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Diversified, mostly satisfying - 75%

gasmask_colostomy, July 5th, 2015

As a general rule, I don't like Slayer all that much. For me, their music does sound like it is dominated by a few main elements, which are usually strong and exciting, yet don't reward a long listening time. In other words, I rarely listen to Slayer by deliberate choice and there are many thrash bands that I would choose to experience ahead of them. There's something dry or predictable about them, and for a band who want to sound crazed and out of control, that can be a problem. That said, I sometimes find it a little difficult to agree with people about which Slayer album I like best.

'Seasons in the Abyss' has one distinct advantage and one obvious disadvantage over most of Slayer's other work. The advantage is that it is generally more varied and boasts a less repetitive attack than 'Reign in Blood' and its like, though the disadvantage is that it can't hope to live up to the intensity and fury of that kind of album. For me, the mid-paced songs here work very well and actually remain more memorable to me than the quick ones, which just sound generally like Slayer and not much else, even if some of them are pretty exciting. The reason why they blur is because I'm not a sucker for pure speed, I actually prefer a sure momentum with some element of hook or groove or movement: I can actually see Kerry King stand still as he blasts out some of those razor-sharp riffs, just like he does when he plays live, and I would prefer riffs that make me run around and lose my head. That's why 'Diabolus in Musica' wasn't a terrible album for me and also why this album has its charms over something more straight-ahead, in the stylistic sense at least. Here, the band straddle the divide between fast and medium pace about 50/50 and it gives me a lot more chance to work my way into the album and appreciate the musicianship, rather than just being brushed off by unwelcoming music.

I have a little problem with the tone on this album, though the production and mix are pretty good. The guitar tone is too rounded and not trebly enough for the kind of vicious music that Slayer plays, so that the faster songs actually end up blurring and not sounding as cut-throat as they should, while the groovier numbers don't suffer so much. The opening of 'Skeletons of Society', for example, simply sounds flat and lifeless because its riff remains at a very low intensity, where it should be livelier and sharper. The number of riffs is not a problem, coming thick and fast in most songs and adding enough variety and detail to songs, including the shorter numbers. I prefer the leads here to some of the purely extreme effects from the past, since I need that melodic presence to hollow out a song and create a space for serotonin to flourish, not only adrenaline. Those bursts of noise from Kerry King crop up, but aren't overused in the same way as on 'Reign in Blood', and the leads seem generally to have been thought about for longer and had care spent on them. Unfortunately, something keeps the drums from sounding sharp as well, so that Dave Lombardo can't accelerate or drive the songs up a notch with any real force, only maintain the position that the rest of the band have come to. I have a problem with Tom Araya's vocals in general, and this album hardly represents a high point for them: in the fast songs, he tends to let out a stream of words with one kind of phrasing and little change in intonation, so that the monotony of some of the quicker songs is hard to bear, since the vocals have a much more concentrated sound than the guitar.

For all my criticisms, there are certainly some good songs on this record, and Slayer were never slouches in terms of pure musicianship or creating excitement. Almost all of the pure thrash songs rule, although I do wonder a little about 'Blood Red' - perhaps it wasn't necessary to be included. Some people have stated problems with 'Dead Skin Mask' and 'Expendable Youth', but the slightly repetitive and downbeat nature of those songs strikes me differently in different moods, usually satisfying me and occasionally pissing me off. The title track is not quite what it's cracked up to be and I personally don't find it the best song here, which I would say is either 'War Ensemble' or 'Hallowed Point', one for being viciously direct and striking and the other...for exactly the same reason. That's what Slayer do best. 'Seasons in the Abyss' isn't a great Slayer album, but it isn't boring or the same as the last one, which is good enough for most.