Slayer is a band whose legacy, importance, and influence simply cannot be debated. Love them, hate them, or even misunderstand them, Slayer are what they are. It has been five years since the poorly received (though in my opinion, still decent) God Hates Us All album from 2001. Preceding that album was 1998's wretched Diabolus in Musica, which even in my biased opinion is the worst Slayer album thus far created. With people clamoring for more of the classic, speedy thrash the band originated, it was only a matter of time before Slayer took up arms and went to war once again, thirsty for blood and with something to prove to a generation who doesn't realize just how vital they are.
With all that playing against them, it is no surprise to me as a Slayer fan that Christ Illusion is the strongest effort they've put forth in years, maybe even a decade. How do you prove to the world that all the moshcore bands ripped those riffs off a band who played them decades before at speeds thirty times faster? The answer is simple; you go out, make a slice of reinvigorated work, and sound like you're just starting out again. There is no pretension in this analysis; Slayer have refound the spark of their early work. Make no mistake; albums like Reign in Blood, Seasons in the Abyss, and South of Heaven will probably never again be topped. The natural forces at work in the world, the time period and its zeitgeist, and the youth an energy of the then brand-spanking new Slayer outfit itself makes it hard for such classics to be touched ever again. Yet, here we are, so much later, and things are feeling very brutal once more.
As stated earlier, I feel Slayer is such an important band that even their worst musical output is still miles above the competition. However, hearing an album as refocused as Christ Illusion makes me want to eat those words with a knife and a fork. Simply put, Christ Illusion couldn't have come at a better time. Slayer have been watching events in the wings, observing a crazy world of terrorism, foreign war, poor economics, and public scandal after public scandal. Out of the limelight and with music having gone (in my opinion) much more piss-poor directions since the band's inception, how refreshing it is to hear them lashing out at the sorry state of things one more time.
Opener "Flesh Storm" is the perfect example of this trend. It feels impossible admitting this to the world, but this song sounds like classic Slayer. I don't throw such praise around f***ing lightly, so hopefully you'll understand just how much this track shreds. In a boneheaded PR move, my advance copy has two versions back-to-back with "alternate vocals." Ironically, there is little difference in the two, and having no idea which is going to the released album's real version, I'll leave my scrutiny solely on the music itself. "Flesh Storm" oozes forth slowly building guitar dissonance before the band lacerates you with a prime cut of oldschool, vintage, Slayer thrash. Once you hear it, you know who it f***ing is right away. Meaty, massive, and speedy grooves blaze by like fireballs, and everyone sounds like they're at the top of their game.
Of particular note is the dueling guitar tandem that is Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King, both of whom really churn out some fantastic riffs, and a few blazing leads the likes of which will have your blood vessels popping like antacids in water. "Catalyst" carries the thread of speedy thrash going, with a barnstorming monster of a song. I realized by this song already that Tom Araya has gotten back the fiery, deranged fury that made his vocals so compelling once upon a blood-red moon, and here it is. Add in some wicked guitar licks, and you have one bitching track.
The sinister, fuzzy groove of "Eyes of the Insane" ends up being a really cool midtempo track not unlike some of the stuff off Seasons in the Abyss perhaps. Slowly but surely, the song builds into a demented beatdown that simply murders you. Crazed and frenetic, the song's post-traumatic stress syndrome ramblings and itching menace make it one of the album's highlights. Try as I might, I had immense difficulty enjoying song five, "Jihad." Part of this hesitance was due to the song's horribly abnormal intro, a bunch of weird, almost radio-rock riffs that sound as unlike Slayer as one can get essentially. When a serpentine guitar pattern finally weaves into the end, and the band launches into furious, pillaging thrash, some face is saved and the end result is a pretty strong track. Maybe my expectations simply hurt this song, as Slayer have been making quite a fuss about it in the media due to its obscene subject matter (fundamentalism in religion, mainly Islam). It ends up decent, but thankfully, it's followup, "Skeleton Christ," absolutely beheads everything else. Swaggering in on massive, devastating grooves, "Skeleton Christ" seesaws between chunky mid-tempo taunting, breakneck, blasphemous choruses (perhaps the best the band has ever penned) and even a brutal thrash breakdown. Excellent stuff this!
"Consfearacy" has a lame as all hell name, but the song in question actually ends up being one of the album's many highlights; right off the bat, flaying slices of thrash drag across your eardrums, with some writhing guitar leads in there. Araya outdoes his own mania on this track, the song's anti-government tone coming up very VERY clear. This is the brutal, smart, and homicidal Slayer all of you know and love.
"Black Serenade" wallows in a pool of mid-tempo sludge, not unlike the band's aforementioned early 1990's output. Before you know it, the song creeps up behind and slits your throat with some excellent, low-end thrash. "Catatonic" begins a downward spiral into the band's hellish best; the last three songs of the album are each haymakers in their own right. "Catatonic" is the slow, plodding elephant stomp that Slayer's thrash always had the potential to be slowed down to, and was probably the result of the Unholy Alliance Tour and Mastodon's gigs on it.
I'd argue "Cult" is amongst the best of the album, it's somber, clean opening leading into some of the most energetic, fist-pumping heavy metal the band has penned in ages...and check out the chorus for pure Slayer! Album closer "Supremacist" finds a band taking back their bloodstained throne, and laying waste to the pretenders. thundering percussion, massive riffs, and malice-dripping guitar picking. What more can you want? Sounds to me like Slayer are back with an unholy spark under their asses.
If I haven't already made it clear, Slayer are a band who are very dear to my blackened, icy heart. To throw out some of the compliments I do in this review should not be taken lightly by you readers, and should serve as a sign for just how fresh the band is sounding to me again. Summed up in a sentence; there are no illusions on the new Slayer album hiding suck behind the laurels of the past. A massive return to form, and highly recommended to anyone who has any interest in this band at all.
Slayer's Christ Illusion
1. Flesh Storm
3. Eyes of the Insane
5. Skeleton Christ
7. Black Serenade