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For the longest time I’ve struggled to make sense out of this release, as it would seem to be either a reactionary piece of raw aggression to a changing world or a rather inconsistent attempt at turning back the clock. The album art would suggest a typical fit of pure evil similar to what was heard on “Hell Awaits”, but when you look at the various new clippings and the picture of a dead man with blood pouring out of his head (some suggest it’s a picture of Kurt Cobain) that populates the inner part of the foldout, the suggestion that some sand is being thrown in the gears becomes a distinct possibility, and does in fact occur in several areas on here.
The musical contents found on here are a somewhat bizarre mish-mash of speed/thrash, punk and modern groove influences. “SS-3”, “213” and “Divine Intervention” have the most groove influences injected into them, flirting with sounding like something off of Vulgar Display of Power from time to time. “Sex, Murder, Art” and “Circle of Beliefs” are the most overtly punk inspired both in terms of structural simplicity and vocal delivery. The rest of the songs are straight up thrash with plenty of signature riffs, fast as hell drumming, and plenty of guitar solo interchanges, although it seems that Kerry King is taking a dominant role in the shredding department.
Although I can’t really complain about the songwriting, even in the case of the groove inspired songs, the production on here is quite sloppy even when compared to the oldest albums in the genre. The drums have no depth to them at all, the snare is tuned way to high, and the high-hat symbol is way too loud. Paul Bostaph’s double bass kick work is hit or miss, he usually tends to suffer during the longer stretches of consistent blast beats (Killing Fields and Fictional Reality in particular), while during switch ups he tends to hit the mark accurately. Araya’s vocal mix is utterly atrocious; to speak nothing for the new style he is exhibiting. He avoids the cliché of worshipping James Hetfield that some other thrash acts had fallen into at this point, but the lower end shouts that he does end up utilizing are almost comparable to the crap that John Bush spewed out with Anthrax at around this time.
If I had to pick the best songs on this album, they would be the ones that tend more towards the Slayer that everyone loved in the 80s. “Divine Intervention” has a drawn out intro with some gloomy clean guitar sounds, before settling into some decent mid-tempo thrash, by far the most epic sounding thing on here. “Mind Control” and “Dittohead” are the best fast paced tracks out of the bunch, featuring wicked riffs, riveting solos, and the most consistent drum performances of the thrashers in the mix. “Serenity in Murder” is also loaded with quality riffing and listens well throughout, despite having a few groove moments and a somewhat flat vocal performance.
Slayer fans will no doubt have mixed feelings about this album, as I myself can’t condemn it as a failure or praise it as a masterpiece. It has its moments but it is consistently mired by an extremely poor drum mix and a lot of hints at the metal-core direction that they would later take in the vocals. Look for it at under $10 and be prepared to either skip around depending on your preferences in metal.