For my first Slayer review on this site, I need to write a little anecdote about my first acquaintance with this lot. It was back in 1986 / 1987 and my world was all about pop-metal. Yes, heavy metal as Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Accept were always around, but at the time, my whole musical world was mostly about Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Europe and the likes. A friend of mine’s older brother had a mixed tape that he was playing at a party and among the songs he had put Slayer’s “Hell Awaits”. Now, have in mind that at the time, I even considered Metallica and Venom too hard and extreme, so you can guess what I thought of that Slayer song. For real – I couldn’t believe my ears. All I heard was a big, roaring clamor , I couldn’t find even one trace of melody or any musical skills, just noise – and that damned singer couldn’t sing to save his life. Now, since then I have grown musically and my musical taste has both changed and developed – I don’t judge music by genres anymore and I try to give everything that is recommended to me a chance – at least when it comes to rock music. But it would take a few years before I really got the hang of Slayer’s music. In 1990, I saw the videos for “Seasons In The Abyss” and “War Ensemble” (both off Seasons Of The Abyss, 1990) and I was more or less floored. My roomie at the time worked in a record store and he brought a bunch of Slayer CDS with him home for me to listen to and BAM! – I got the deal. Seasons In The Abyss, South Of Heaven (1988) and Reign In Blood (1986) are all amazing thrash / speed metal albums, in my book and their double live album Decade Of Aggression (1991) is nothing but a piece of stunning metal magic! But even though I don’t find them necessarily bad, I must say that I find Slayer’s two first albums Show No Mercy (1984) and Hell Awaits (1985), very uneven. Also, after the live effort, I kinda lost interest in the band. Not that any of their records were bad – except for that lousy punk covers album Undisputed Attitude (1996) and the confused Diablous In Musica (1998) – I just felt that Slayer had lost the plot when it came to writing really strong songs, even though their last album World Painted Blood (2009) showed some signs of a band on its way up.
But lots of things has happened in the Slayer camp since that album came and none of it has been very uplifting at all. First original guitarist and main song writer Jeff Hanneman got a flesh-eating virus called necrotizing fasciitis, probably caused by a spider bite and was very close to biting the dust. Later he did just that but then it was due to liver failure – alcohol related, of course. Next, drummer Dave Lombardo handed in his walking papers due to financial reasons. This was the second time Lombardo jumped the Slayer ship – he was out of the band from 1992 – 2001 and back then just as this time, he was replaced by Paul Bostaph (ex-Testament, Forbidden, Exodus). To replace a guy like Hanneman, however, is not the easiest task in the world, but while ill, Gary Holt from Exodus filled in for Hanneman – only temporary – while the band was on tour. But Holt did such an excellent job that he was offered the job as Slayer’s axeman permanently when Hanneman passed away. Now, it’s one thing to replace someone on the road – you can always copy the solos note by note there – but a whole different world in the studio. There, you don’t want to be a total clone, but you can’t just do your thing without any thought either. Slayer has a sound that must be kept and Hanneman really had his own style. How on Earth Slayer would get by when their main composer wasn’t there anymore is another issue. Tom Araya (bass, lead vocals) and Kerry King (guitar) only wrote sporadically for the band. This is an interesting album for me – and a fateful one for the Slayer boys – and then some!
“Delusions Of Saviour” is an instrumental intro, quite melodic in a most Slayer way, but it’s really heavy and dark. Intros usually don’t stick with me at all, but this one is really atmospheric and it makes way for the following tune, the album’s title track. It’s a fast, heavy and aggressive metal tune that gives me a “War Ensemble” vibe – awesome. The guitar solo is also really good – which isn’t always the case with this band. My guess is that it’s Gary Holt who play that one. “Take Control” sound like classic Slayer all the way, but there are some really catchy hooks in there. The song really hit home right away! “Vices” has some very catchy riffs and there is an awesome and crazy groove here, Paul Bostaph really go Dave Lombardo on us as well – and I mean that in a good way. “Cast The First Stone” is a throwback to “Raining Blood”, but with the more melodic and memorable sound they had on Seasons In The Abyss – yes, guys, this is damn good! “When The Stillness Comes” is a heavy and slow thrash metal number and probably the closest thing to a ballad that Slayer has ever written. “Chasing Death” is pure hard rock, done in thrash / speed metal way. It has a beat made for headbanging while the arrangements are really catchy. “Implode” and “Piano Wire” are both classic Slayer, where the first one is looking to the earlier days’ mayhem and the latter a Jeff Hanneman written tune – has a more melodic Seasons In The Abyss aura. “Atrocity Vendor” must be pure Christmas for fans who love the old, merciless Slayer. It’s a complete discharge deluxe with no signs of rest. Like it or not, but admit that Slayer truly own the art of doing this kind of metal. “You Against You” is also very Slayer – fast, aggressive and punky – but it passes me by unnoticed. The closing track “Pride In Prejudice” is one of my favourite tunes on this album. That too has a Seasons In The Abyss vibe with its dark and evil sounding arrangements and slow and heavy pace. I really prefer that kind of Slayer, to be honest.
I really didn’t know what to expect from this record, losing two important original members at the same time must be heart wrenching, but also a trial by fire. They know that everyone, both fans and non-fans, will give this album a real close-up just to see if the band will be able to manage to carry on without failing miserably. Some fans will probably never accept a Hanneman-less Slayer, they will never give this album a chance. For those who don’t, it’s their loss because this album happens to be a bloody awesome come back record. So much that I hardly ever thought about the fact that Hanneman and Lombardo aren’t on the record. Dave Lombardo is not an easy man to replace, he’s probably the best extreme-metal drummer in the world, but Bostaph is not far behind – I really believe that Bostaph is one of very few drummers that could replace Lombardo. Gary Holt also is a kick in the butt. As a player, he’s superior to both King and Hanneman, but as we all know, it’s not only about musical skills when it comes to a band like Slayer. But, Holt fits this band like a glove and the fact that this album is better than all the albums that came out after 1991 speak volumes about how much of a vitamin injection he and Bostaph are. Slayer had shitloads to prove with this album and that has given them a spark to show people that they’re still a force to be reckoned with. I know that lots of people will disagree with me here, but hopefully more people won’t. To me this is a true Slayer album, let’s hope it’s not their last. Hell Yeah!