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I saw so many reviews praising this release I just had to chip in and offer a dissenting opinion. And dissenting it is in that I find it the beginning of Slayer's weakening as a force to be reckoned with in metal.
Firstly, the production, while better than the tin can ambience of "South of Heaven" is not that good; the guitar sound is still a bit weaker and thinner than "RIB", the bass is as always nonexistent, and the drums still sound like Dave's beating on tin cans. Far from the first ingredient in a recipe for good metal, ya'll.
And secondly, the soloing isn't quite as insanely inspired as their earlier material, either, especially when King & Hannemann actually try and play more melodically. That comes off as forced and uninspired compared to their trademark whammy bar madness. The riffing is better on the thrashers, too, it flows more naturally and doesn't feel as dull as the riffs for the slower songs, which just kind of plod along. In fact, it sounds to me like they simply recycled the same main riff and feel for several of those slower songs--boooring.
Then there's Araya's vocals, which continue in the same semi-melodic vein as last album. Unfortunately he sounds whiny and weak about half the time--the slower songs, surprise, surprise.
In fact, only about half this album is worth listening to, and that would be the barnburners that show Slayer still had it on this album. Well, OK, "Blood Red" is pretty good--the opening riff is nice and dissonant and the riff right before the verse is pretty sweet too, slightly Sabbathy in its feel. And the title track is not half bad, especially that menacing intro and that galvanizing verse riff. Even the chorus, with its multitracked vocals, is more effective than elsewhere. But "Expendable Youth" especially...ick. Booooring!
Really, Slayer should've stuck with what they did best, the blazing thrash numbers with occasional dips into slower parts for dynamics and breathing room instead of making half an album and the rest of it forgettable shite. But how can I not love "Hallowed Point", the last half of "Spirit in Black" (the first half sounds entirely too cliched and awkward to my ear to really be effective), and of course "War Ensemble"--WAAAAAAARRRRRRR!!!!!! "Dead Skin Mask" has a pretty creepy atmosphere, especially at the end when the gremlin voice starts yelling and screaming under Araya's droning chorus vocal part--too bad the riffs are mostly not up to maintaining that atmosphere.
Not one of Slayer's better albums, this was, and most everything that followed got worse and worse. Download the faster songs if you must, and check out the slower songs at your own risk so as to avoid intense boredom.