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This limited edition box set provides a great overview of Slayer's career with American Recordings. There are generally 2 common types of box sets, one is a really huge best-of compilation and the other is a giant collection of rarities and bonus tracks. Soundtrack to the Apocalypse is an excellently assembled combination of the 2.
The first disc is a collection of 5 songs from Reign in Blood, 5 from South of Heaven, 5 from Seasons in the Abyss, and 3 songs from Decade of Aggression (all Metal Blade material). There is an error on the track listing of Disc 1. The songs “Live Undead” and “Silent Scream” are mixed up. Disc 2 is a collection of material from the albums Divine Intervention, Undisputed Attitude, Diabolus in Musica, God Hates Us All, and 4 tracks only available on Japanese releases. It would be really hard to get a better compilation of all their albums than this. Just about all of the classics a fan could ask for are here.
The 3rd disc comprises of rare live material, appropriately titled “Shit You’ve Never Heard”. The audio quality is decent enough to understand what is being played. Some definite highlights include: “Ice Titan” (an unreleased song that was drastically altered to become “Alter of Sacrifice” on Reign in Blood), an early live bootleg of “Necrophiliac” with a “tasteful” spoken intro by Tom Araya, rehearsals of “The Antichrist” and “Fight Till Death”, and Jeff Hanneman’s home recordings of “Raining Blood” and “South of Heaven”.
Disc 4 is a DVD with live concert footage spanning Slayer's career from 1983 up to 2003.The audio and video quality isn’t that good at the beginning but it gets progressively better. My favorite on here would definitely be “Die by the Sword”, showing an early Slayer in excellent form (this was so early in Slayer’s career that they were still wearing eyeliner to look “extra evil”). I prefer this version of the song to the one on Show No Mercy.
Now for the extra stuff included in the Deluxe Edition. Disc 5 is the first live concert that has been played since Dave Lombardo returned in 2003. This concert CD, instead of being housed in a jewel case, is in Slayer's infamous "blood pack" sleeve (also used for the Seasons in the Abyss single back in 1990). It's a clear plastic sleeve with fake blood and floating skulls inside. Audio quality is excellent and it is not overdubbed in any way, shape or form. The only possible downside to this recording is Tom Araya, his voice just can’t take it anymore.
Also included is a large booklet about the history of Slayer and many of their controversies. To complete this collection are huge red wall banner with the Slayer eagle logo and an inverted cross in the background, and a replica concert laminate.
All of the discs and extra goodies are packaged in an "ammo box" which also looks pretty cool.
There are really only 2 problems with this set. One is that there isn’t enough early material (on Metal Blade Records). The other is that the Deluxe Edition is a bit pricey, so newer fans may want the standard 4 Disc edition instead. When I bought this, the only Slayer album that I owned was Reign in Blood and I knew that I had to get this. Definitely worth the high price tag.
NOTE: This review concerns the deluxe edition of the box.
Ok, so it's finally here, the Slayer boxed set which we had first been promised years ago (short before the release of "Diabolus In Musica", if I remember correctly), its purpose being to represent both a retrospective of this band's long and glorious career and an archive of rare, unreleased and generally difficult to track down material for the die-hard fan. A huge task to accomplish, and indeed "huge" is the best word to describe this release: three cds and a dvd, plus a bonus fourth live cd for the limited edition, all packed to the brim of pure Slayer energy. Sounds tasty? You can bet it is.
The first two discs are the core of the "best of" character of the box; for contractual reason, the studio material goes only back to 1986, since the first four Slayer records ("Show No Mercy", "Haunting The Chapel", "Hell Awaits" and "Live Undead") were issued on a different label. Fret not, as those old classics have however found their way into this collection as live recordings or various outtakes, as one would have expected anyway (honestly... a Slayer collection without "Hell Awaits" or "Chemical Warfare" would have "SLAG ME" written all over it).
So, the first disc opens with the almighty "Angel of Death" from the landmark release "Reign In Blood", followed by four more tracks from those sections (including the fast version of "Aggressive Perfector", Slayer's debut song); then off we go with five tracks each for the second and third chapter of Slayer's best known trilogy, namely "South Of Heaven" and "Seasons In The Abyss"... this means than on this cd we find half of the former and half of the latter, since they both show a complexive tracklist of ten songs. Talk about completeness! The first cd closes with three choice cuts from the early days ("Hell Awaits", "The Antichrist" and "Chemical Warfare") as their appeared in 1991's double live album "Decade Of Aggression", and despite it being a decision forced by the aforementioned contractual issues, the overwhelming power of thses performances leaves no room for doubt.
The second disc continues the journey in time by first unleashing five cuts from "Divine Intervention", clearly marking the band's progression into a whole new era. 1996's cover album, "Undisputed Attitude", is oddly represnted by "Can't Stand You" and "DDAMM", which are not really covers since both were written by Jeff Hanneman for an old punk side-project, plus the previously unreleasred Slayer original "Gemini"; although the selection might appear weird, any Slayer fan will definitely be more pleased to hear tracks penned by their heroes rather than any punk cover version, no matter how much slayerized it comes across (and last but not least, they all are good).
Finally, "Diabolus In Musica" and "God Hates Us All" get their space with three songs each. Then comes the first real treat for the fans: a compilation of 8 songs which previously appeared on soundtracks, compilations or Japanese editions.
This section begins with the band's version of Iron Butterfly's vintage classic "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida", probably one of Slayer's best known covers and certainly one of the best in its perfect balance between the spirit of the original and the Slayer Sound injection.
Next comes "Disorder", a bizarre track featuring Ice-T but don't freak out: although it doesn't obviously sound like your standard Slayer anthem it's not mallcore either (there aren't even real rapping sections, just spoken vocals). There's also a nice acceleration in the second part, although the song would have been better if kept a bit shorter.
"Memories of Tomorrow" is a Japanese only track from "Undisputed Attitude", another fiercely sped up punk cover... very fiercely, actually, as it lasts for exactly 52 seconds!! Funny stuff, like much of that album.
Another sountrack contribution comes in the form of "Human Disease", a song that wouldn't be out of place on "Diabolus In Musica", as it keeps mostly a slow pace and quite a dark atmosphere.
"Unguarded Instinct" and "Wicked" comes from the Japanese edition of "Diabolus In Musica" (the latter actually appeared on the European version too), and don't add anything that we didn't already know about that album. Both are pretty slow, although "Unguarded Instinct" is graced by some great drum work by Paul Bostaph; "Wicked" has a nice ominous mood but the lack of variation in the riff department undermine its consistency.
Finally, we get two tracks from "God Hates Us All", available both on the Japanese version and on the limited collector's edition (which also had a cool multimedia part): "Addict" is pretty impressive with its odd tempoed passages, wicked riffs and angry vocals, while "Scarstruck" is generally faster and more groove-based. Both definitely deserve to reach a larger audience.
The third disc's label, "Shit You've Never Heard", explains its nature better than a million words. This cd has a great start with a very old live recorind ("earliest known Slayer recording" states the booklet) of "Ice Titan", the infamous unreleased ancient Slayer song; despite the obvious shortcomings of the sound quality the strcuture of the song can be easily made out. The song opens with a groovy rhythm similar to "Crionics", and features a riff that would later resurface in the second half of "Altar of Sacrifice", then evolves into a slower section, reaches a speed/intensity peak and finally goes back to its original pace; all of this spiced with trademark guitar harmonies and leads all the way through. Why this track didn't make it to "Show No Mercy" is way beyond me.
Then we are transported into Tom's garage, where the band used to rehearse until around 1988, to hear the boys going through "The Antichrist" and "Fight Till Death"; the sound is pretty damn good for a rehearsal (Tom's voice comes out rougher and angrier than on the actual record!) and the performance is already impressive.
Another early classic, "Necrophiliac", comes as a 1985 live recording, showing Tom entertaining the audience with a long an hilarious introduction. What about the actual song? Is the rendition effective? Come on, guys... it's Slayer on stage, can you go wrong with that?
So we get to "Reign In Blood" with an alternate version of "Piece By Piece" featuring a bass intro that was cut off the final version; it's also intersting to hear the rest of the song since this is a rough mix and the vocals are lower, focusing the attention on the (unbelievable) instrumental work.
Two raw live renditions from 1986 of "Raining Blood" and "Angel of Death" show the band at the peak of undiluted aggression: the drum intro to the former is nothing short of ferocious, and Tom's raucous scream at the beginning of "Angel of Death" is just chilling.
A real gem for the collector is next: two samples of Jeff Hanneman's home recordings, consisting of the man jamming to some riffs with just a drum machine. The songs in question are "Raining blood" and "South of Heaven", but despite the titles there's roughly one familiar riff to be found in each of them (check out the slow, ominous version of "South of Heaven"'s opening riff, is that evil or what?); the rest is a bunch of (killer) riffs we've never quite heard before, many of them paired with Jeff's insane soloing. If all of Jeff's demos sound like these, I'd be pleased to have a cd full of them, really. There's also a funny misprint in the booklet, as both tracks are marked as "early version - 1996" and "1998", respectively - never heard of an early version coming 10 years AFTER the best known one.
1991 live versions of "Seasons in the Abyss" and "Mandatory Suicide" are next, both being way rawer than those portrayed on "Decade Of Aggression" (recorded during the same tour) but by no means less effective, althogh Tom's voice is a bit too loud in the mix.
"Mind Control" comes from a 1994 concert in Brazil, and is best described as a three minute slab of anger, which represents the spirit of the song better than its studio counterpart from "Divine Intervention".
"No Remorse (I Wanna Die)" would have fit better at the end of disco 2 since it's another soundtrack contribution, this time for "Spawn". You might known that all songs on that soundtrack were unreleased tracks born out of collaborations between groups of two bands working together, and here Slayer are paired with Atari Teenage Riot: the result is a very weird track sharing but pale resemblances with any other Slayer material with its electronic drum patterns and distorted vocal effects. An interesting experiment, but nothing more.
Four more live recordings close this chapter of the box. "Dittohead" and "Sex. Murder. Art." come from 1998 and sport a great sound thanks to a profesional mobile recording courtesy of Westwood One. "Bloodline" and "Payback" are from a 2002 show in Sweden and are the real downfall of this cd: it's apparent that Tom had problems with his voice that night (he sings the whole "Bloodline" totally out of key and runs repeatedly out of breath on "Payback") and the mix is seriously lacking, with the drums (or rather the cymbals) drowing out the rest of the instrumentation, especially on "Payback".
Disc four, the DVD, continues the thought as "Shit You've Never Seen". The set opens with the "earliest known Slayer (video crowd) recordings" filmed at various venues in California between 1983 ans 1984; here we can see Slayer still wearing eyeliner and "Satanic" outfits, as well as Tom playing with his fingers rather than the usual pick (an dhear various of his high-pitched screams that marked old Slayer). "Die by the Sword" is probably the best, since you can see what's going on on stage and the sound can still be made out despite the abysmal sound quality; "Aggressive Perfector" sounds worse especially in the first part and becomes a real eyesore at times, although it has a nice close up on Jeff and Kerry in the solo trading section; finally, "Praise of Death" is the best of the three visiually (despite the grainy picture) but the song is made totally indecipherable by the horrible sound (and misses the final part).
Things become slightly better with a 1985 recording of "Haunting the Chapel" from the band's firs European tour, and more so with three songs from a 1986 show in New York ("Necrophobic" - introduced by Tom in a rather funny way -, "Reborn" and "Jesus Saves") which show a very energetic crowd giving a hard time to the security bullies.
From here on, it's all professional recordings, with great multi-angle shots and fantastic sound. "War Ensemble", "South of Heaven" and "Dead Skin Mask" portray the band running at top gear in Michigan, 1991, in front og a huge crowd, while "Gemini" comes from 1996 small club tour that followed the release of "Undisputed Attitude" as is the only available footage with John Dette on drums.
What follows is a kind of interlude consisting of a short clip from the "Kerrang!" Magazine Awards 1996, where Slayer was elected "Heaviest Band In The World", and a presentation of "Diabolus In Music" with a short interview with the band (by the way, where are the subtitles...?).
A live "Stain of Mind" follows, recorded live in Japan in 1998; the performance is great but I have to say that placing this song right after the "Diabolus" special (which has "Stain of Mind" playing most of the time) was a bit unwise.
A live "Bloodline" (much better than the version on disc three, thank goodness) was filmed in 2002, while "Disciple" and "God Send Death" come from a hugely crowded open air show in France.
So finishes the dvd... and I'm just left asking: what is it with those focus blurs that hide the writings and patterns on the band's clothes on several videos? LAME!!
So... the fifth disc, exclusive for the deluxe edition. Its appearance is deluxe indeed, since it comes slipped inside the infamous Bloodpack (a transparent cd holder filled with a red liquid that REALLY looks like blood, completed by six small skull shapes that float inside it), originally used for the "Seasons In The Abyss" single. The audio track of the cd is also recorded on a black surface instead of silver (like the Playstation game discs), probably to avoid illegal copies being made. Anyway, this cd contains the recording of a show at The Grove in Anaheim, captured during the reunion tour with Dave Lombardo beating the skins. 13 songs that further capture tha band's raw energy on stage; it's not the best Slayer live recording (Tom seems to have problems with his voice again, especially at the end... not a big deal since he lets the audience take care of a lot of the lyrics!) but effectively seal the band's trademark as an incarnation of devastating energy.
...which just leaves us with a great 60 pages booklet filled with photos, extensive essay spiced by written interventions from the band members themselves, plus a fake backstage pass, a cool banner portraying the Slayer Eagle and the box itself, shaped as a large ammo box.
Overall, there are literally tons of interesting stuff to be found inside this box (there must be a rough total six hours of music), so if you are a Slayer fan you'd better go and take this thing home right now.