Review Summary: An essential early thrash metal recording that shows off how influential Slayer were
For those who heard Bloodline and were turned off by Slayer's attempt at cashing in on the nu-metal trend, consider Haunting The Chapel your introduction into true Slayer. This was the EP where they changed from being a speed based NWOBHM-influenced band into a full blown thrash metal outfit with their own completely original sound. This three song collection of masterpieces is the reason albums such as Hell Awaits and Reign In Blood came about and remains to this day Slayer's most primal release. The running time might be short but it was more than enough to influence every thrash metal outfit that came after it and showed Slayer to be among the best in the genre.
Prior to Haunting The Chapel Slayer had released one studio album entitled Show No Mercy, a promising debut that was a far cry from the style of music they captured on this EP but was still more than listenable and a great album in its own right. Haunting the Chapel stepped their game up and was based around dense tremolo picking and lightning fast drumming with a very evil sound to it and Tom Araya's demonic vocals are captured in their most aggressive state. The pace of this EP is marvelous and it never lets up in its relentless assault on the ears, with never ending flurries of guitar notes and incredibly fast shredding solos that are both chaotic and awesome to listen to and this EP set Slayer apart from their competition. Whilst Metallica were messing with a more mid-pace style of thrash, Slayer's answer was to write a gung-ho EP that thunders along at the fastest speeds imaginable.
Chemical Warfare is the song that many check out this EP for and is rightfully considered one of the best Slayer songs and also perhaps one of the most influential thrash metal songs of all time. It is symbolic of Slayer's dual guitar sound in the way that both guitars play the exact same riff although one plays it a string down to create an evil-sounding guitar harmony that is unmatched by many bands out there. Slayer had a knack in their early days of creating songs that sounded truly horrific and evil and haunting, and Chemical Warfare was the song that started this trend. This song also has Tom Araya's most chaotic vocal performance to date, and is a far cry from the lunatic shouting found on songs such as Necrophobic off of Reign In Blood. Instead the band used a distant effect on his voice whilst he cackles and gargles his words in the most cruel sounding tones imaginable. The song also has a slightly more relaxed section close to the soloing that works perfectly with the atmosphere of the song and shows off the knack for how to structure a thrash metal song that Slayer perfected with their early works and showed off to even greater effect on their legendary track Angel Of Death.
The other songs on the Haunting the Chapel EP are neither as significant nor quite as good as Chemical Warfare is. Both are listenable thrash metal tunes but neither has the creativity in the structure nor the interesting riffs of that song but they both have some brilliant tremolo picked lines and fast, maniacal solos and carry that Slayer sound that would influence a generation. The production on this EP is not the best but it really suits the style of the EP and matches the lyrical content found on songs such as Chemical Warfare to make for one of the cruelest sounding pieces of metal in existence. Some would complain and say that the guitars and drumming are not quite crisp enough and that Tom Araya's vocals have too much of a distant sound to them and aren't mixed well enough, but in reality the production job is just fine for an EP of this caliber.
Haunting The Chapel is definitely a highly recommended piece of work that is early thrash metal at its rawest and most aggressive with some of the best lyrical content out there and is a three song collection that is nothing short of a masterpiece. It has a few flaws that can not be ignored, primarily that there is not enough variety and that the songs that aren't Chemical Warfare are not quite as strong as that particular track.