For those of you who have never heard of Slayer, they are one of the Big Four thrash metal bands (Megadeth, Metallica, and Anthrax being the other three). Yet, Slayer’s sound is slightly more vicious than most thrash bands; I would say they are the most hardcore thrash band out there because of their speed, dissonance, and lyrics. Furthermore, they don’t have any ballads or soft songs.
Slayer’s 1986 masterpiece Reign in Blood can be described as half and hour of brutal, uncompromising metal. Their follow up, 1988’s South of Heaven, showed a slower, yet more deranged side of slayer, incorporating haunting and scary melodies that Reign in Blood lacked. In 1990, Slayer tries to combine the aggressive speed of Reign in Blood with the slower, evil sounding melody of South of Heaven. The result is Seasons in the Abyss. For the most part, this album has everything your typical Slayer album has. Fast riffs, fast, drumming, fast, insane sounding “singing”, violent lyrics and barely audible bass. Yet, there’s an unexplainable aura about it. It feels very new. It seems Slayer has evolved and become more intelligent, creating a complete coherent and cohesive album. The problem is, they are starting to loose the dark and evil image they created with their debut “Show no Mercy”. They have relinquished their mysteriousness. This might be due to the fact that they were becoming a little bit more mainstream (courtesy of Mtv’s Head Bangers Ball). Instead of appearing as evil demons from hell that praised savage butchery and Satan, they started seeming like normal people who just looked scary. A small Part of the magic of Slayer’s hardcore image was abandoned with this album. That being said it is still a heavy album with some powerful moments that enforce the unique brutality of Slayer.
Tom Araya: Vocals, bass
Kerry King: Lead guitars
Jeff Hanneman: Lead guitars
Dave Lombardo: Drums
1) War Ensemble: A great way to kick off the album. Starts with a fast riff that is soon after joined into by the rest of the band. Nothing really new from slayer. Same old fast riffs with chaotic fills here and there. Same with the verse. I love how after Tom stops “singing” they play the intro riff once or twice and then he starts singing again. Like most Slayer songs, there are at least two solos. The first one in this song comes after the chorus. For those who have never heard Slayer, let me just describe their average solo. Whichever lead guitarist is playing first will just play a bunch of random notes probably as fast as he can. Then the other lead guitarist will come in and do the same thing. The result" It sounds like a cat is dying. Kerry King has actually admitted that his solos are in completely random keys. After then next chorus there is a slightly slower section followed by another solo. The song ends after one last chorus and a few chords. A pretty good song but as I said nothing really new from Slayer. 4/5.
2) Blood Red: Begins with a slower dissonant intro. Then after a pickslide the main riff kicks in. This is a slow song for Slayer but it isn’t actually slow. I would call it moderately fast. Although the lyrics are pretty good for this song, “You cannot hide the face of death, oppression ruled by bloodshed”, I find this song a bit weak. There isn’t that usual adrenaline that is felt when listening to Slayer. A decent song at best. 3/5
3) Spirit in Black: Starts with a heavy riff that leads into a fast pace verse with Araya doing his usual shout/ singing. The lyrics are very typical from Slayer. Dying and rotting in hell, roaming the inferno as a spirit. After the second chorus comes the first solo. Although, as usual, there is mostly cat killing involved there are a few moments of melody that make it a good solo by Slayer standards. I wish I could say the same about the one after the mid section. That one is pure cacophony. The song ends after one last verse. A great song that would be excellent if it was a bit shorter. 4/5
4) Expendable Youth: A slow riff accompanied by some drumming starts off this song. After what seems like forever, Dave Lombardo starts playing a real beat and the song picks up a bit. Then, the riff changes to a different riff at the same tempo. The problem is this riff is bland and not brutal at all. Same with the verse. The lyrics are about gang violence but they come off as stupid and vague ranting. The chorus stays on the same level as the verse. The result is that the song never really picks up and never gets more intense than any other part of the song. BORING. A boring song that stays on one level. 2.5/5.
5) Dead Skin Mask: A very slow and haunting riff begins the song. As soon as the riff ends it is answered by a similar one from the other lead guitarist. It gives the effect that the riff is surrounding you and that you cannot escape. Then a heavier riff kicks in and leads into the verse. Araya really sounds insane as he sings this. This song would be really amazing if it were much shorter. Even though it is 5:17 long, which is not THAT long, there aren’t enough different parts and riffs to fill up the 5:17. So as you can guess it’s a pretty repetitive song. Could have been excellent if it were shorter. 4/5.
6) Hallowed Point: This song is about guns. It starts off with a chord progression and then leads into a classic thrash fest verse. The whole song is very fast paced. “High velocity bullet at close range can damage the mind. Shattering the skull, shredding the brain, severing the spine”. The song has the typical Slayer deliciously violent lyrics. After the second chorus there is a very powerful mid section that really adds depth to the song. Then, there is a solo by King, which leads back into that mid section. Same lyrics and riffs. But then, a very heavy riff that makes you wanna get up and mosh very violently, accompanied by 2 more solos kicks in and the song ends. May I add that all this happens in 3:24. A fast song with a heavy ending. One of the best on the album. 4.5/5
7) Skeletons of Society: Starts off with drums playing what sounds like a war drum beat. Then the guitars come in and eventually the beat changes. This song basically is about the apocalypse and how it left only skeletons of society. The chorus is very well done because Tom’s vocals are recorded twice. One voice does the signature Araya “singing” and one merely speaks. It gives a very haunting effect. Again we are treated to a few solos and the song ends. A cool song but nothing too out of the ordinary. 3.5/5.
8) Temptation: Starts with a heavy riff accompanied by Dave fiddling with the high hat. Then the verse kicks in. Just like in Skeletons of Society, Tom’s vocals are recorded twice. This time, however, one voice is delayed. So when the verse begins what you hear is “Have you ever felt have you ever felt the need to see more the too see more then you can see can see”. That’s the best description I can give. The delay effect is cool but besides that this song can be considered filler. 3/5.
9) Born of Fire: This song was visibly created as filler but I think it’s awesome. A simple but aggressive power chord progression begins the song accompanied by frantic drumming. This song is fast and thrashy just like Hallowed Point. Except I like this one better because I think it sounds so good when Tom screams “Born of Fire” over that intro chord progression (that’s the chorus). In addition, it really makes the song heavy when Araya screams “Satan’s son, I’m born of Fire” right before the solo kicks in to end the song. Probably not a personal favorite for most people but this is my favorite song on the album. 4.5/5
10) Seasons in the Abyss: They decide to close the album with the most haunting and disturbing sounding song on the album. Good choice! The slow intro sounds like what you would hear in the waiting room of hell. It sounds like you are floating in the realms of the dead. Even though the intro is long, the build up is spectacular and leads into a very heavy verse. Just like in Dead Skin Mask, Tom sounds like a psychopath when he sings this. The chorus is just mind-boggling. The mix between Tom’s style of singing and the heavy riff used is pure excellence. After a solo and a last chorus, the song ends on the same riff as the intro. An excellent song. One of Slayer’s best. Perfect album closer 5/5.
Bottom line: After releasing a series of absolutely brutal, evil, and mysterious sounding thrash metal, Slayer release a weaker album. The idea of combining the RiB and the SoH sounds was brilliant but the album was not as string as it should have been. If the themes of the songs had stayed more evil and mysterious and less relevant to today’s society they could have kept their veil. Also, I find some songs (Expendable Youth, Blood Red, Skeletons of Society) lacked the energy found on Reign in Blood and every album before that one. Yet, this is not a bad album per say. It’s just weaker and less belligerent as earlier Slayer material. That being said, there are still some great songs on it, like War Ensemble, or Hallowed Point. In addition, despite their rise in popularity, Slayer was too hardcore to sell out. They would never drastically change their sound, and never write softer, more radio friendly material. For crying out loud! The band is called Slayer! That’s saying something right there. In conclusion, a pretty good album but a bit less convincing in hostility than their earlier releases.
Final rating: 3.5/5