Review Summary: The darkest, most cruel atmosphere ever achieved in music
Slayer. The name speaks volumes without even needing a song to back it. The name is pure, unrefined, murderous evil, much in the way their music is absolute chaotic, with no restraints. The most go-to example of this aggression would, of course, be their seminal 1986 be-all, end-all thrash masterpiece Reign In Blood. However, one of their albums topped even this, by creating a sinister atmosphere, and being the most evil album the band ever put out. The album i am referring to is 1985's Hell Awaits.
Released less than two years after their debut Show No Mercy, this album showed that the band had grown hugely as musicians. The beginning of this change had, of course, came on 1984's massively influential EP Haunting The Chapel. The evil, menacing sound that had begun on Chemical Warfare was back, but in an even darker way. This was the absolute darkest the band would ever get. Whereas Reign In Blood was about speed, Hell Awaits was about sounding truly evil.
Much of this sound was achieved through the frantic fretwork of Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman. The two trade off guitar work throughout this album without rest, creating the most morbid atmosphere ever heard on an album. Each and every riff contributes to the overall sound of the album, and all of them are incredibly well written. From the balls-out thrash fest opener to the slower At Dawn They Sleep, the pair hammer out perfect riff after perfect riff, from the lightning quick form to the slower form. The solo are utterly chaotic, and possibly the bands soloing at its peak, mirroring the evil deeds the lyrics speak of.
Tom Araya is at his best on this album, with a strikingly large range. From his low growl during the chorus of the title track, to the insanely fast delivery found on Kill Again, to the piercing scream on Crypts Of Eternity, Tom never managed to achieve this utterly terrifying vocal performance again. The lyrical content was extremely controversial, and once again contributed to the scary nature of this album, with topics ranging from necrophilia to Satan, serial killers and even vampires. In the day of this albums release, many people honestly believed this band was as evil as the lyrics would suggest, and that gives a good inclination to the sound of the album.
The best songs on this album are the first two, Hell Awaits and Kill Again. The titular track opens up with a lot of guitar feedback and an evil voice saying "Join Us" backwards, before leading into a slow riff, before the song begins to speed up, with the finest riff on the album. And then, the song explodes into an absolute masterpiece of speedy guitar playing, lightning fast drumming from Dave Lombardo, and incredible vocal delivery from Tom Araya. The band sounds on this song as though they are ready to disembowel the listener.
Kill Again has the best chorus on the album, and is also one of the fastest songs the band would put out until the following album. The riffs on here are extremely well crafted. At Dawn They Sleep has a very sinister nature to it, being much slower than the rest of the album, but still maintaining a cruel atmosphere and a crushing set of riffs that all come together to form one of the best songs the band had put out to date. This remains one of my personal favourites by the band to this day.
Every song on this album has something about it to make it all come together, and each of them feels absolutely necessary, despite the fact they are considerably longer than most of the bands early catalogue. Hell Awaits has the "hell gates riff", Kill again has the chorus, Crypts Of Eternity has the piercing shriek mid way through the song, At Dawn They Sleep has the slow, crushing riffs, Necrophiliac is just a blitzkrieg thrasher that never stops for a breath of air. And for this reason, this album is their best. On Reign In Blood much of it sounded like a re-hash of the same song. On Hell Awaits, every song is a completely unique lesson in how to be evil. 5/5