Review Summary: The end of an era for the titans of thrash.
1990 would be the beginning of the end for many things. The wild and crazy 80's, with all its spandex and hairspray, was over, replaced now with a new decade, and new cultural beginnings of parachute pants and hip pop. Heavy metal music was no different at all. For starters, the metal scene was undergoing massive rehauls, with thrash metal slowly being replaced by death and black metal as the premier extreme metal genre for the most ravenous of headbangers. After an inundation of thrash metal bands in the mid to late 80's, the tap started going dry, and bands began stretching their legs into new territories. One band who held off this stretch for as long as possible was, of course, Slayer.
Slayer were the car you knew would one day give out, and break down in the middle of the road, sputtering off with each inch forward. But you knew that day wasn't today, and that you still had one last joy ride in that bad boy. That ride, and that album is "Seasons In The Abyss", what many, including myself, would consider the last classic album Slayer have released. Darker, and much, much more street level themed than anything ever released previously by them, "Seasons In The Abyss" was Slayer's last grand hurrah.
All but three or four songs on the album seem to be focused on themes of gangs, street life, civil injustice, serial killers, and war. Opener "War Ensemble", is a staple of Slayer's live show, and is often mentioned as one of their classics. For the most part, the themes of Hell, and Satan, have been replaced with grim re-tellings of day-to-day horrors that exist on this planet. In doing this, Slayer really captured the ideas of what true evil is. It's what's outside our doors. Tom Araya handled a large majority of the lyrics for this album, and his lyrical abilities are often passed over when compared to other associated acts. But there is a certain poetic nature to what is written, from all members, and it meshes very coherently, oddly enough, with the darkness of the music itself.
This album is a mixture of many things. The riffs are slow, fast, midtempo, all in between. Unlike the previous albums where it seemed to be one or the other, the riff cartridge is spewing off from all spectrum's, and thankfully so. There are some truly great riffs on here, such as "Spirit In Black", "Dead Skin Mask", "Hallowed Point", and of course the title track, "Seasons In The Abyss". When you're five albums in, classic riffs can be hard to come by. But there are some moments on here, musically, that rival "Reign In Blood" or even "South of Heaven", in terms of remembrance and all around greatness, as an any follow up album should do.
In closing, this album was a plateau for Slayer. Dave Lombardo would exit, and things would change drastically. Although 1994's "Divine Intervention" was a solid release, and even later releases like "Diabolous In Musica" and "God Hates Us All" were not astonishingly horrific, the level at which the music translated to what was done beforehand was much, much less. Slayer would not return to anywhere near the form they were at on "Seasons In The Abyss" until around 16 years later, with the release of "Christ Illusion" in 2006. No band can maintain a level of sheer genius for an entire career, and never have a shaky patch here and there. It really is just not possible. The old idea is that a band releases their best work within the frame of their first five albums. If this is true, Slayer fit right into the bill. But for the time, the era, the legacy, and the memories, we metal fans will always be indebted to these first five records in some way. The influence and legacy they've left is immense, and it's not a surprise as to why. From their inception, Slayer were just four guys who loved fast music, and I'll be damned if that's not what they released at their best.