s. Whether it's Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax,
Testament, et cetera... it's difficult to think of a band that didn't approach this topic, in some manner. To me, it almost
seems too easy of a target. The song is as solid as the rest, but the lyrical concept leaves something to be desired. Of course,
this song features one of the only references to Satan:
"They claim your trip to heaven's nearby
You may believe it but Satan wouldn't lie"
That is quite weak when compared to earlier albums that contained the terms 'Satan',
'Hell' or 'Lucifer' in every single song. It just seems that the approach is watered-down. Pointing out the hypocrisy of a
televangelist isn't quite the same as depicting scenes of demons and ghouls killing priests and burning down a church.
"Cleanse the Soul" maintains a fast pace, fitting in perfectly. Again, the cleaner
vocal style takes a little time to get used to, but it works. This is one of the shorter songs on the album, but it still
manages to forge an identity of its own. Oddly, as with some of the other songs here, this one works best in the context of
the record as opposed to standing out on its own. The tracks, here, are like links in a chain. Alone, they don't do so much,
yet they stand together to create something unique.
Next up is the Judas Priest cover, "Dissident Aggressor". Priest was one of the
main influences on Slayer, in the early days. This is more easily heard on Show No Mercy, but this cover song pays
tribute to them adequately enough. They, easily, take the song and make it their own. Interesting to note that they exchanged
high-pitched vocals for a similar sound from the guitar.
The album comes to its conclusion with a song that was a favourite of mine for
some time; "Spill the Blood". The intro is eerie and sets a ghoulish tone. As the guitars and drums kick in, the song remains
mid-paced, though picking up the speed by a fraction. The clean vocal delivery, here, almost sounds lifeless as if Tom Araya
is in some sort of trance. In this case, it kind of works to the benefit of the atmosphere that the song is attempting to
create. In this piece, there are flashes that are reminiscent of earlier works, in terms of darkness. However, it does not
quite reach the heights (or depths, rather) of the old records. Lyrically, this song possesses some of the more interesting
ideas expressed on the album.
"Spill your blood, let it run on to me
Take my hand and let go of your life
Close your eyes and see what is me
Raise the chalice, embrace forevermore"
South In Heaven is unique within Slayer's catalogue. It represents the
only time that the band truly attempted to add depth to their sound. Apparently, it took some time to grow on their fan base,
but it would seem that this was the last of their classic era. The album that followed belongs to this era as well, though
it seemed to be more of a mixture of all the releases that came before it. Though this record may not hold up to such scrutiny
as this, it is actually a very good album. When not compared to the earlier works, it is easily enjoyable and features many
memorable songs. There is a great deal of variation between tracks and a dismal feeling that is carried throughout most of
the album. This one is highly recommended for those looking for something beyond the full-speed approach of Reign In Blood.
(19 June 2009)
Seasons in the Abyss (1990)
In October 1990, Slayer returned with their fifth full-length, Seasons in the
Abyss. This album was the last to be recorded with the original line-up, at least for well over a decade. Long ago abandoning
the dark, Satanic themes, this record is much like the two that preceded it in that the lyrics focus on subjects such as war
and serial killers. Rather than pursue any sort of musical progression or experimentation, Seasons in the Abyss works
like a 'best of...' in the sense that it takes the speed of Reign in Blood, the mid-tempo sections from South
of Heaven and even a small bit of the eerie nature found on their earlier works, in an effort to put display the full
spectrum of their capabilities with a refined production. For the experienced Slayer fanatic, there are absolutely no surprises
here; however, that is not to say that the album is boring. It is very consistent and presents exactly what one would expect
from a Slayer record.
I didn't get this album until a few years after it had been released. Busy at the
time with the Black Album and Rust in Peace, I had no idea something like this was lurking around the corner. This
one was purchased along with the earlier ones, yet suffered the fate of being the last Slayer album that I really explored.
While it lacked the dark feeling of the old albums, I still appreciated the solid songwriting found on this one. The intensity
of some songs were a perfect fit for the anger that I felt quite a bit of the time, while the creepy atmosphere of others
suited the constant stream of horror movies that my best friend and I were viewing. Listening to this, now, takes me back
to ninth grade, as I was prone to drawing (or carving) the Slayer logo on whatever surface was nearest to me. It was a simpler
time, to be sure...
The album starts out with the most intense song the band had written in years,
"War Ensemble". While most thrash metal bands were toning down, Slayer managed to up the ante, nearly causing the listener
to overdose on adrenaline. Musically, this is the successor to "Chemical Warfare". The production is clear and powerful enough
to blow your brains right out of your skull. It could also be compared to "Angel of Death", yet possessing a little more of
a punch. There are no wasted riffs, here. Everything is crisp and precise. One may think is is a straight-forward speed assault,
but there is a section where the tempo drops a bit, leading to a great moment around the 3:30 mark as Tom screams, "WAR!!"
Intensity is the only word to truly describe this song.
"Blood Red" picks up with only a split-second to rest, in between tracks. This
one is a bit more relaxed, utilizing a tempo and riff style that could not be mistaken for coming from anyone else. This is
the shortest song on the album, clocking in under three minutes, yet it does not give the impression that anything is missing.
Once again, hardly a moment is given before "Spirit in Black" erupts from the speakers.
This one features several memorable riffs and killer solos, especially near the end. There is a slightly darker tone to the
vocals, which is much appreciated. The speed picks up, around the middle, including some lyrics that seem to hearken back
to their glory days.
"Hear the piercing cries of all who found that hell awaits"
"Expendable Youth" begins with a fairly catchy riff, one that is sure to stick
in your brain. So far, Slayer has done quite well to differentiate each song from the next, giving each its own personality
and feel. This one is, mostly, a mid-paced affair that serves more as an appetizer for the main course of Side A, "Dead Skin
Mask". That one was one of my favorites, early on, and the main thing I remembered about this song was the anticipation for
that which followed. As such, the last line always echoed in my brain as the first eerie strains of the next song started.
"Death, the only solution"
Side A ends with the creepiest riff that Slayer had recorded in years. Tom's spoken
word part added to this eerie atmosphere. This song was inspired by the well-known murder and grave robber, Ed Gein. A staple
of their live set, "Dead Skin Mask" is mid-paced and dreary. The vocals seem to match the psychotic mindset of the character
that inspired this story.
"Dance with the dead in my dreams
Listen to their hallowed screams
The dead have taken my soul
Temptation's lost all control"
To really appreciate the feeling of this one, you should listen to it in total
solitude and utter darkness. Only the most jaded could listen to this without getting chills up their spine, as the voice
of a child begs to be freed, during the final chorus. This effect has long since faded, but during the first listens, it could
not be denied. Actually, in a somewhat humourous side note, I had no idea who the song was written about when I first obtained
this album. As such, I thought the girl was screaming, "Mr. King, let me out of here!"It took a few years before I discovered
that it was Mr. Gein, rather than Slayer's guitarist. Somehow, it added an even more sinister feeling to think that the victim
was begging for mercy from one of the band members. Almost made you wonder where the recording came from. Ah, the idiocy of
Side B starts out with a fairly intense track, "Hallowed Point". This was isn't
as totally barbaric as "War Ensemble", but it's in the same vein. It's full-speed, all the way, with lyrics that most could
identify with. The lyrical theme is that of a killing spree. This is always a favourite to listen to while driving, as that
is when I am, often, in my most murderous mood.
"Skeletons of Society" flows directly from the final moments of the previous song.
This one is, probably, the catchiest one on the whole album. It's mid-paced, but still interesting enough to hold your attention.
Tom's vocals help this out, as he utilizes a lot of variation, rather than maintaining a flat tone throughout. Dave Lombardo
keeps a steady pace as Hanneman and King trade guitar solos. They seem to be putting more thought into them, compared to Reign
The next track is also the first to feel sort of generic. "Temptation" isn't the
best song on the record, though it's not bad. It's faster than the last one, and features some decent riffs. The vocal effect
takes away from the feeling, to a degree. Supposedly, Tom and Kerry had conflicting visions of how the vocals should sound
and two takes were recorded. As the story goes, the first vocal track was never erased and when the producer heard heard both,
together, he suggested keeping it that way on the album. Later in the song, the pace slows down a bit and there seems to be
only one vocal track.
"Born of Fire" continues on as the previous song, and was actually a leftover song
from South of Heaven. Supposedly, King had trouble coming up with lyrics, so it was put on the shelf. Oddly enough,
the vocals sound more in line with the sound that was prevalent on South of Heaven. It features a decent amount of
riff changes and works well to build tension as the album nears its conclusion / climax.
Creepy and epic-sounding riffs introduce the final song, "Seasons in the Abyss".
When I first heard this, I was incredibly impressed. I think it was the monumental build-up. This one features so many different
elements of the style that Slayer utilized on their later (at the time) albums that it is somewhat ironic that it closes out
the classic era of Slayer. They also made a music video for this one, though why they filmed among the pyramids of Egypt is
beyond me. After a couple years, it became apparent that this couldn't really hold up like the earlier works, being a little
too repetitive and simplistic, but it's good for what it is.
Seasons in the Abyss marks the end of an era for Slayer. It was not only
the last album that they recorded with the original line-up, for sixteen years, it also served as the final true thrash metal
record that they made. This was before they allowed modern influences to creep in and corrupt their sound. Or, if they did
the same thing back then, they simply had better taste and were influenced by superior bands. While it is weak when compared
to the old Metal Blade releases, Seasons in the Abyss is the final record worthy of being released by the once-mighty
(26 June 2009)
Slayer reached their creative peak early on, during the Metal Blade
years. Nonetheless, they were still a viable band for a while longer, though never quite the same. The band's classic era
came to a close with 1990's Seasons in the Abyss. It is safe to say that Decade of Aggression should have served
as an epitaph to their career. Unfortunately, Slayer didn't break up and they lingered long enough to thoroughly tarnish their
legacy. The September 1994 release of their sixth studio album, Divine Intervention, ushered in a new era of mediocrity,
pandering and alienation.
Divine Intervention is far from the worst album Slayer would
go on to release, but that isn't saying much. While Seasons in the Abyss had already demonstrated that they really
had nothing more to offer, without merely rehashing their previous works, this L.P. adds to the list of flaws, suffering from
poor songwriting and bad production, among other things. The drums and vocals are too high in the mix, which often distract
from the guitars (not that there are a whole lot of noteworthy riffs to begin with). The problem with the former is most noticeable
any time Bostaph is adding fills or going overboard with the double bass. As for the latter, Araya's voice are fairly awful
on this album and might have benefited from being lowered a bit. It was here, on Divine Intervention, where he began
to shout far too much, possibly having already lost the range he once had. Rather than saving the shouting for the more intense
parts, he often does it indiscriminately. Then again, if the only alternative is the lifeless droning of songs like "Serenity
in Murder", perhaps he made the right choice. In addition to this, mistake is compounded by the use of distortion on the vocals
in some places, making it even worse. The album possesses a disjointed feel, overall, sounding like there were multiple recording
The songwriting, itself, is very lackluster and features way too many
mid-paced riffs. For example, "Killing Fields" is four minutes in length, yet the intro section takes about ninety seconds
and then the next minute or so continues to plod along, stricken with this mid-90s groove that is like poison to real metal.
Things only speed up near the very end, which is a shame as the track is over right around the time it starts to become interesting.
"SS-3" is similar in that the first half is boring and pointless, though the last couple minutes of half-decent thrash riffs
manage to salvage things to a degree. Songs like "Fictional Reality" and the title track are equally as frustrating, though
speed itself is not always an improvement as seen by the rather mediocre "Circle of Beliefs" (as much ruined by the mundane
riffs as by the distorted vocals). "Serenity in Murder" is a passable track, though it would have been much better without
the slowed pace and monotonous vocal delivery during the verses. This song starts out with one of the better riffs found on
Divine Intervention, but they just couldn't leave well enough alone.
As a result of so much sub-par material, the more average tracks look
good by comparison. "Sex. Murder. Art", "Dittohead" and "Mind Control" each utilize a faster pace and exhibit fewer flaws,
for the most part. While none of these are truly exceptional (and would have served as filler on previous albums), they are
among the best that this record has to offer. Then there is "213", which appears to be the band's attempt at making another
"Dead Skin Mask". The clean guitar in the intro does help to create a gloomy feeling, and the rest of the song isn't too bad
despite some of the lyrics being questionable.
It is a regrettable thing to have to say about a Slayer record, that
less than half of the album is even tolerable. These are the same guys that recorded such masterpieces as Show No Mercy,
Haunting the Chapel and Hell Awaits. A lot of the blame has to rest on the shoulders of Kerry King. He was very
open in the years following Divine Intervention regarding his desire to fit in with the more mainstream bands. As such,
he made attempts to incorporate whatever was trendy at the time, when writing each subsequent album. In this endeavour, his
defeat was two-fold. He failed to appeal to the larger audience that he sought, unable to properly sell out while also alienating
die-hard fans in the process. The rapid decline of Slayer began with Divine Intervention, a below-average album that
should be avoided.
(15 Aug. 2017)
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