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What Metalhead doesn’t know Slayer? Slayer remain one of the most popular, recognized and influential (for better or worse) bands in the history of the Metal. A typical discussion of fans’ favourite albums almost inevitably brings up this album. Many consider it as a classic album worthy enough to be placed alongside Reign In Blood. This was among the first albums of this band that I ever bought and throughout my teens always considered it to be among the best albums Slayer had to offer. Now, with the benefits of age and many more years experience of metal and other forms of music, I’ve come to a different conclusion.
After releasing the hyper-fast and aggressive Reign in Blood, Slayer countered by going slower (in a relative sense) with South of Heaven. As a follow up to the latter, Slayer sought to combine these two elements in this album. The results, as often is the case when one tries to reconcile two antithetical elements, is middling at best.
The album opens furiously with War Ensemble, a wonderful thrash fest of a song that is justifiably considered a classic song nowadays. This track just sears with intensity and compositionally speaking, is a very well written song and has always been one my favourite songs by this band.
Blood Red is next, and to be honest, I never grasped what the hype about this song was. The intro riff is mildly interesting and the main riff is typical of Slayer’s use of melody, but this song has never gelled with me. This song never really develops into anything interesting and its only redeeming quality is that it’s the shortest song on the disc. Spirit in Black also suffers from this: a somewhat interesting intro riff is lost in an abyss of indifferent and unoriginal riffing. I’ve always felt Born of Fire and Spirit in Black should’ve been fused together and the result would’ve been one awesome song, as opposed to two mediocre ones.
Expendable Youth is one of the mid-tempo songs and to be honest, its one of the most boring songs this band has ever written. This song makes Gemini sound like a Cryptopsy song. On South of Heaven, when Slayer somewhat slowed things down, they at least had great riffs to compensate for the relative lack of speed. The riffs in this song are dull and uninteresting. There is nothing to make this song compelling. How and why people rave about it is beyond me. Skeletons of Society is another mid-tempo song that is completely forgettable.
Hallowed Point is a pretty good song, but I’ve always had the impression that Slayer ran out of ideas for this one after the two minute mark and so Kerry King and Jeff Henneman decided to fill-out the time by trading solos. Temptation, despite making a cat headbang in one briefly popular internet video, is another mediocre song that isn’t memorable outside its intro.
Dead Skin Mask and the title track are songs that I still enjoy today but this album has little to offer me nowadays. This album is too self-conscious and deliberate for its own good. By attempting to reach a compromise between the dominant, and in Slayer’s case contradictory, aesthetics of South of Heaven and Reign in Blood, they compromised the quality of their music. Previous albums had their hiccups and small flaws, but all were still excellent albums that are justifiably heavily praised to this day. This album has some great ideas, but many of them are squandered by this band’s insistence on providing some sort of a balance. Essentially, Slayer are intentionally watering themselves down and lowering their standards. Would you expect to find any sub-standard elements on any of this band’s previous albums? Of course not. But this album is filled to gills with mediocre riffs and boring songs. Needless to say, this is a betrayal of what this band once stood for. This album is but the first step in Slayer’s steady and ongoing decline and sadly, things have only gotten worse.