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Well, here it is: the be-all, end-all thrash album of our time. It may not be the most original metal album ever made, the most entertaining, or even Slayer's best; (That place is reserved for Hell Awaits, in my opinion.) but its influence is more than enough to compensate for what it is generally criticized for: the non-stop, one-way, mile-a-minute fury that is just about as relenting as a band like Marduk. Had it not been for this album, we wouldn't see the majority of death, thrash, black, and even metalcore bands today. It is an understatement to say that Slayer created a cornerstone without even realizing it.
But how did they acheive it? It's pretty simple, really; in the writing process of this album, Slayer distilled every part of their sound. Every element from every album by the band is seen here, but has been trimmed and condensed into a furious, malevolent burst of violence that was separated into ten different songs. One example of this is the song structures and tempo range; goddamn, we knew they were a thrash band, but "Necrophobic" and "Epidemic" upped the ante on the speed and technicality the band had attempted up until this time. Speaking of song structures, one will automatically notice that the majority of the songs here are drastically shorter than that of Hell Awaits. The ultimate classics "Angel of Death", "Postmortem", and "Raining Blood", the last two of which are interconnected, span over the 4-minute range and constantly shift driving, full-speed-ahead guitar work. The former is probably one of the most dynamic and yet brutal songs Slayer has ever written; the mid-paced passages in the middle are ripe with hellish harmonies and headbanging power, while the beginning and ending are outright slaughterous in their delivery of palm-muted tremolo riffs and pummeling double bass. Everything in between is a maniacal, frenzied, wall-of-noise attack of spastic, chaotic rhythm guitars and solos, machine-gun drum work, and Tom's one-dimensional shouts.
Things may blur together at first, but long-time listeners will find that even though the band are overtly violent in their delivery, things do let up a bit on the mid-album anthems of "Jesus Saves" and "Criminally Insane"; it's only temporary though. Tempos slow only for a matter of seconds before being thrown back into oblivion. I will make it known that when I say that the music is all over the place, doesn't mean things aren't done proficiently: Kerry and Jeff are absolutely flawless in their delivery of the non-stop barrage of rhythm riffs, and even though the solos may seem totally random, they're pulled off perfectly and only add intensity to the songs. The interesting thing is, this is constant through the whole album, but the never ride the line of sounding mechanical or sterile; a big plus, in my book. Dave's drum work is mostly based on thrash beats, with violent cymbal crashes and textural fills interjecting for the sake of dynamics and moving the song to its next phase.
Though the band may not be very forgiving or varied in their delivery, one has to give it up for the endurance, power, and tightness in the performances here; not many bands can pull this off. Somehow, this album keeps you glued, regardless of the fact that many of the middle songs are cohesive to one another and sound somewhat homogenous. Maybe the album's length helps it out, being under 30 minutes. Either way, kudos go to the members for making one of the damn tighest metal records that these ears have ever beheld.
Tom's vocal delivery is of special note: sure, overall it's nothing too different from what he usually does; but the falsetto screams that open "Angel of Death" and are scattered through the other songs is one-of-a-kind. Each song is packed full of lyrics, and each song is also incredibly short and fast; so in turn, Tom is spewing out lyrics at an ungodly pace with ease on "Piece by Piece" and "Necrophobic." To these ears, it's nothing short of wonderful; Tom shows no visible signs of wearing down, and each line is delivered with a menacing conviction.
Rick Ruben's production helps things out immensely. Slayer's sound got a modern update: the guitars are thick and beefy with a fair amount of treble, and the tone is one of the most widely emulated in metal today. It's one of those things you automatically recognize. Dave's drums are punchy and direct with very little echo or gating effects, but never sound compressed or hampered. The old-sounding tape hiss and echo of the former albums is absent, and this helps things out in the long run by confronting the listener with a full, no-bullshit sound.
At the end of this review, I contradict myself by saying that no set of words can truly do this album justice on a level of status and influence, even with a generally one-minded, unchanging nature. Buy it and love it.