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It has been often pointed out that Slayer’s famed “Haunting The Chapel” EP, which many also believe eclipsed their monumental debut “Show No Mercy”, showcases one of the earliest examples of true, post-NWOBHM thrash. When taking note of the much darker overall sound aesthetic, the murky and almost doom-like guitar tone, and the much rawer vocal display out of Araya, there is definitely more of a commonality with what would be solidified as mid-80s thrash when accounting for the likes of Dark Angel and other similarly more aggressive acts that were more interested in horrific imagery than politics or social commentary. However, what is often missed on this is the strong proto-death metal aesthetic, which most tend to associate more with “Reign In Blood”.
At the beginning of things, it is laid plainly before all in attendance that Slayer is in uncharted waters for this era. “Chemical Warfare”, long heralded as a classic out of this band’s youth, is one wicked riff monster with enough morbid fury to give Venom pause. The rapid paced muddy guitars set a tone that is easily associated with such early death metal offerings as “Seven Churches”, “Scream Bloody Gore”, “Altars Of Madness”, “Slowly We Rot” and yes even “Eaten Back To Life”. The only real disconnect here is that Araya has not abandoned a tonal form of vocals for the utter harshness exemplified by Schuldiner or Becerra, let alone the barely intelligible guttural barks of later bands. But what really makes this song stand out is its long length and effective use of a steady (albeit blinding) pace, presenting what could be considered a proto-type of the high form of death/thrash associated with the early works of all the aforementioned bands.
The remaining contents on here are each auspicious in their own way, but a little less astounding. “Captor Of Sin” is a little bit slower, but still very murky, chock full of dissonant chromatic riffs that hint at a proto-death sound, and really lays on the lead guitar assault. The shred sections are actually the one area where Slayer still seems to have a remnant of their NWOBHM influences, consisting largely of the same pentatonic clichés as heard on “Show No Mercy”, but loaded up a bit more with frantic whammy noise. The title song “Haunting The Chapel” actually offers a preview of the format that would be fully realized on “Hell Awaits”, offering up a versatile mix of moderately fast and hyper fast mayhem with a very methodical riffing approach. But most of all, the atmosphere just oozes with intensity, to the point that even by today’s standards it would be considered too much for many to handle. The 1993 version contains a bonus track from the band’s earlier speed sound, which is quite good and actually heavily reminiscent of Metallica‘s “Hit The Lights“, but obviously a bit out of place, particularly considering all the banshee screeches Araya keeps belting out through out the riff breaks.
The historical importance of this album is definitely something that should be clear to anyone who loves the style, but more important than that is that after 27 years of being available for mass consumption, this has lost none of its charm. This is the sort of album that actually transfers the mind of the listener back to ‘84 and subjects him to the same astonishment as felt by those who had the good fortune to grab this at its release. Break out your 6 strings and your amps, real or made of air, and prepare for the real war to end all wars.