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Before I start, I want to put some context. I am not an older metalhead at all. In fact, I never really gave metal a serious listen until about 3 years ago. Before then, I had spent about 2 years delving into classic prog rock. When I first read about this album, I didn't know what to expect when I heard of this album. Not even the album's name could truly prepare me for what I was about to listen to (although the album art looks pretty close to what I heard; this album waged sonic terrorism on my ears). However, when I first turned this album on, I realized that this was a completely different than what I was used to. This is certainly the very first metal album I ever listened to, as well as the first metal album I bought. While many albums have come and gone since then, Hell Awaits has been the mainstay of my collection, THE album to listen to. Every person I have gotten into metal (once I delved into the genre) was recommended this album as one of the most essential. In fact, this is probably one of the best metal albums of all time.
Now, my personal rant aside, this album is perfect. The album fades in with a very unsettling atmosphere from the very beginning, with the almost ghastly chants and morbid riffs from the beginning of "Hell Awaits", this shows Slayer at their very best. The production also helps make the sound much more unsettling, as well as helps the instruments blend in to each other. While Slayer's albums now follow a nu-metalesque formula, there is no traces of this radio friendly sound on this album at all. This album was and still is morbid as hell. The album is a chaotic yet intricate listen, and then, at the end of "Hardening of the Arteries", the album fades out in a similar manner as the album began, suggesting that the album is actually a loop.
Musically, as I said, Slayer is at their best here. Jeff Hanneman does an amazing job writing extremely evil guitar riffs (in fact, if you listen to "Necrophiliac", you can hear a few riffs that were later stolen to write "Repentless"). The bass is also well done on this release. Listen to, for example, the bass solo in "At Dawn We Sleep". Dave Lombardo also did a great job drumming. Throughout the album, I hear blasts used prominently, but Dave also alternates between multiple drumming styles. The music on this album can only be described as extremely technical and progressive in nature. This sound is amplified by the production quality. Not only does it create a dark, evil atmosphere, but it helps mend the instruments together, making everything seem like a coherent whole, unlike modern Slayer which pits the instruments against each other in what feels like a constant battle. This also benefits the album, as it makes the album feel more surgically precise than a lot of albums of that era which used a much more separated sound.
Overall, this is an album that must be experienced, but it certainly pays off to listen to it. In fact, I believe that this is probably the first blackened death metal album ever. Some people might compare this to Show No Mercy or Reign in Blood, but I have to disagree. Even for all of the great aspects of Show No Mercy, it still has flaws, and Reign in Blood is very boring in my opinion (I, personally, found only two songs to actually be memorable), an opinion that I realize is extremely unpopular. I certainly wonder what Slayer could've done, had they taken this route instead of going the way of Metallica; cashing out and then selling out in favor of being a trendjumper. Highly recommended for anyone who wants metal that is technically adept, or to just hear an amazing example of what metal used to be.
No question who was miles ahead of the pack of the big 4 after this release. Much as I love Megadeth, when it came to sheer brutality no one could compete with Slayer. This is what Rush would sound like if they decided to follow the path of Venom rather than The Police. The absolute perfect next step for Slayer to evolve to after Show No Mercy. The sound was more evil, the songs were longer and faster, the lyrical subject matter was more terrifying, this is progress folks. Throw in a deliciously cruel album cover and you’ve got the total package. This is the album that drew Slayer legions of fans willing to kill any intellectual, pussy or any other carbon based life form who otherwise wanted to challenge this bands legacy. After the “betrayal” of Metallica daring to use acoustic intros in their songs (that shit is so Motley Crue brah, you know, the band they talked nonstop smack about) as a form of progress, it's no wonder so many psychotic metal fans flocked in this bands direction.
As for the production, it does serve as a great atmosphere of descending into hell, but there is the problem of some of the riffs losing their chunky definition from being soaked in so much reverb. Probably also the reason why there aren’t many mall dwelling retards lauding this over Reign In Blood. I will maintain that if the band got Rick Rubin right off the bat and used that production for this album, NO ONE would be lauding Reign In Blood as the best ever. But you have to admit its pretty impressive that it still managed to convey the ideals of black metal to an American underground with minimal exposure to Bathory and the like, right?
Another innovative facet of this album are the use of half-time sections and breakdowns, but with a sense of subtlety rather than punk rock pandering. Hell, Angel of Death, Slayer’s most popular song, sounds like it came from the sessions of this album rather than any point in time in 1986. These guys weren't trying to invent a way to slam, they were just incorporating Iron Maiden time changes. I mean after all, the extreme metal way of thinking is do everything rock & roll does, but completely suck any melodicism and tonality out of it and make it all a bunch of noise, right? Wait, maybe progress isn't a good thing.
The way Dave Lombardo gels with everyone is truly something to behold. Just look at the floor tomfoolery of 0:43 in of Kill Again. You can't invent moments like that without an elite ability to keep time and react to time. And how about that double bass drum solo in At Dawn They Sleep (which would of course be lifted for Angel of Death)? He's just so good that you can't help but wonder if it was actually an unaccompanied solo based purely on releasing stored energy, or a sonic interpretation of thousands of dead vampire and human bodies falling to the ground at once.
Highlights: The title track is of course a blast, though I do wish it wasn't always the go to song when picking tracks from this to play live. The most underrated song on here is probably Crypts of Eternity, a soul twisting epic with two breakdowns intertwined into each other. Dig those creepy call and response harmonies that start around the three minute mark. This song would have been a stroke of genius just as an instrumental but then going into VIOLATE OF YOUR BROKEN SEAL *roll* OF *roll* HELL etc., etc., topped off with yet another magnificent Rob Halford high pitched scream. Ah the good old days when Tom threw those out like party favors. The whole thing is also surprisingly catchy, but the choruses you'll remember the most are Kill Again and At Dawn They Sleep. Just well developed, rhythmically bouncing [your head on to stalagmites] vocals that prove yelling and screaming in metal can be used effectively if done properly.
It takes real talent to merge progressive metal, thrash and black metal seamlessly into one sound whilst making it sound effortless. It's a heavenly shame that Slayer never wrote songs like this again. Even Phil Anselmo admits this loss. Hell Awaits separates the real Slayer fans from the edge-lords who think the band was a joke before Reign In Blood (and that includes you Eddie Trunk).
At Dawn They Sleep
In 1983, Slayer released their debut album Show No Mercy. This album showcased the band's NWOBHM influences like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, only difference being it was twice as fast as either of those bands and it's themes were more Satanic. The album's sound, while undoubtedly thrash, was a lot more melodic and less threatening than Slayer's later work. Their EP Haunting the Chapel, released one year later, showed the band's sound heading in a much darker and less melodic direction. The transformation of their sound from a NWOBHM tribute band to a full-on thrash band was complete with the release of Hell Awaits.
This album, as well as showcasing Slayer's classic sound, also introduced more complex song structures, with a few different riffs and tempo changes present on each song, especially on longer songs like "Crypts of Eternity" and the title track. Speaking of the title track, it contains the perfect way to open an album as evil as this one. The infamous back masked chant of "Join us" is unsettling enough, but just as the chant ends, the death growl of "Welcome back" is heard. Before the listener has time to recover from that sinister greeting, the song itself welcomes us back to the demented world of Slayer in the best way it can: with sludgy guitar riffs and a slow, three minute build to the second, faster half of the song. This album may only contain seven songs, but they're all evil, demented and thrashy in their own way. "Hell Awaits" and "Kill Again" are great picks for the first two songs. They both hook the listener straight away by giving off a menacing and evil vibe, especially "Kill Again" with lyrics spoken by a serial killer who's violence is described in graphic detail and a speed so fast it would even make a cheetah reach for the chill pills. The rest of the songs give off the same malicious intent of the first two songs. "At Dawn they Sleep" sounds the most evil with it's slow tempo and Tom growling the intentions of vampires lusting for blood. There really isn't any bad songs on this album, although the album does have a head scratching moment in the form of the album's closer "Hardening of the Arteries". It sounds somewhat rushed as it seems to fill time before the riff that opened the album is also played to finish it. The song sounds like it was put there to fill out space and although it's a good song, it does give one the suspicious thought that the band was struggling to come up with a song to finish the album with.
The individual performances on the album are great. As a whole, this would have to be Tom's best vocal performance on any album period. He does everything from his trademark shouting, to growling on "At Dawn they Sleep" to the high pitched screams on "Kill Again" and "Crypts of Eternity". He experiments with what his voice can do is extensive and he nails it every time. The bass, while being much more audible than on Show No Mercy (or any future album for that matter), still isn't given much time in the spotlight. "Praise of Death" is it's best song, simply because it's the song where it's given the most screen time. The guitars sound really powerful and raw on every song, meshing with the evil themes on the album nicely and making them seem more sinister. The drums are perfect, but one can't expect anything less from Dave Lombardo. This album sees him in top form, especially with his patented double bass drumming, Dave has really found his footing on this album (no pun intended).
The production, for the most part, is very fitting to this album. It's dirty, unpolished and gritty. Perfect ingredients to throw into a thrash album. That being said, there is one point where it fails on the album. "Crypts of Eternity" sees the production on the guitars thinning out. The guitars heaviness jumps up and down from thin, to heavy and back to thin again. It's not a huge issue, but it's enough to be noticeable and deserves mentioning. Otherwise, the production fits the songs and the evil atmosphere they were all going for. Also, the mix is fine. It showcase loud guitars and drums, which is great for this kind of album, but as previously mentioned, the bass is too quiet as a consequence of that. Again, it's not a major issue but it's big enough to warrant a mention.
All in all, Hell Awaits is an album that is oozing with filthy, vile thrash anthems with wicked lyrical themes. Slayer stepped up their game for this album and the end result was one that did not disappoint. The uncompromising speed, the more complex song structure and the much darker sound gave Slayer an identity to call their own, unlike Show No Mercy which tried to steal the identity of the NWOBHM bands. A thrash classic that every extreme metal fan needs to own.
"Show No Mercy" came as a real bombshell and changed my musical preferences once and for all. "Reign in Blood" marked the album which influenced all following generations of thrash metal musicians. It seems only logical that these two milestones must be praised for representing the undeniable highlights in the discography of Slayer or even more in the history of thrash metal. But appearances are deceptive. "Hell Awaits" is better. Whether you believe it or not, "Hell Awaits" deserves the honour of being the best thrash metal album ever. Of course, one has to be very careful when using superlatives, but from my point of view, this one is exceptionally justified. On the one hand, it presents the malicious, aggressive, intense, insidious and devastating quintessence of its genre. While offering solely genuine thrash, it marks the only album of the first three Slayer full-lengths without punk influences. On the other hand, it shows an ambitious, highly motivated band that acts technically perfect, not at least because of Dave Lombardo´s outstanding drumming. Almost 30 years after its release this masterpiece of malignancy has not lost any of its fascination.
Already the eerie beginning of the opening title track left its mark on the thrash metal scene. The slowly growing riffs were more or less copied by great bands like Onslaught ("Let there be Death"), Dark Angel ("Darkness Descends") or Devastator ("Maximum Destruction"). Even after more than 25 years, the Australians of Hellbringer copied these riffs on their fantastic first full-length. Admittedly, not so much the riffs itself but the aura and the song formula were picked up by these groups. The same applies to the outro of the final track, "Hardening of the Arteries", which is characterized by its howling guitars. You find these guitars again, for instance, on the recent full-length of Aura Noir. All these excellent bands (without this list being exhaustive) pay tribute to Slayer and especially to "Hell Awaits". These points alone already make clear that this masterpiece left a huge impact on the scene.
Due to the album´s running time of 37 minutes, each and every of the only seven songs had to be optimally thought out and that is the case here. Without being excessively progressive, the tunes offer an appropriate number of breaks. Nevertheless, they come to the point, because the focus is always kept on the songs themselves. Furthermore, the band does not neglect the necessary amount of sick melodies. I would therefore not change even the smallest details. To name but a few: Tom Araya´s voice never sounded more malignant, the guitar solos combine brutality and musicality in a perfect manner, the precise riffs work with clockwork accuracy and each and every tempo change increases the tension. But above all stands, as mentioned previously, the drumming of Lombardo. For example, listen to the inferno that he unleashes in "Necrophiliac". His drum fills are simply admirable.
But what would all this be without an equivalent production? The sharp sound of the album is dominated by harshness and transparency. All instruments - including the bass guitar, which is, as you know, hardly audible on some records - are well balanced. On top of this reigns the imperious and powerful voice of Araya. To my mind, the album has the same effectiveness after all these years as on the very first day.
I have to apologize that I cannot tell you the song titles of the highlights. Some might argue with good reasons that the monumental title track is the best song. Some might prefer another track. But from my point of view, the whole album constitutes the highlight. And it goes without saying that there is no downer. Some eternal grumbler might be of the opinion that "Crypts of Eternity" cannot compete with the remaining tracks. I don´t think so. These wretched creatures always have to have something to gripe about. In my humble opinion, the song is perfectly constructed - do not get confused by its cautious start. (And do not care about the inexplicable fact that "superstar" Michael Jackson was given a place on the inner sleeve. Thank God, he was definitely not involved in the production process of the album.)
There seems to be only one reason why the musicians did not bury the band after this release, although "Hell Awaits" was unsurpassable. You all know exactly what I am implying. "Reign in Blood" was in the making. But please note: the band chose a completely different songwriting approach on this record. A wise decision. With a view to "Hell Awaits", "Hell Awaits Part II" would doubtlessly not have had a chance to achieve a comparable level. But this applies to every goddamn album of the genre worldwide. Thus, as mentioned above, you do not have to look for a better thrash metal release. Or to express it in the words of Tom Araya: "What you seek for can´t be found / In sea or sky or underground".
Rarely does music sound so truly and horrifically evil as it does here. Slayer took the workings they made on debut "Show No Mercy" and intensified them to near perfection. They honed their craft, and in doing so created one of the absolute greatest metal albums of all time. That album is, of course, "Hell Awaits".
From the "Su nioj! Su nioj!" intro to the album cover of cattle and decapitated heads falling into a fiery pit of suffering, it seems as if the Satanic imagery and lyricism explored on "Show No Mercy" is comedically light compared to this. There is something truly unsettling about the introduction of an album being a group of demons enticing you to join them in Hell, but than again, what is more metal than that?
Gone are the influence ridden riffs, as now Kerry and Jeff are playing intense riffs that are now seen as the Slayer trademark. Tracks such as "Kill Again", "At Dawn They Sleep", and "Necrophiliac", hold some of the absolute greatest extreme metal riffs of all time in them. Riffs that are so iconic it's hard to really express in words how influential they have become as time has gone on. There are really only shreds of NWOBHM influence in these riffs, with "Necrophiliac" sounding a bit more old school British metal meets warp speed hellspawn. Now, for the most part, it has been replaced with pure malice and demon bile, thus creating some of the fiercest riffs to ever grace our blackened Earth. Kerry and Jeff, may he reign in peace, never really get much credit for their immense work in Slayer's early career. Sure, as time went on, things changed. But when don't they?
The real standout is Mr. Araya's vocal work. Devastatingly evil, and absolutely lightyears ahead of his time, there are growls, shrieks, and falsetto deliveries that must have sounded insane in 1985. Sure, Tom G. Warrior was UGHing all over the place in the early 80's with equally infuential and iconic group Hellhammer, but Tom Araya sounds truly horrifying on some of these tracks. When he says "I have seen the darkest pits of Hell!", you really do believe he really has. Again, as time went on, Tom may have lost some of his vocal prowess, but that's life. Can't stay young forever. But that doesn't diminish this performance or his current stuff. Because lets face it. Slayer still kills it. But "Hell Await" would sound a little less evil with Tom's insane vocal delivery. That's the key to delivering dark lyrics. Delivering them with the absolute darkest sound you can.
In conclusion, "Hell Awaits" is often regarded as one of the absolute greatest metal albums of all time, and rightfully so. This album so evil and dark it makes everything released after and before it seem lighter than a bag of fat free potato chips. As a whole, this is the best pound for pound release Slayer ever put out. Each song is a crafted beauty of evil and wretchedness, and each track paints a dark picture. One that has hung proudly in the halls of metal for almost three decades. You just can't beat this, and likely never will.
----This review was also submitted to sputnikmusic.com---
Totally overrated album and I’ve always felt this way about this release. The intro is eerie though and I wish that I could say that the guitar riffs and solos were worthy of praise. I’m just not hearing it on here. I don’t see the major gaga about this album. Araya’s vocals are less intense than on Show No Mercy, but they do fit the music well. I just think that the guitars could’ve been better constructed here, but this isn’t the case in my opinion. All I hear is monotonous tremolo picked riffs with mediocre solos and production quality that just does not sum it up to being a classic from Slayer.
I’m not one to read the reviews here, just the percentages. It’s just not there for me no matter how much I listen to the album. Guitars could’ve been way better than they are. I’d rather listen to Show No Mercy than this one. It’s a hard one to see that much significance in the recording. To me, this is average Slayer work. However, the riffs are original sounding, but nothing that really sticks in my brain into thinking that it’s better than it really is. Why people esteem this album better than Show No Mercy is ridiculous. The vocals are just bland here and don’t fit as well as on their debut.
The leads were just mediocre by both guitarists. You can’t hear the difference better Jeff and Kerry in that department which is good. I’m just not hearing riffs that are significant. I mean there are fast picking guitar riffs with chords decently constructed, just nothing worthy of praising the album. The production sound is kind of flat sounding, but you can hear everything in unison. Just a mediocre output by the band and to me it could’ve been a much better release in my opinion. Their debut and succeeding albums are both way up at the top. But Hell Awaits never did appeal to me.
Their debut had a raw production whereas this one again is flat sounding making the instruments sound less brutal and intense than on their debut. Everything about this album doesn’t appeal to me. The riffs could’ve been way better, the vocals with more screaming, the drums were powerful though and that is the gist of it. Of course I like old Slayer and maybe over time my opinion of Hell Awaits changes. I doubt it though. Show No Mercy really appealed to me.
If you want quality Slayer and would like to listen to thrash metal that’s totally original sounding and worthy of praise, get Show No Mercy. The riffs are high quality on that album. On Hell Awaits, the music didn’t interest me. Again, a highly overrated album that to me is just average thrash metal. They really went ballistic on their succeeding album entitled Reign In Blood. Get that one if you haven’t already. It’s much better than Hell Awaits. Nothing good to say about this one I think it’s a total waste of a release. People have told me differently but I’m not convinced. Hold off on buying this, listen to some tracks on YouTube first before you choose to buy Hell Awaits.
The mighty Slayer was climbing to the top in the mid-80's. "Show No Mercy" showed an aggressive young band hungry to wreck the lives all who stood before them, while the wicked follow-up EP "Haunting The Chapel" showed the bad taking themselves to a sound which would eventually become thrash as we know it. Full album number two, "Hell Awaits", brought to life something unreal. Something only thought that could exist in one's most unholy nightmare. "Hell Awaits" scared people. It made "Kill 'Em All" look as mellow as a Pink Floyd album, and "Welcome To Hell" about as blasphemous as a Sunday picnic. It surely was at the time the heaviest and most unrelenting album ever, and even today it still stands as a major achievement in Slayer's discography for turning thrash metal into how we know it now.
The classic lineup got better and better with each album, and on here I believe they reached their nirvana; this along with the mid-paced mayhem of "South of Heaven" shows Slayer at their most talented. Not to mention the music has gotten even better, maturing and moving into a distinctly though not overtly progressive direction. Tom Araya's bass is probably loudest on this album than any other, and he strums that rhythm quite well; his voice is practically perfect, his array of fearsome shouting and demonic banshee shrieks are legitimately terrifying. Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman make a force to be reckoned with. It seems they sold their own souls to gain even wilder guitar abilities, because that's only way I describe the hellish shredding and trade-offs these guys unleash here. And how about Dave fucking Lombardo huh? His double bass pummeling is now totally lacking in sloppiness, not mention he puts on some killer fills as well as some mighty kick drumming. ALL HAIL!
There's all but seven songs on "Hell Awaits", but that was just enough to change the course of thrash metal as we know it apparently. The title track slithers in with an evil backwards message and then... "Welcome Back!". Araya yells o'er relentless Lombardo double bass while King and Hanneman duke it out with some shredding during the immense solo. And let's not forget that gang growl: "HELL AWAITS!" HA-HA! The follow-up is one of my favorites, the bloodthirsty "Kill Again" with its merciless main breakdown, a surprisingly catchy chorus with that buzzsaw guitar under the chorus itself,and to top it off, one of the Araya's most startlingly evil shrieks ever at the song's end. Another big highlight is the epic "Crypts of Eternity", a bass-heavy, weirdly melodic two-fisted thrasher with some more truly evil Araya screams around the five minute point. Then we have the ugly speeder "Necrophiliac", complete with relentless drumming unstoppable Hanneman/King riffage, including a nifty little break and some interesting time changes.
Overall, evil perfection. Araya, Hanneman, King, and Lombardo are at the top of their game, creatively and musically. All seven songs are merciless works of art that totally re-shaped the heavy metal landscape, and I for one am glad that hell took over in this case.
This was an absolute bench mark in metal. It has that speedy menacing sound which makes metal so exciting. Unfortunately so many other bands have gotten it wrong, it has been misconstrued, and some younger lesser informed metal heads are probably blissfully unaware of this album. Now when I spoke of that speedy menacing sound, I'm definitely not saying Slayer were the first ones doing it. I could name countless NWOBHM bands, and hey even Black Sabbath were quite heavy and evil sounding in the standards of the 70's. But Slayer took it to a whole other level with this one.
For me this is much more than the record between Show no Mercy and Reign in Blood. This is just as important if not more important because to put it simply, their classic which would emerge in '86 simply would cease to exist if it weren't for this record. On Slayer's first record they had a sound akin to Venom, injected with that famous Bay Area crunch. It was a brilliant debut, but by all standards, even if it did seem scary or intimidating, Slayer weren't a force to be reckoned with until Hell awaits. Some of the riffs on the first record may have even had a "jolly" catchy feel to them. But all such things were abandoned here, and the entire album is as cold as steel, and executed with an unholy relish. I would go as far as to say that maybe this is where death metal's earliest origins lay. In fact any decent death metal act that evolved from the thrashier roots cite Slayer as an influence such as Death or Morbid Angel. And they are pretty cool fucking bands in my eyes.
The only thing in my eyes that knocks one per cent off, is that over the years the production does not exactly ripen with age. Reign in Blood sounds like it landed yesterday, but with this record some of the riffs sound a mixed in a little too low. Not so much that it takes the heaviness away, but when Tom is singing the meandering riffs almost come across as background commotion but still enough to keep this listener interested. Araya's vocals sound very evil on this record and I can actually understand every word he says whereas on other albums he sings too fast or the guitar is too dense to distinguish individual words upon first listen. I mentioned the riffs, but as for the solos? Well, if you have heard Slayer before, then I won't lie as they are typical Slayer solos that burst of energy and squeal almost involuntarily. I love it, but for some it has no direction or is considered the antithesis of what a real solo should be. Even the artwork looks like it should be taken very seriously even all these years later. Show no Mercy's artwork might induce mild giggling after all these years, but this album has none of that 80's metal cheese to its aesthetics. If you're a fan of thrash or death metal you should own this album. If not, I urge you buy it with your next lot of wages.
Every album tells a story, and the ones that tend to be best remembered are the ones that tell of great feats that are yet to come. Such words as “pioneering” and “innovative” generally tends to come along with such works, and for the dark world of extreme metal, an incredible amount of significance can be attached to 1985. While the foundation for what now is recognized as the dueling shadows of death and black metal was already being laid by the likes of Venom, Bathory, Hellhammer and a few others, it was that heavily occult fixated, too wicked for the mainstream yet somehow captivating to them, member of the Big 4 Slayer that really left an impression. Many will point to the preceding EP “Haunting The Chapel” or the 3rd LP “Reign In Blood” as the more historically significant releases, but in itself, “Hell Awaits” stands above the two in terms of ambition and scope.
Between the raw intensity that oozes forth between each blinding riff and blurring beat, and the extremely wicked imagery portrayed in what was probably the most lyrically controversial album of its day, this works on every level and leaves little room for nuance. The familiar tendency towards cooking the engines at full speed that was heard on “Show No Mercy” is still present here, but the song lengths have been stretched out a good deal, almost as if prophesizing the approach that Dark Angel would undertake on “Darkness Descends”. Likewise, the atmosphere of dark, murky vileness is established in a muddier guitar tone that is one step farther from the heavy yet crisp character of “Haunting The Chapel” and the undead cesspool of sludge that was “Reign In Blood”. This is an album that could be seen as middle of the road when accounting for the band’s history, but taken for what it is, is nothing but an extreme slaughter fest where riffs are plentiful and breaks are few.
Introduced by a dismal layering of guitar noise and obscured mutterings, the album beings its descent into the hall of flames with the riveting title song. Some of the better riffs heard out of the band are to be found on here, particularly the slow paced build up once the instruments have all come in which is almost akin to a reinterpretation of “Am I Evil?”, and the light speed verse riffing which is rhythmically precise, yet chromatic and obscured to the point of suggesting a band like Cannibal Corpse should seek similar territory for a musical take on the exploits of zombies. The solo trade offs between King and Hanneman are the only areas where a slight remnant of the band’s NWOBHM past remains, but the streams of pentatonic shred licks are already starting to make way for the wild, atonal madness that would become commonplace just a year later.
As things progress, the dark tales take on some new twists, both musically and lyrically. Not one to be tied down by constant nods to the occult, Slayer offers a strong helping of human depravity in “Kill Again”, which is a little bit shorter but still fairly long for a full speed thrasher. “At Dawn They Sleep” goes into the moonlit world of vampire exploits, and shows the band beginning to settle into the creepy chromatic melodic material in the riff work that brought forth “Raining Blood” and “South Of Heaven”, though in a much more percussive and jostling fashion. All the while, Araya’s vocal interpretation is notably rough and angry, almost like a more primal version of James Hetfield with the occasional super-high note. “Praise Of Death” and “Necrophilliac” come off as two sides of a similar coin, one being longer and more involved that the other, but both containing a similar assortment of blurred tremolo riffs with occasional harmonic runs that sound like a choir of tortured souls.
Interestingly enough, things get really different towards the end of the album. “Crypts Of Eternity” is the only song on here where there is any overt tendencies back towards the NWOBHM character of “Show No Mercy” in the riff work, though it is a bit obscured by the darker guitar sound and overall production. The conventional minor key riff and jazzy drumming during the intro almost sounds like an elaborate take on Iron Maiden’s early work, and even when things get tonally ambiguous and chromatic, the overall feel is much more formulaic and heavy metal-like. The closer “Hardening Of The Arteries” cooks like the previous thrashers, but the main riff sounds almost exactly like a number of riffs that would later be used by Deicide and Cannibal Corpse to define the early 90s death metal scene. Literally all the band would have to do to become overt death metal on this song would be to bring in Chris Barnes and have Araya just play the bass.
While this doesn’t quite get the same level of accolades from people who are not diehard followers of all things thrash as does “Reign In Blood”, this is the better representation of how the band paved the way for the outer fringes of metal’s extreme realm, and ultimately the better album. There’s just so more to grab onto here, more time for the songs to full realize their potential, and more of a measured approach by all in the band to keep things organized and coherent while they challenge the tempo barrier that determined the sound of the time. This is Slayer at their creative peak, though personal preference gives me bias towards their debut. Basically, if pure thrash is the game, “Hell Awaits” is the leadoff player in Slayer’s catalog.
Slayer's sophomore Hell Awaits holds a number of memories for me, both chilling and comic, because it was one of those rare albums that experienced a sort of 'urban legend' cult status in my middle school years. Several peers and I once passed a cassette recording of both this and Show No Mercy around to one another, terrified of its contents, perhaps clinging to those vestigial traces of Christian upbringing. Copies were confiscated by teachers and parents, and a few of us got a good 'talking to', myself in particular, for spreading the twisted diocese of Satan through the rank and file of the innocent.
Keep in mind that I was about 11-12 years old at this time, the target of crass, ignorant exaggerations by a Protestant flock, and by no means in thrall of the Prince of Hell. But the damage was done. I bought the actual cassette. My parents took it away. I stole it back. The top of the refrigerator was hardly a sufficient hiding place for my 'unapproved' stock of metal albums. They gave up. I bought the back patch, and was so armored the very day I parted ways from the Protestant faith (after being forced up through Confirmation prep class as an obligation). What an ironic portrait, a dorky pre-teen armed in denim and devils, striding proudly through a dull spring rain in 1986, having quit Church forever, wearing this image and title on my back. The prescient, magic 8-ball might read that my outlook was not so good.
Alas, our figures of social authority had one thing right: Hell Awaits was one scary fucking record, especially when unleashed upon an audience whose idea of extreme was Dee Snider wearing blush and mascara. Granted, we had Welcome to Hell and Number of the Beast floating around by this time, but Slayer took this concept to an entirely new plateau, not only because of the lyrical content, but the cruelty of the riffs here that jettisoned the simplistic, scathing roots of Show No Mercy into an even sharper blade of menace and perdition. The songs were longer, more fleshed out, more 'mature', yet the blinding speed remained: Hanneman and King a pair of unstoppable ghouls cycling through a rogues gallery of bloodstained, fire-hardened riffs that would cement their stature as gods of diabolic thrash; Araya settling more into his distinct mid range, with nary a shriek to be experienced in most of the vocal passages; Lombardo breeding an entire new school of drummers that would follow his extremity into darker, restless climes.
What better a herald to the fiery paths than a bath of feedback and cacodaemons exclaiming 'Join us' in reverse? Such is the de-Christening of "Hell Awaits" itself, the gallant vanguard that slowly and steadily escalated its warlike veneer into plodding, dire thrash, with that legendary ascent from conflagration at around 2:20. You are now at war, children, and Satan is your general. Let him ride upon your backs and piss upon the clouds of the Holy Host. But as charming a setup as this is, nothing, and I mean nothing can prepare one for the voracious evil that is "Kill Again", one of my personal favorite Slayer tracks, the perfunctory serial killer anthem that had to be one of the most bitter and extreme metal tunes I had heard for its day, once more incorporating Lombardo's warlike percussion into a salvo of beautifully belligerent riffs that seem to incite violence with their very notation, the chorus an unforgettably babbled hymn to atrocity:
'No apparent motive, just kill and kill again
Survive my brutal thrashing, I'll hunt you till the end
My life's a constant battle, the rage of many men, homicidal maniac!'
So how do you follow up a celebration of murder? How about with some fucking vampires? "At Dawn They Sleep" opens with a horrific bristling spike of carnal melody before it transforms into another of the band's undying, gibbering chorus sequences that seems to mock the listener through its cacophonous glee. These three tracks alone would place Hell Awaits fork and horns above most thrash/speed metal histories, but Slayer were not finished with us yet, launching into the barbaric "Praise of Death" which serves as a sinister foreshadowing to the rampant, uncaring speed of their following masterpiece Reign in Blood. "Necrophiliac" is one of the best known songs from this album for a reason, it's rapid fire perversity transforming a sadistic and 'immoral' fetish into an act of glory worthy of any crude Colosseum, the crowd of sinners turning their thumbs proudly to herald the fused fornication of the living and the dead.
Beyond this festering folly, we are led to what I might argue is the most unsung anti-hero of this record, "Crypts of Eternity", which opens with about a minutes of blistering, spiny necromantic guitars before it rolls into the verse and chorus, and an amazingly despotic bridge section that once more teases at what Slayer will produce in the following year, a turbulent breakdown festooned in a blaze of percussive exorcism. Lastly comes "Hardening of the Arteries", one of the album's faster pieces that strikes like a scourge or cat o' nine tails along the bared skin of the penitent with its apocalyptic poetics. While it certainly belongs here among this wretched flock, it is perhaps the one song here I don't think is perfect: for all the accoutrement of anguish created in the warlike, hammering finale, I found myself mildly disinterested.
Slayer's sophomore was not only proof of the band's persistence, that they were no one trick pony with the masterful Show No Mercy, but it also remains one of the band's nearest flirtations with perfection, surpassed only by its closest brethren in bedlam. The album is not so fixed and fluid as its untarnished successor, but it's nearly as bewitching in the consistency of themes and the composition. There is nothing clean or polished about Hell Awaits, no salvation at the end of its corridor of sinful flesh, and it's a worthy archetype for some of the most demented extreme metal to have been produced since, an absolute necessity for any fan of speed, thrash, black or death metal that values the cautionary discomfort of unbridled anger and passion.
I was listening to Iron Maiden mostly when I bought a bunch of metal albums from some guy I went to school with. Hell Awaits was among them. I’ll never forget how I kept staring out of my window after it was finished…and played it again. This was evil, this was dirty, this was filthy. Damn, this was good! Over the years I’ve lost count how many times I played or heard this album, hundreds of times? Maybe more? I know every scratch, every flaw (that funny mistake on Necrophiliac for instance). Hell I even really missed a few typical vinyl scratches when I finally bought a CD version and it actually pissed me off.
But what I always have felt about this album is that, save the title track, the album does not have that many individual classics when I compare it to their other records from the eighties. Hell Awaits was more of an entity on which no song could exist without the other. I’ve always found Hell Awaits to be magical, typically characteristic and very influential but never my favourite Slayer album. I think it’s because Reign In Blood also was a perfect entity but each and every song there could also live on it’s own. However, if I just play ‘Crypts of Eternity’ in between songs from other albums, it’s just not that enjoyable anymore.
Over the years a schism slowly emerged. Four tracks against three. ‘Hell Awaits’, ‘Kill Again’, ‘Necrophiliac’ and ‘Hardening of the Arteries’ on one side, being my favourites, versus those other three. And I’m actually starting to believe those remaining three song to be the main reason for me never considering Hell Awaits to come even close to Reign In Blood.
Point is ‘At Dawn They Sleep’, ’Praise of Death’ and especially ‘Crypts of Eternity’ have a lot of dragging rubbish going on. Heavy metalish breaks and tedious long instrumental or dull slow bits. They’re not Maiden nor Priest and they’ve got enough identity of their own here already so I never got what the whole idea was behind these show-off fist banging mania sections. Did they actually try to incorporate more MercyfulFate-isms into their already great thrash metal, creating six and a half minute versions of songs which would have been perfect at 4 minutes without the excessive instrumentalism?
In the case of ‘Crypts of Eternity’ it’s a real shame because the ‘I Have Seen The Darkened Depths Of Hell…etc’ chorus is actually one of the best ones on the album. Had that whole 2:42 till 5:03 section been cut out, the song could’ve been one of my favourite Slayer songs. But as I said before, when listening to these songs in between the others and considering them just part of the big Hell Awaits story, they make much more sense. These mixed feelings have been haunting my chapel since the eighties.
Another aspect regarding withstanding the test of time is the production. If I were to be honest the production is just too soft, or better said, the guitars aren’t actually loud enough (the leads and solo’s are though). There are other albums from 1985 with a more vile production. Productions which would have suited this Slayer material better. The guitars here sound like crumbling sand grains having a beach party instead of flame-ridden strings played by demons from hell.
So much for having my go at this the negative aspects of this album. If I think about the years of my life I have been carrying it around with me, playing it regularly and how influencial this specific album has been on the development of not only thrash but death metal and black metal as well, it’s nothing less than a classic and extreme eighties entity. For instance analyse ‘Necrophiliac’ and dare to tell me you can’t hear how even Sepultura wrote several variations on aspects from this specific song on their ‘Morbid Visions’ and ‘Schizophrenia’ albums. It would be the job of a lifetime naming all bands, albums, songs or even small sections which have directly been influenced by what Slayer did here on Hell Awaits.
If you listen to Hell Awaits as being that influential mid-eighties thrash metal album, there’s no denying the brilliance of it and I wouldn’t want to change anything about since I’ve known it by heart for about 22 years now. Yet if you listen to it as being that album between Show No Mercy and Reign in Blood simple complaints emerge even if this album just crushes Show No Mercy. There are still some last few NWOBHM tendencies to be dealt with and the production and compositional efficiency are not yet fully developed here.
Hell Awaits is an already marvellous and important eighties release which i.m.o. could have even been better. Obviously a definite must have for anyone into thrash but even anyone into eighties metal.
Before I wrote this review I decided to look at some of what was written about this record here versus "Reign In Blood". I have long been of the belief that Death Metal was the spawn of this album while "Reign In Blood" hinted at something more self-important to the band.
Simply stated, this album is evil as fuck. The beginning of this album, with that otherworldly voice and those tortured guitar squeals culminating in what may have been the very first "growl" ever put to a metal album, gives a damned good indication of what's to come. Seriously, this album may compel the average listener that, yes giving thy first born to the mighty Satan and drinking goat's blood is a right good idea.
Sonically, it is about as close to a perfect mix of raw punk energy and NWOBHM vibes as I've ever come across, with a production that gives the feeling that the band is literally playing from the fiery pits of hell. Tom Araya spits out odes to Satan with the fury of a man being poked in the ass with Satan's very pitchfork and Dave Lombardo literally pounds the life out of his drums (and perhaps a few small children and large animals). Compared to his later work, Lombardo's playing on this record is downright primitive, however I don't recall reading anywhere that ritual sacrifices were graded for style points. As such, Lombardo gives us less fancy fills and footwork in exchange for bludgeonment. And get this, Kerry King's random squealing that he sometimes passes for soloing not only works, but is "the star" of this production, as it is pure torture personified.
I can't tell you how many times I talk to younger dudes who all they know about Slayer is "Reign In Blood". Yes, the history makers try so hard to pass that record off as revolutionary and ground breaking and "the album that spawned a genre" and all that. But those of us know that it was "Hell Awaits" that really gave birth to that which would become "Death Metal". This is essential listening for anyone who considers themselves a fan of "death metal" and, for that matter, anyone who is a fan of extreme music
I've seen that the Goths think they know "evil" music because they listen to their Marilyn Manson and such. Until they've heard this album, they know nothing.
First, I will discuss the lyrics. These aren't the lyrics that poser bands will manipulate to look evil. These lyrics are a dark blend of Satanism, serial killers, death, and gore, and they aren't childish. Just look at the lyrics to "At Dawn They Sleep", "Necrophiliac", "Crypts of Eternity", and the title track and you will see.
The drumming is superb. Dave Lombardo during this album is one of the only people capable of competing with Gene Hoglan. Not only does he utilize the double-bass efficiently in every song, he has also managed to pull off some fantastic drum rolls. Examples of this can be found throughout "Necrophiliac", and also at the end of "Crypts of Eternity" (which is one of the best drum solos I've ever heard so far), and the double-bass style drum roll at the end of "At Dawn They Sleep". The title track also has a drum roll at the end, which complements the end riff.
Speaking of riffs, the guitar work on this album is astounding. The riffs are infectious, complex, and creepy, and complement the album's image perfectly (the production also helps with this). At times, they are slow and deadly, and at other times, they are churned out as fast as Araya's vocals. Another pro is that these solos aren't savage wankery; they are, in fact, extremely fast, highly technical, and utilize the whammy bar so that the lead isn't just a few distorted notes, and the solos are nicely scattered throughout every song.
Last, but not least, is the thrash vocal legend, Tom Araya. He is capable of spitting out the lyrics as fast as the drums and as angrily as a machine gun on crack. His voice is also nicely distorted to complement the song, an example being when he says "Hell Awaits..." on the title track. His bass can also be heard clearly on a few tracks, and it is very good.
The production also isn't very bad either. At first, it might sound a little rough, but it actually gives the album its image, which is dark and evil; the production, even though it isn't the greatest, gives a dark and evil feel the guitars, which already sound creepy and intimidating.
All in all, this is a very excellent album, and all songs, in my opinion, get a 10/10. Therefore, all songs are recommended, especially the haunting "Hell Awaits". Again, I would love to see the Gothic cunts of society listen to this without going into hiding.
The second full-length album from American thrash metal band Slayer must have been something of a shock to the record buying public, even years before the infamous trial over its alleged influence on a couple of young fans, who decided to interpret the lyrics booklet as an instruction manual. Following the insane (and in most cases, merely immature) wickedness of the Norwegian black metal bands in the early 90s, who burned down churches and stabbed each other because the cold made them angry, and then screamed their lungs out about it against an impenetrably distorted musical background of white noise, this thirty-seven-minute heavy metal beast doesn’t seem quite so bad. Nevertheless, this can be easily considered the first truly characteristic Slayer album, and my personal favourite for fairly odd reasons.
The distinctive Slayer sound first surfaced on the band’s previous release, the four-track E.P. ‘Haunting the Chapel,’ rather than the 1983 debut ‘Show No Mercy’ which ran more along the lines of the darker side of the British heavy metal scene, seemingly particularly influenced by the Satanic band Venom with whom Slayer would tour following the release of this album. This Venom and Motörhead influence is still audible in ‘Hell Awaits,’ but to a far lesser extent, as this is the first Slayer album to set the band’s distinctive and highly influential sound, despite the overwhelming plaudits of its successor ‘Reign in Blood.’ Introducing frequent changes of rhythm and time signature, and breaking chaotically into guitar or drum solos without warning, the material on this album is longer on average than the violent, adrenaline fuelled outbursts Slayer would become known for, but rivals all later releases in terms of its innovation and pure evilness. That said, the extreme song length of six-minutes-plus in several instances does hinder the album from achieving the kind of popular recognition that its later spawnings would receive.
Recorded in August 1985 (just before I was born. That’s of no relevance at all, but it’s the sort of thing you can’t help but notice), the production quality of this album is noticeably murkier and dirtier than that of their major label successors, but as this scarcely reduces the impact of Dave Lombardo’s crushing drums, the exception being in the fourth track, and leaves Kerry King’s fret assaults unscathed, the resulting hellish atmosphere created by this underproduced backdrop is far more fitting to the music and lyrics, making it easy to imagine that this was recorded in a crypt, or at least a basement housing stowed corpses, rather than the timid sounding Eldorado Studios in Hollywood. Tom Araya yells his way through the album’s entirety, showing off his admirable lung ability – he was a respiratory therapist after all – but not being afraid to reveal his limitations in passages that are simply too fast to shout audibly over, reverting to a simple yell and, in the solitary case of ‘Crypts of Eternity,’ an extended heavy metal wail. The live feel of this album makes it all the more enjoyable to listen to, regardless of whether it was recorded piece by piece, and while the riff changes all sound effective and clearly took a great deal of planning, the guitar solos sound positively arbitrary and improvised in most cases.
A long fade in of eerie torturous sound effects and backmasked backwards vocals subconsciously urging the listener to ‘join us’ gets things off to a disconcerting start, with the quiet squeal of a maniacally soloing guitar in the background. Over the course of these seven songs, much will be toyed with in terms of volume and tempo, and several songs start in the similar fashion of a quiet introduction followed by the crushing volume of the first verse. Presumably this is either to increase tension, or to fool new listeners into turning up their stereo speakers, which will then explode in their faces. The opening title track is led by a predominantly slow and heavy guitar riff, backed up always by Dave Lombardo’s drums which sound almost tribal like those of the band’s thrash contemporaries Sepultura in places, keeping a permanent rhythm despite all the experimentation. The song becomes faster and more indebted to its Venom-style roots before suddenly changing to a sound that can only be described as trademark Slayer: the instruments running at full pelt with minimal effort to introduce a pleasant harmony into the manic riffs, and Araya yelling frantically to keep up. The song’s two main guitar solos, by which I mean any wild fret masturbation that lasts for more than two seconds, both come towards the end and demonstrate Slayer’s influence as a pre-death-metal band. The only really weak part of this song is the horribly false sounding distortion of the ‘Hell Awaits’ line of the chorus, which is completely unnecessary and distracting as the band were making a fairly convincing portrayal of Hell in the first place without studio trickery.
A brief pause separates the first song from ‘Kill Again,’ and to casual listeners – if such a thing can exist in this case – would probably be unable to tell the difference if the pause was less noticeable. The song begins at full pelt, introducing some nice dual lead guitars (in a down-tuned, evil way rather than catchy Iron Maiden style), and Lombardo’s drums keep an interesting marching rhythm that helps set the scene for the inexcusably violent lyrics of death, gore and hate. Araya is forced to yell in tongues until the song takes a bit of a breather, and even lets out a long shout, similar to the one that would open the next album, as the last verse kicks in. King’s guitar solo is slower paced this time, and while not particularly inventive, it’s nice to hear him play some simple scales... or whatever that’s called. I’m no musician, I just listen to the stuff.
Evil harmonics open the vampire song ‘At Dawn They Sleep,’ predating the sound that Testament would use repeatedly throughout the late eighties, while the rhythm changes and great segue into chorus foreshadow the more well-known ‘Angel of Death’ that was to come later. The vocals are at their best here, relentless and not content to be limited to the verses and choruses for the first time, insisting on continuing pretty much throughout and coming in early for once. The guitar solo half-way through is the best so far, sounding pre-planned and almost like Iron Maiden, but still making some obvious sacrifices of notes in order to keep the pace, before a great, slow, headbanging riff comes in that sounds similar to the end of Machine Head’s ‘Davidian.’ Despite this perhaps being the best song so far, it seems to drag on towards the end, and is perhaps just fatigue on the part of the listener as the band continues to play at full pelt. Some kind of acoustic ballad would be entirely inappropriate on this disc, but it would have at least made for a nice breather.
Suffering for the same reason as the middle song of the album, ‘Praise of Death’ is the least exciting piece here, sounding too similar to the previous two songs in its speed and delivery. The drums sound unusually like they’re made of cardboard, the only time the mid-eighties production becomes an issue, and the randomness of the guitar solos actually becomes a problem here, rather than something quite cool. Araya’s bass can be heard prominently, and will remain for the rest of the album in this foregrounded position, but as it’s just playing the same thing as the guitars in this song it doesn’t deserve any special credit. All this song really has to offer are some interesting riffs in the second half when the pace slows down, and perhaps to signify the exhaustion there’s a sort of death-of-the-instruments feedback section where the band perhaps collapsed in the studio. Unfortunately, twenty seconds later they begin again with the tired riff, making this distraction necessary only if you’re headbanging by yourself in your room, and your neck needed a bit of a rest.
The most controversial song on this album is one of the very best, the self-explanatory ‘Necrophiliac’ that would, much later, instigate a court case in the same manner as Judas Priest’s ‘Better By You,. Better Than Me’ and Ozzy Osbourne’s ‘Suicide Solution.’ To be fair on those other bands, the offending Slayer song is a little more graphic. The guitar riffs in this song are memorable, never seeming like the mere background to speed that they did in some previous songs, and as the shortest song on the album (one of only two that are under four minutes), it avoids running out of steam like the previous effort. The vocals really go over the top here, effectively stealing the song for once, and there’s a fantastic dual guitar melody that very clearly evolves into the signature riff of the next album’s title track. Ending abruptly for once, the band missed the opportunity to incite further controversy by exploring the subject matter in even greater detail. It’s a great song regardless, and it must have been pretty cool to be a member of that jury, getting this piped through the high quality acoustics of a court of law.
There’s something about the title ‘Crypts of Eternity’ that makes this sound like more of a British heavy metal song of the period than something belonging on this album, something I can’t really explain, and bizarrely it proves true with the subtly different approach taken with this track, perhaps a cast-off from their earlier years or perhaps not. Launching straight into guitar solos like Metallica’s ‘No Remorse,’ even featuring the same ‘distance’ effect for the main riffs interspersed with drums, the song launches into a riff that doesn’t seem anywhere near as vicious as those of the previous offerings, and is more content to be fun in the way Motörhead are fun, focusing more on creating a rhythm than a wall of sound. The only real problem is that some of the riffs carry on for too long without much diversity, only noticeable in comparison to the restlessness of the rest of the album, but as someone more inclined to the style being emulated than the aggression of the band’s other work, this is perhaps my favourite song, if only for Araya’s unprecedented heavy metal scream at the end.
The final song returns to form, and is a little disappointing in its position in the same way ‘Praise of Death’ let the middle of the record down. The primary song is nothing too exciting or unpredictable, with speedy verses of shouted vocals and those guitar solos I keep referring to as ‘evil sounding’ for wont of a technical vocabulary, but it’s the last minute or so that proves interesting in the larger scheme of things. Lombardo’s slow, pounding drums return, beckoning something great and evil while the guitars cower in a corner, until finally a great, slow chugging riff harks back to the opening song, in what I’d like to think is a deliberate attempt to create symmetry. It works regardless, and the song fades out just as the first song faded in, the last sound we hear being Kerry King truly thinking outside the box and playing a solo on the screeching metal bits of the guitar you’re not really supposed to play.
On a first listen, there can be a lot more to ‘Hell Awaits’ than meets the ears. Subsequent listens reveal that these elusive progressive or avant garde quirks are really just the same repeated tricks of time signature change, with some random and aesthetically questionable squealing guitars cropping up every now and again. In many ways, this album, while being vital in the development of both thrash and death metal, is something of an inferior predecessor to 1987’s ‘Reign in Blood,’ which really cracked the idea of a relentless aural assault and edited out all the unnecessary extra length, but this remains my personal favourite Slayer album partly for these imperfections. Later releases were seemingly produced under pressure to avoid emulating ‘Reign in Blood’ by playing slower and more methodically, but ‘Hell Awaits’ has none of these restrictions, and is really the band playing the angry, vicious, exhausting, disgusting music they love.
As I noted earlier, the slightly fuzzy and echoed production really adds to the atmosphere, and even in instances where it’s obvious that a learning process is taking place – particularly Araya’s approach to vocals – it’s nice to hear the imperfections of a band that countless annoying thrash snobs proclaim to be the best in the world. ‘Hell Awaits’ is a significantly flawed album that could have been a lot better, but I’m not sure I want it to be, and even Araya has commented in recent years that the band could re-record it, as Testament have done with their early releases, ‘but why ruin it?’ Perhaps the greatest praise that can be said of this album is its previously unbeaten aural depiction of Hell, something that would later be rivalled with Iced Earth’s ‘Burnt Offerings,’ which is better.
That was fucking 1985 when 'Hell Awaits' came out to our world, and it exposed thrash metal to darker places that it never been at before. "Show No Mercy" was a NWOBHM album, it just had a more aggressive approach and striaghtforward feeling, but in 1985 Slayer created something much more brutal and heavier which influenced on a lot of thrash albums which came later ('Darkness Descends' for instance) and shaped the whole genre a lot.
'Hell Awaits' is a pretty clear progression from Slayer's debut. The songs became much more varied, the riffing and the structures within the songs was more complex, and instead of making the same debut album again, they created something which sounds pretty different and quite inventive for it's time.
The title track which is also the opener track, brings you into a dark atmosphere and settles you into the evil mind of this album. It slowly fades in with some low voices which repeates reversibly on the message: "Join Us!" and then it finally welcoming you back. Then the riffing comes in, on a pretty moderate tempo and start to progress until it takes some speed ahead and so it raising some brutality within the first verse which sounds pretty evil. Araya shoots the lyrics in a rapid rhythm with full heat and increases the grimness of the riffing pretty good. There is also a nice break before the chorus, then the guitar playes a single note on constant tempo together with Araya shouting rapidly the lyrics and it all creates together a temperate, dark feeling and fits perfectly with the chorus which came later. Awesome opener track, maybe one of the most intensive thrash songs ever.
Rest of the songs are topnotched too, they are pretty complex and conatins a lot of fast, alternate picked and heavy riffs which doesn't sounds dull, similar or repetitive even a bit. Each song also has is catchy section which give him a solid and different sense from the rest of the tracks. 'Kill Again' has a straightforward and catchy chorus which reminds a bit 'Reign In Blood', something that other tracks don't. 'At Dawn They Sleep' has the brutal "Driven By The Instincts Of Centuries Of Horror" part when there are a lot of background vocals which flowing with the lead vocals and becomes stronger and stronger until it explodes and leaves you amazed.
In the bottom line: It isn't a perfect album, the production sounds a bit fragile for such intensive music, but the songs themselves sounds like a pure evil and each one of them works excellent. A must have for anyone who wondered how hell may be...or interested in a complex, progressive and dark album.
Hell awaits...and you shall join!
This is my favorite Slayer album. I hope one day it will be yours too.
When most people think of Slayer, Reign in Blood obviously comes to mind. Reign in Blood is obviously a classic, but this album excels at keeping each individual song memorable by differentiating them amongst each other. Instead of a bunch of riffs and solos stuck between two memorable songs like on Reign in Blood (some awesome riffs/solos though), Hell Awaits manages to have some sort of intro and/or ending to most of the songs, when it’s appropriate. This could be called Slayer’s only ‘progressive’ album considering the somewhat long song lengths and effectively structured arrangements. Aside from the mandatory excellent riffage, the drumming on this album is superb as well. The other salient feature of this album is it’s extremely dark atmosphere, much like the song Black Magic, from the previous album, which contrasts to the extreme violence of Reign in Blood. This album obviously influenced legions of both death and black metal bands. Hell Awaits also has the best lyrics of any Slayer album as well, especially songs like Kill Again and At Dawn they Sleep (read the lyrics). Along with great cover art and a perfect title, you have a classic album.
As I mentioned before, one of the main strengths of the album is it’s differentiated songs. The first five songs are all classics, while the final two are very listenable, don’t offer much special, with the exception of the last song ending in a similar fashion that this first track begins in. Most people would probably point to this one as one of their favorites. It was my first favorite song on the album, but as I listened to it more and more I realized it was only the beginning. Unlike Judas Priest, Slayer is keeping it real by putting backmasking on their records on purpose! Most people already know about the hidden message that says ‘join us’ when played backwards. This leads into the guitars chunking away at the E string interweaving with trademark angular Slayer melodies. Lombardo offers some pretty doomish drum patterns which all build up to the song until it reaches a break riff and then goes into a full on thrash assault. This continues to build up to the refrain, which is actually much better on the live recordings considering in that context it’s more of a yell…and who doesn’t like to yell HELL AWAITS!? The riffs on this track aren’t as memorable as some of the others, but the song serves mostly to set the epic feel of the album.
Kill Again is Slayer’s best song about serial killers. Forget Dead Skin Mask. In contrast to the opening track, it offers a much more immediate sense of urgency, starting off with frenetic riffing and never letting up for the entire song. Among the opening salvo of riffs, the tremolo riff starting at 0:25 is particularly interesting since it elicits the feeling of a serial killer chasing around his victims. The same is true about the riff at 1:15, except not until the drums come in. Soon after that the lyrics come in “Slice Her Flesh To Shreds/Watch The Blood Flow Free” etc.. So much for Reign in Blood being the first death metal album. The last second of the song is perfect to sing along to as well.
At Dawn They Sleep might just be Slayer’s best song ever. Angel of Death and Reign in Blood are great songs but they don’t have the interesting song structure that this one does. After the classic opening riff, there is a brief pause so you can set your neck on auto pilot for the next few minutes given the perfect mid tempo pair of riffs. The lyrics on this one are great too, as well as unintentionally hilarious nonsense: “darkness is my slave/taste the sins of hell.” After some soling, the intro riff comes back, but finishes off with a trademark extended Slayer “melody.” This slows the tempo, which builds up tension, running through a few more killer riffs. When this song is played live, Araya, some times mumbles ‘kill’ during the instrumental breaks, encouraging the audience to sing along. When the song is reduced to two power chords slowly building in tempo, the last words of the lyrics are ‘KILL KILL KILL.’ This is used the exact same way that the ‘DIE DIE DIE’ audience participation in Metallca’s classic Creeping Death is used, although it shouldn’t be confused with their “KILL KILL KILL KILL” lyrics to the abombination All Within My Hands. Anyway, at this point in the song, a new fast riff is introduced and then the drums and bass come in launching the song into another full speed thrasher. Another riff with some melodic variation comes in next and then on the last word of “They Must Drain Your Soul Of LIFE!” a perfect slide introduces the solo, just to keep the insane pace up. When the soloing is over, there is interplay between two riffs: the less melodic of the two fills up the space between it’s counterpart, but this space is gradually closed shorter and shorter at each interval, building up more tension. When it is finally played twice in a row, everything stops for a quick drum interlude, which itself stops abruptly, and then the main riff finished off one of Slayer’s greatest songs.
At this point of the album I am ready for anything. The song Praise of Death carries the momentum of the previous song perfectly. Much like Reign in Blood, this song offers one solo short solo after the next. The juxtaposition of this song against At Dawn They Sleep reminds me of how Lord of All Fevers and Plague follows the song Maze of Torment by Morbid Angel on their album Altars of Madness. Much like At Dawn they Sleep, Maze of Torment is the best song on the album, and Lord of All Fevers and Plague flows so perfectly after it by offering a steam roller pace and relatively uncomplicated song structures with relentless soloing. Anyway, the song starts off with a tom hit and then a fast tremolo riff, followed by Slayer melodies tacked on to the end, as usual. The fourth time this happens, they extend the melody, catching the listener off guard, sort of like when they used the intro riff in the middle of the song for the second time, except this time the pitch descends. This is one of my favorite moments on the album and is perfectly backed up by the bass and drums, which really give it a punch. It’s hard to explain and even harder to explain the feeling that it elicits, but it somehow makes the pace even more frantic. The song keeps up the momentum for the most part, except when it stops almost completely for some guitar noises only to start back up again.
Necrophiliac is the last classic song on this album and is perhaps Slayer’s darkest song ever. The song opens off like all classics should: with a distinctive riff, this one with a definite Slayer feel to it. Then the main riff comes in which is more of a “chord progression,” manages to be extremely dark in it’s own simplicity, much like the main riff to Black Sabbath’s self titled song. This is changed up with just one tremolo riff to keep things simple and memorable. All the time, the drums are pounding along a simple pattern, but then suddenly deliver an impressive salvo. The lyrics are provocative one could probably imagine from the song title. The bridge offers a few more quality riffs, followed by one of the greatest Slayer moments ever:
“Lucifer Takes My Dark Soul
Down To The Fiery Pits Of Hell
Down To The Fiery Pits Of…..
Faint feedback fading in, a multitude of demonic voices chanting in tongues, the feedback becomes clearer, wails of tormented lost souls almost undetectable in the background, louder, it grows, the sense of doom impending looms larger, a throbbing bass line becomes evident first subconsciously then audibly, a guttural voice completely indecipherable growls. The feedback stops, a thumping, driving drum beat and and razor sharp guitars in it's place, rumbling kick drums join, the intensity builds, the riffs build, layer upon relentless unstoppable layer. Suddenly, a single guitar riffs furiously, followed moments later by the rest of the band keeping perfect pace, then barked vocals, clear, but too fast to comprehend, the guttural voice returns "HELL AWAITS". Screaming, wailing frenetic paced solo, single guitar again, back to the full band, once again the rhythm section drops out just leaving the guitars, another tremolo abusing solo, then suddenly it's all over with a no nonsense finish.
The listener is left asking, "what just happened?"
The song just described, "Hell Awaits" is one of the most distinctive, intense opening tracks to an album ever (Slayer managed to top it with "Angel of Death" on Reign in Blood, but that's a different story). Many bands have produced tracks with dynamics and a sound like this since. None, however, did it in 1985.
Yes, Satan's favourite sons were back with a vengeance. The title track's ode to damnation was quickly followed by six more pummeling tracks dedicated to all things ungodly– mass murder, vampirism, and necrophilia all get a mention, and the songs just that shade more disturbing because they are first person descriptions. While Metallica were chanting "DIE DIE DIE" on "Creeping Death", Slayer upped the ante, with a chorus of "KILL KILL KILL" on "At Dawn They Sleep". The track is also notable for the first appearance of Dave Lombardo's now legendary double kick drum solo.
And on it goes.
From the frenetic rifferama of "Praise of Death", the percussive cascade of "Necrophiliac", there's no let up on this album. As "Hardening of the Arteries" fades into nothingness, you're left with a feeling of relief the sonic barrage is over, but also craving more, as your body struggles to cope with an adrenaline induced high.
In hindsight, all the ingredients for the definitive Reign In Blood were present on Hell Awaits. It just took Slayer a little more time to perfect the recipe, cutting away the excess, expanding the essential, and building intensity.
This was the album that really got me drooling over Slayer in a big bad major way and it still makes me drool mindlessly every time I hear it. Picture this, if you will: the author as spotty 15-year-old geek trying to get a clue about metal back in 1985, huddled underneath his sheets late one Sunday night with his Walkman headphones on, listening to his favorite college radio metal show. The DJ comes on stating that Slayer's new album is going to be the spotlighted album of the night, and follows that statement with a wall of terrifying sounds--people moaning in pain, demons growling and gurgling, eerie whammy bar guitar noises, all over a sinister chant of, well, SOMETHING EVIL! It scared me silly and I was a changed man after that momentous night!
Some of the best tunes ever recorded by Slayer are on here: that monstrous title track with its epic intro that gets me banging every time as I air guitar like a blathering idiot, "Kill Again", the underrated "At Dawn They Sleep" with its amazingly cool, atonally-harmonized intro that has you guessing where the one is--those first three tunes alone set the pace for everything else that follows.
"Praise of Death" is a pure "massive dose adrenaline", to quote the lyrics, that will make you sweat like a horse just listening to Dave Lombardo's godly drumming--in fact, he owns this entire album. His double kick pounding on the bridge before the solo section on "Kill Again" will make you break your neck banging away in time with it! "Necrophiliac" has some nasssty lyrics (Araya used to get all kinds of explicit introducing this one live!) and has a great mid tempo bridge near the end with those trademark evil harmony guitars of theirs.
"Hardening of the Arteries" has the most crazed and lunatic soloing on the record from Hannemann and King, but then I think this album and "Reign In Blood" were their pinnacles as soloists, with their chaotic and hectic leads influencing a whole generation of players, and that wonderful dirty, dark guitar tone leading the way as it slices your speakers to shreds--that's the rhythm sound I shoot for as a guitarist, myself, truthfully. Araya is on top of his game on this one vocally, too, although this is still a warmup for "RIB" and that heart-stopping shriek at the beginning of their best tune ever...aw, you know the title!
SIGH...this is one of the very best albums of the 80s alongside "RIB", and I am very, very happy that I was exposed to it when I was...it changed my life on a level only Motorhead and the early Metallica has since. Need I say more?
To this day Slayer's second full-length, "Hell Awaits", stands as one of the most diverse episodes in the band's catalogue. Taking quite a step forward from the already impressive debut "Show No Mercy" in terms of songwriting, this hellish (no pun intended) electric symphony is comprised of 7 lengthy and intricate tracks, clocking in at almost 40 minutes. Knowing that this would be followed by the hit and run thrashing deluge known as "Reign In Blood", Slayer's early repertoire can be blamed of anything but repetitivity.
The album opens by the very well know title track, which the band also used as a concert starter for several years and has been covered by numerous fellow metallers (Vader and Cradle Of Filth among others); after a fading in vision of backwards vocals, distortion feedbacks and random percussion we are greeted by a lengthy mid-paced intro, which already contains several different riffs by itself... then, a split second pause and the slaughter begins! This is the first real track where Tom Araya unleashes his well known ultrafast word spitting, something I have always admired (and is a revealed source of inspiration for Cannibal Corpse's vocalsit, George "Corpsegrinder" Fisher), while Hanneman and King provide some of their most memorable riffs acked up by Dave Lombardo's inhumanely precise beats. A classic which fully deserve its status.
"Kill Again" is next, basically continuing the fast paced riff feast; one of my personal favourites, with its numerous and original melody shifts and Tom's very inspired vocal performance, fitting the lyrics of the song perfectly: "No apparet motive, kill and kill again / Survive my brutal thrashing (a declaration of artistic intent?), I'll hunt you till the end / My life's a constant battle, the rage of many men / Homicidal maniac!!!". He really sounds like an enraptured madman on this chorus. What a pity I've never heard this song live.
"At Dawn They Sleep" is built upon slower yet pounding rhythms with room for some occasional and well built guitar harmonies, to speed up in the last part (the verse where the band accelerates in real time is spectacular).
"Praise of Death" is a more straightforward Slayer-trademark thrasher, the perfect interlude between the aforementioned track and the following...
Enter "Necrophiliac", one of the band's most complex offerings, packed with abrupt yet effective key shifts and the by now usual (for this album) rhythm changes. Very interesting and strong, despite the laughable cheesiness of the lyrics (the title says enough).
"Crypts of Eternity" begins with a weird sounding guitar intro to evolve into yet another epic; Tom does a really cool trick with his vocals on the verse, shifting the rhythmic stressing of the riff from the beat to the upbeat (it's easier listened to than explained), before a memorable chorus kicks in, its catchy groove owing something to "Captor of Sin".
The final track, "Hardening of the Arteries", is a two-minute flat-out headbanger which guarantees a blistering grand finale (it's like the band is wishing to anticipate how the next album will sound like) before a creepy outro, based on the beginning of the first song, sets in and fades out after a while.
So, there's really nothing to complain about when it comes to the strength of the material. A lot of people, however, do have a gripe with the "excessive" length of the songs here, and especially the album's sound. All I can say is that I find no big problems with the production here; sure, the vocals may be a bit too loud and the rhythm guitars might need a bit more crunch, but on the other hand the drums sound great and you canclearly hear the bass (!!!), and all in all this is the band's second full length anyway so a perfect sound shouldn't really be expected here. It doesn't actually sound very different from "Show No Mercy", which in my opinion was rough and good itself, but obviously your opinion might be quite different.
I can do nothing but praise Slayer for releasing such an interesting album which never seems to get old, at least for me. Highly recommended.
Slayer here release their second black metal album (it's metal, it's about Satan, it takes a proactive stance towards the destruction of Christianity, therefore it's black metal!) and this time they've turned up the brutality a few notches, while managing to stay coherent and massively riff-oriented. Some of the best riffs they've come up with are on this album, including the entire intro riff set to the title track, for instance. (The verses quickly disintegrate into kinda incoherent Reign-in-Blood-esque too fast for its own good self-parody, but fortunately only very very few times is the album like that.)
Most of the album is marked by very overt tempo changes, and riffs upon riffs. Best illustrating this is probably "At Dawn they Sleep", with the entire "driven by the instinct, of centuries of horror.... kill!! kill!! kill!!" sequence. Also, they carry over some of the really catchy choruses of Show no Mercy ("no apparent motive! Kill and kill again!") and the riff insanity that made Chemical Warfare an instant classic: see "Necrophiliac" for some similarly memorable riffs.
Some say the production on the album is a bit lacking - it's really not at all bad, and definitely gives an atmosphere of evil. The guitar tone is pretty damn foreboding, and Tom Araya's vocals are in top form. Dave Lombardo gives, as usual, a killer drum performance, and bass has never been really relevant to Slayer so I won't mention that. It's definitely an album worth having, and easily one of Slayer's best.