After taking the thrash genre to new levels with the brutal, ground-breaking, speed freak of a record that was 'Reign In Blood', and then refining that sound by splicing a greater musical depth together with slower tempos on it's successor 'South Of Heaven'; it appeared as if Slayer
would almost certainly have to explore previously unearthed territory on their 1990 effort 'Seasons In The Abyss' if they were to maintain their position as both instigators and innovators of the speed metal genre.
As it happened, 'Seasons...' was more a consolidation of ground covered, rather than a new milestone in the vein of 'Reign...', however the record did present a more accessible side of the band that helped build their reputation amongst the MTV generation, whilst (uniquely for this type of record) also enhancing the devotion garnered from Slayer's partizan following.
The reason that 'Seasons...' works as a record is simply because Slayer (unlike Metallica) never truly dumb down their content or message in an attempt to lend themselves to mainstream tastes. The fact that the band produced a work of this quality, at this time, almost by chance happened to coincide with the point at which popular music opinion became as favorable as it ever would be towards Slayer.
The music on the record is cleanly produced, and is written in a more immediately gratifying style than any Slayer album recorded before or since. However, the fundamental aspects that go towards creating the 'Slayer sound' are more apparent than ever on this particular effort. Araya's tortured vocals and poignant (if sometimes blunt) lyrics are prominently voiced, whilst his solid, speed-picked bass parts are given a (much needed) higher order in the mix, especially in comparison to 'Reign...'. Hanneman and King's traditionally squealed solos are given a more melodic, structured edge, and if anything, it is the assured, confident riffing of the two that really appeals to the listener on this album. As per usual, a special mention must be reserved for the truly innovational fills and savage rhythm work of drummer par excellence, Dave Lombardo. As this is his last album with the band (at least until this summer's long awaited effort), Lombardo signs off in a blistering fashion with almost funky, groove tinged metal pounding ('Blood Red'), and epic, earth-shattering tom rolls ('Seasons In The Abyss').
From a consistency point of view the album is very strong, and almost all the tracks merit repeated listens. The album contains several Slayer classics ('War Ensemble', 'Dead Skin Mask', 'Hallowed Point' and 'Seasons...'), and the quality of this material more than makes up for the occasional moments of deja vu that one may experience when listening this record. Another plus point for the album is that the the themes of the tracks actually diverts from war and the antics of serial killers (which are naturally covered with aplomb), to fully-fledged criticism of Reagan-era American society.
Whilst not as ground-breaking as 'Reign In Blood', as progressive as 'Hell Awaits' or as refined as 'South Of Heaven', 'Seasons In The Abyss' truly ranks alongside these monumental works, whilst also offering a spectacular introduction to the essential music of one of the genre's greats.