Killing Again
CoC counts down the days to the release of Slayer's new LP
by: T. DePalma
A landmark musical outfit. An original sound. An undisputed attitude. And for over twenty years among the most corrupting influences of youth the world over. As Slayer prepares for the release of their new album _Christ Illusion_ on August 8th, we're counting down the days with a look back at the band's sinister history record by record. Join us...

_Show No Mercy_ (Metal Blade, 1983)

"There is no future, no fucking world to be saved."

Los Angeles, 1983. Four young acquaintances take their act literally from the school lunch room to the stage. As they momentarily trade in football jerseys for spandex, leather and spikes, a young Slayer catches the attention of Metal Blade's Brian Slagel, and before the year's end, will set their unholy spectre to record.

Hooks abound in what is still the most conventional album of their career. Influenced primarily by early hardcore and NWOBHM, the frenetic pulse of classics "Black Magic" and "Fight Till Death" work up an atmosphere and lyrical malcontent that foreshadows later black and death metal (mirrored in those now infamous press shots of the group's early vampiric lust).

Advertisements of "the one that started it all" remain true but conditional. The album is explosive but uncertain, bumping from simplistic thrash riffs to more sophisticated numbers like "Metal Storm, Face the Slayer" and "Die by the Sword", displaying a fresh thematic lure and decadent structure that would take off rapidly over the next few years.

_Haunting the Chapel_ (Metal Blade, 1984)

The first sign that Slayer had much more up their sleeve comes within thirty seconds of the gatling introduction to "Chemical Warfare", a full speed transliteration of war in the post-Vietnam era that would cement their lyrical theme over the next decade. It's less sardonic than its appellative forefather by punk group The Dead Kennedys and more complex and eloquently stated than Sodom's "Blasphemer", which parallels the extreme minimalism of the main riff. When coupled with the deadly chromatic dance and unbound lead work of "Captor of Sin", all else withers before them.

Slayer's following release of _Live Undead_ rounds up some lucky and certifiable fans for a looser in-studio performance of their repertoire that, while primarily a means to sate the audience before the release of _Hell Awaits_, carries over the band's raw energy with intimacy and force.

_Hell Awaits_ (Metal Blade, 1985)

"The crippled youth try in dismay
To sabotage the carcass Earth
All new life must perish below
Existence now is futile"

Enter through Hell's gore-smeared curtains and witness the birth of death metal. In terms of importance, _Hell Awaits_ remains unduly shadowed by its infamous successor. The final pairing of Slayer and Brian Slagel is undoubtedly the darkest, consistently creepy and unfailingly nihilistic work of their career; a lunar soundtrack to vampires, spiritual disintegration and corpse-fucking lunatics.

With this work, Slayer make a feral shift toward creating something that, despite its unbalanced aggression, is both subtle and entrancing. I need only cite the album's introduction, complete with backwards speech, that due to the less than stellar sound quality is actually a bit unnerving. But there is also the eerie repetition found in "Necrophiliac" and the hypnotic lure of "At Dawn They Sleep", reaching collective orgasm in the chant, "Kill... Kill... Kill" -- a macabre ritual led by Tom Araya's fluid incantations.

As each member comes into their own, all complaints (production is awash in reverb, and although we can hear the bass, given how awful Araya actually is, well...) are negligible. _Seven Churches is heavier_, _Bestial Devastation_ rawer and _Reign in Blood_ more severe and to the point, but nothing is as sick and ultimately disturbing as this album. Let's be honest: it's amazing the first Slayer-related murder took place a whole ten years afterwards.

_Reign in Blood_ (Def Jam Records, 1986)

Is anyone's copy of this album not completely worn out? My cassette bears some kind of werewolf scratch from end to end, rendering the artist's name and tracklist illegible. "Sl____ __ign in Blood". Years of fingerprints, scuff marks and machine hazards etched into the plastic; some now ancient artifact of fearful power, or just memories of me and my walkman?

Released on "Ame_Can" (1994 release); ah, but what a fitting label to manufacture this gem. For except for some rare and later pieces, Slayer's catalog remains a compendium of vitriol and negativity forced out from underneath the crosier's shadow and placid veneer of American civilization -- a rude perfection of ideas that will forever be their monument. Why waste another word?

_South of Heaven_ (Def Jam Records, 1988)

_South of Heaven_ attempted to expand Slayer's sound by emphasizing more gradual and moderate tempos that immediately, and somewhat boldly, separate the album from the breakthrough style and production of _Reign in Blood_.

Lyrically, it is one of, if not the most diverse and skillfully threaded of their works. Six out of the nine tracks were written by Tom Araya, being consistent with an incendiary derision towards Christianity -- at least certain aspects of it ("Read Between the Lies") -- while embracing its vision of Armageddon and contrasting this with the enraptured collective of Nazi Germany (Hanneman) and the submission of the individual to futile warfare ("Mandatory Suicide"). A take on the infamous anti-abortion film "Silent Scream", also by Araya, would seem to unbind the morality associated with his particular faith, a contradiction (for he is fully aware of the audience they cater to) that continues to stir and in later years appears even more conflicting and unconvincing -- at the very least heretical.

Several tracks up to and including the surprising cover of Judas Priest's "Dissident Aggressor" anticipate the change of vocal style toward a more subdued diction, but _South of Heaven_ still delivers the terse, venomous sound fans are accustomed to without being overly predictable -- featuring several inspiring tracks alongside harmonious, if lesser, material.

Artist Larry Carroll steps in to add the finishing touch: an inversion of traditional Catholic art and symbolism that out-creeps his past and future contributions to the band's discography.

_Seasons in the Abyss_ (Def American Records, 1990)

Slayer shoots their collective load early on in what would be the final studio recording to feature -The- line-up, with drummer Dave Lombardo exiting the band in 1992. After the exhausting force of "War Ensemble", the album treads between frail, plodding riffs and more commercial tracks that fare better than expected.

Downgrading from _South of Heaven_, the concepts are muddled between political commentary, fantasy and attempts at realism that fall flat with Tom Araya's painfully awkward sketch of inner-city violence. "Dead Skin Mask" returns the atmosphere to a boundary the group is more familiar with, and the result, though drastically simplified, carries over the eerie prospect of having your face nailed to a wall somewhere in Wisconsin.

Guitarist Kerry King admitted taking music lessons for the album, resulting in a staid and dynamic sound extending into more controlled and melodic leads. The problem is they seem unsure where to take it. Attempts to capitulate, and perhaps prove to themselves they can still write as fast, yield some technically impressive but generic numbers (only exacerbated on the follow-up) while the unearthing of "Born of Fire" does little for the album's general worth: filled with such laziness as "Skeletons of Society" and "Temptation" -- its finest hour being the title track, a euphoric piece that improves upon _South_'s closing hymn, "Spill the Blood", the last of its kind they would ever write.

_Divine Intervention_ (American Recordings, 1994)

In 1994, Slayer returned with ex-Forbidden drummer Paul Bostaph to release what was (until _Diabolus in Musica_) the worst record of their career. Trying to maintain their own stability in a new musical world they helped create, the band is split between a tougher rhythm style closer to that of Machine Head and Pantera ("Killing Fields", "Divine Intervention") and an increasingly complex and faster take on their classic style ("Serenity in Murder", "Sex Murder Art", "Dittohead"). It amounts to little more than frantic wrist exercise.

Kerry King's lyrics mold the album into a take off of serial killers and pathological disease, voiced by Araya in a sometimes laughably ugly performance, sunk by the digitized guitar mix that plagues the entire disc. Even after the sterility of _Seasons in the Abyss_ this is a disappointment.

_Diabolus in Musica_ (American Recordings, 1998)

Originally reviewed in CoC here.

_God Hates Us All_ (American Recordings, 2001)

A Wikipedia entry for Slayer's 9th studio album sums up the career path of the speed metal gods in syntax that lets you know exactly where they are at this point in life:

"Kerry King has stated that the title _God Hates Us All_ is a reference to having a bad day, one where you feel like God hates you."

This is what happens when you grow older, lose touch with your legacy, re-start petty feuds with irrelevant genre personalities and listen to Slipknot almost exclusively. It is true that few bands have created or will ever create such a legacy in the first place, but at this point charity towards Slayer's "updated" material is well exhausted.

A juvenile work that emphasises anger over imagination, _God Hates Us All_ dusts the band off a bit from the _Diabolus_ debacle (believe it or not, some people find that album to represent Slayer at their best -- see link above), but reiterates the preference for radio-heavy singles placed among generic Slayer-speed metal tracks.

Production is a massive improvement over the past two records, sustaining the contemporary writing and, of course, it still sounds like Slayer -- it's just not particularly good, is all.

The usual wave of controversy surrounding cover art together with the unusual, even fortuitous, coincidence that the album was released on September 11 has raised its relevance in the eyes of naïfs and the mainstream media, who naturally treat the group as if they were a new phenomena. Not quite. Highlights include "New Faith" and Exile".

_Christ Illusion_ (American Recordings, 2006)

And so we greet the inevitable. Fourteen years after the release of _Seasons in the Abyss_, the original Slayer line-up of Tom Araya, Jeff Hanneman, Kerry King and Dave Lombardo have reunited; ready to pursue what may be the most successful metal tour of the past decade. But they still make music, too! _Christ Illusion_, the group's tenth full-length record, has already been a marketing coup for the band. They've even got artist Larry Carroll back on board, proving it's all too easy to upset certain retailers in Bush country. But are these ingredients, so enticing to both old and young fans, themselves mere deception?

The surprising thing about _Christ Illusion_ isn't necessarily that it tries to recreate the past -- it does; the question is, whose past? Listening to the album, as the leads tear through and old bass-mouth Tom Araya screams his guts out repeatedly (his most one-dimensional performance yet), you know it's Slayer -- but the music itself reveals a crisis of ideas, returning to the simplistic agro-filler of their last few outings with unconvincing attempts to re-enliven the act. The album's opener, "Flesh Storm", represents the wiser choice, leading in with some feedback and gradual bass-line that explode immediately into full song. No plodding introduction, just speed metal; and exactly what they needed to re-introduce the line-up once again. Once they've wrapped up the similarly straightforward "Catalyst", however, the problem becomes clearer. "Consfearacy", a blatant attempt at reviving their crossover influence, comes off as desperate and flat, along the lines of Hanneman's old punk songs, while "Catatonic" and "Supremist" sound nothing like Slayer at all; one being a groovy patchwork of Kyuss and Pantera, the other a weaker attempt at death metal (the taut and dull simplicity of the guitar echoing here the work of later Deicide).

Lyrically, the band is at their worst when not directly attacking religion or government. Kerry King has the formula down pat, but his more recent and juvenile lyrics don't trump the shit I've written in my high-school note-books -- and seldom do they combine in an atmosphere that raises the subject matter above being "pissed off". "Eyes of the Insane", about a soldier's battle-trauma, fits the general salvo on war and America, but for all its psychotic blather becomes nothing more than toe-tapping pit-fodder (the trade-off between King and Hanneman, basically a free-jazz exercise, makes it at bit less ordinary). Ditto the much-ballyhooed single, "Jihad", which plays with some typical scale patterns before launching into a mediocre hardcore track, Araya's jump-up, jump-down vocal command spread out in some painful absorption of Mike Muir. Religion's a whore, 666=$$$, see you at Sunday mass, Mr Araya!

Compared to Celtic Frost's _Monotheist_, which saw a band not only redeem their past mistakes but attempt to advance their sound (this too, in a modern framework) one can only look with disappointment on _Christ Illusion_. The sad thing about it is realizing there are no more tricks up their sleeve. Over half the album was written by Kerry King, and it would be easy to attribute its general laziness and tiring of creativity to him, but really, everyone else falls in right behind him. Dave Lombardo, despite some refreshing fills here and there and an overall tight performance (could you doubt it?), is still a moot point, and cosmetically, Josh Abraham deserves effusive praise for making what is left at all entertaining.

(article submitted 31/7/2006)


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