Review Summary: Slayer is dead; long live Slayer.
I admit, I used to be a blind Slayer hater too, judging the entire band based merely off a few snippets that I'd heard forever ago of "Angel Of Death", "Raining Blood", and the title track of this album. No doubt, most of their pre-Reign In Blood songs still remain unimpressive, and they sure as hell haven't recorded a song since 1991 that was worth the time to listen (besides "Psychopathy Red", as unoriginal as it may be). And besides, it was easy to once-upon-a-time buy into the groupthink that wrote off the slaying ones as nothing more than a dumb, mediocre, generic (if aggressive) thrash band with an obnoxiously shouting singer. Reign In Blood actually does
have some songs that are kind of dumb (overly straightforward) in their songwriting. However, follow-up South Of Heaven saw Slayer dramatically up their songwriting layers, if you will, though that record also saw a downward shift in the song speeds, losing some of that visceral aggression that made Reign such a legend in the annals of thrash.
So, where does that leave Seasons Of The Abyss then? Well, it's almost as if the band foresee that they would eventually turn into a dull parody of themselves over the coming 2 decades, so they decided to end the classic section of their career with a bang, by taking some of the blistering tempos from Reign In Blood and combining that with the songwriting intelligence and complexity of South Of Heaven, and also mixing in the occasional, catchy mid-tempo track to keep things varied, and kinda offer the best of both worlds when it came to elements off the previous 2 records. Frantic, hyperactive cuts like "War Ensemble", "Hallowed Point", & "Born Of Fire" offer all the old-school thrashage you could ask for, while catchy mid-tempo stuff like "Expendable Youth", "Skeletons Of Society", and the title track offer up some variety, and prove that old-school Slayer was good at more than just going all-out all the time.
Opener "War Ensemble" has to be one of the brainiest songs Slayer ever wrote, highly complex with its song switch-ups, tempo & riff changes, and Dave Lombardo's incredibly memorable, numerous, always-inventive drum fills, all while making the song's constantly-driving momentum keep charging forward and forward and forward, always, ever, onwards and upwards, endlessly, like an unstoppable, blitzkrieg-ing, jack-booted army.... ahem. Anyway, "War Ensemble" is one of those songs that feels a lot longer than it is, but in a good way, since there's just so much good stuff in it.
anyway, Seasons has one of Lombardo's finest drum performances to date, if not the finest, with his signature bouncy groove at its bounciest/grooviest, and with entertaining drum fills just falling out his ass he has so many of 'em. They particularly get the chance to shine out on the mid-tempo numbers, and to quote a fellow Internet metalhead ( http://www.globaldomination.se/top10/gd-s-top-10-best-metal-drummers , because I can't put it any better); Dave kind of "plays his own 'songs'" within the songs, where you're as likely "to remember his fills as much as you remember the riffs", and he plays "like he means every" single hit instead of just trying to blast away the whole time. Yes, blasters like Gene Hoglan or Vitek are impressive, but it's also refreshing to hear a kit-basher who truly puts some thought and care into what he's playing, who keeps his playing consistently varied, and consistently interesting for his listeners.
Anyway, at any rate, I think I've said my piece on Seasons In The Abyss (and Slayer in general), and why it/they mean something to me. Metal newbs, be aware, if you want smart metal that'll still put some hair on your chest, check out Seasons. But, Slayer, just please forgive me for ever thinking you guys were a dumb band.
Slayer is dead; long live Slayer.
RECOMMENDED TRACK: "War Ensemble" (my favorite Slayer song)