Review Summary: The defining Slayer compilation.
Slayer is the ultimate thrash band. Ever since they concocted their mix of classic hard rock, hardcore punk and the macabre metal of European predecessors such as Venom and Merciful Fate a bit more than twenty years ago, they’ve been a wholly unique band that always stood by its principles. Even without the major support other leading metal acts of the time (Metallica, Megadeth, and to a lesser extent Anthrax) received, Slayer became a household name, the biggest cult band in the world, a force to be reckoned with or, – if you’re of the conservative camp – a morally bereft, violence-obsessed bunch of Satanists. Of course, this wouldn’t have happened if the music hadn't been that spectacular in the first place. When they, aided by producer Rick Rubin, unleashed Reign in Blood on the world, a whole new paradigm became decisive and changed the course of extreme metal. They not only took things as far as possible (the classic’s ferocity is still stunning – just try to find any metal album from that period that can match it), but also helped to create and define both thrash and death metal in the process, and while the metal scene caught up with them in the early ‘90’s, they never altered their stubborn attitude. Even though Diabolus in Musica at least acknowledged new trends that had become popular since their previous album (1994’s Divine Intervention), they haven’t mellowed a single bit, either. You gotta give them that. You might even argue that nowadays the band is more uncompromising than ever before. Listen to God Hates Us All. Then listen to St. Anger. And listen to God Hates Us All again…. RIGHT.
To commemorate the 20 years they’ve been around, American released the box set Soundtrack to the Apocalypse, a generous offer of three CD’s (four if you can afford the limited edition version that comes with a bunch of gadgets) and a DVD, giving an overview of their eventful career. Unfortunately, they couldn’t include any songs from the Metal Blade-releases (except for three live versions taken from Decade of Aggression), making it already flawed as a career retrospective from the get-go. But hey, since these early releases are still available, let’s consider what did make it to the set. It contains no less than 29 tracks that you can find on the full-lengths, adds a bunch of soundtrack appearances, bonus tracks that previously only appeared on Japanese releases, and on top of that an entire disc of live stuff taken from the most important phases in their career. The DVD (which is a mere 70 minutes long, stingy bastards) works similarly, gathers amateur and professional footage and offers a telling significant perspective on the band’s unstoppable rise to becoming a major force in the metal world. The most impressive disc is undeniably the first one, which selects five songs from classic albums Reign in Blood (the ‘Big Bang’), South of Heaven (the underrated one), and Seasons in the Abyss (commercial breakthrough) and adds three live cuts taken from the early albums. Is there a better way to start things off than with “Angel of Death”?
To this very day, I still admit honestly that I’ve never heard a better thrash song. By anyone. It defines thrash, its velocity, brutality, controversy and attitude, while it’s also memorable as hell: from the ear-piercing shriek during the intro to that mid-tempo groove halfway the song and Lombardo’s mind-blowing performance throughout it, it’s a track on a par with all the divine metal classics out there. The other tracks are for the most part fantastic as well (the only song I don’t really care for is “Dead Skin Mask,” a recurring fan favourite, while “Spill the Blood” (incorrectly switched with “Live Undead” on the tracklisting) is also a notch below the others), ranging from terrific mid-tempo grooves (“Mandatory Suicide,” “Seasons in the Abyss”), speeding mother***ers (“Raining Blood,” “Hallowed Point”) and the classic that combines it all (“War Ensemble”). The first disc focuses on the band’s strongest material, released in the golden era of thrash. This implies it’s essential thrash: if you don’t like this stuff, forget about it forever, because it’s as good as it gets.
The second disc starts off with 14 studio tracks; five from Divine Intervention and three from Diabolus in Musica, the covers album Undisputed Attitude and their latest, God Hates Us All. At the dawn of the ‘90’s, alternative rock thoroughly changed the music scene, but not Slayer. With Paul Bostaph instead of Lombardo at the drum kit, the band turned in a gut-wrenchingly brutal album that maybe wasn’t any faster than Reign in Blood, but seethed with twice as much anger, as “Sex.Murder.Art” and (especially) “Dittohead” will testify. At this point, Slayer was the only of the ‘80’s greats still exploring the edges of extremity, and doing it successfully (though Divine Intervention is a bit too exhausting). They weren’t nearly as prolific in the ‘90’s though, as Undisputed Attitude contained only one original song (“Gemini”), which suggested the direction of the next album. Diabolus in Musica – again recorded with Rick Rubin – is their only release that finds ‘em following a trend (“Bitter Piece,” “Stain of Mind”), rather than setting one, but again, they’re doing it by their own set of rules, as 2001’s vicious God Hates Us All has them return to the good old all out-approach (just check out the brilliant “New Faith”). Added to these tracks are a bunch of bonus tracks that never made it to the European/American editions (“Memories of Tomorrow” and the last four tracks that basically continue the style and attitude of the album they were added to), as well as a few remarkable tracks that appeared on a few soundtracks: while “Human Disease” (The Bride of Chucky) is a decent but bludgeoning song, their brief take on Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” and the Exploited-medley “Disorder,” recorded with Ice-T in the aftermath of the L.A. riots, are winners.
The third disc, titled “*** You’ve Never Heard,” offers more than an hour of live performances, recorded between 1983 and 2002. Obviously, the earliest recordings are barely listenable garage-quality tapes or have only one guitar in the mix (the otherwise fine “Necrophiliac”). The songs taken from the Reign in Blood-tour are of a better quality and impressively fierce, as the band realizes it’s on its way to reach new peaks in their (and metal) history. Despite the fact that Slayer became a kind of institution from 1986 onwards, the sound often leaves a lot to be desired (lacking the brutal attack of the studio versions). Fortunately, the band always gave their all which reflects on the performances (“Mind Control,” and “Dittohead” sound frighteningly possessed).
Finally, the DVD gathers stuff from 1983 to 2003. The earliest recordings are sheer fun to watch (wicked costumes and mascara?), despite the sub-par sound. It’s also an excellent opportunity to witness the band’s growing popularity, from the fierce performance during the Reign-tour in front of a small audience, to a large venue during the 1991 Seasons-tour (with Lombardo sitting on a separate drum-stage that seems 20 ft high), to, finally, the mega-festival size of 2003. The material is mostly excellent, with the stuff from 1991 (“War Ensemble,” “South of Heaven,” “Dead Skin Mask”) finding the best balance of good sound, visuals and performances. Interesting extras: Slayer’s appearance at the Kerrang! Awards and a (very) short documentary on the making of Diabolus in Musica. The only remaining question then, is: who is supposed to buy this? The first two discs are perhaps the IDEAL way to get acquainted with the band’s music, as it contains most of their classics and successfully shows their progress and uncompromising approach throughout the years, but I seriously doubt that a Slayer rookie is interested in the footage of the DVD or the live disc (especially Jeff Hanneman’s home recordings), because it’s exactly the kind of stuff that only hardcore fans crave. And hardcore fans, they already own the first 29 tracks (and probably the soundtracks on which the band appeared). Perhaps it would’ve been a better idea to release the first two CD’s separately as a kind of introduction (there hasn’t been any other Slayer compilation yet), and the third CD and DVD as a treat for the true Slaytanic Wehrmacht out there. But of course, what am I thinking? The music industry doesn’t work like that. They KNOW there are more than enough people who’ll buy it, even if it’s only because it, well, fits nicely in your CD-rack. Oh well, I guess there are still [url=http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/B00005ULQT/qid=1080656291/sr=1-20/ref=sr_1_20/103-8983145-9731861?v=glance&s=kitchen]s[/url]worse ways to spend 50 dollars/euros.