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Judging from the first few listens, this would probably be hailed as the best Slayer album ever recorded. Every song from start to finish, save one (“Temptation”), leaves a mark that makes you want to listen to it again. Never has a Slayer album been this infectious and catchy! Even mad thrashing songs like “War Ensemble” and “Born of Fire” emanate a singy-songy vibe that everybody will remember for a period of time (an ominous sign for a review).
Carrying with what South of Heaven left us, the songs are strategically paced, meaning there are no songs that rekindle the breakneck, frantic, frenetic frenzy of Reign In Blood (although “War Ensemble” comes damn close). In addition, the songs are more commercially viable, so it doesn’t come as a surprise that MTV included the melodic and epic title track in the regular playlist of Headbanger’s Ball.
It then becomes evident that Slayer has matured greatly from their speed metal heydays, evident from their subdued songs and the prominence of mood and atmosphere (“Dead Skin Mask”, the title track), and tuneful solos (!), all of which are a result of improved songwriting.
However, this thing ain’t a Merlot, folks, because at the same time, this is the easiest Slayer album to digest, which is in fact a bad thing. The songs, except again “War Ensemble”, don’t really age well. Part of the problem is the simplified, straightforward attack they supplied the album. Any amazing album challenges the listeners in determining the nuances and the skill of the music before they are able to unfold the greatness of the album. With this, however, almost all of the songs are upfront and naked, as they suffer from the same thrash-chugging riff template. “Blood Red” and “Skeletons of Society” are some of the songs which are nicely composed, memorable, and musically convincing, but after playing it back again and again, given their problems, they sound exhausted and eventually loses their power.
Granted that this album falls a little bit short from its conceived reputation, it still is a worthy listen. It’s just a bit overrated for its own good.