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A Dry Hot Season In Hell - 97%

televiper11, May 10th, 2013

Seasons In The Abyss completes Slayer's triptych of albums for Def American with Rick Rubin at the helm. And like the previous South Of Heaven and Reign In Blood, Seasons consolidates gains made previously and has stood the weathering effects of time with ease. That it is not quite as good as those previous two albums is no real knock against it, though it does falter on the precipice of being Slayer's last truly great record.

Slayer truly flourished under Rick Rubin, trimming the fat, dialing back the effects and just going for the jugular with a bone-dry/air-tight production that has really stood the test of time. Whereas other late 80's thrash albums have a dated feel in their production, Seasons just rips from the first note of 'War Ensemble' onward. And 'War Ensemble' is a totally whiplash inducing evil thrash monster. Written (like all of Slayer's best tracks) by Jeff Hanneman, it blasts forth like artillery, harkening back to the nastiest tracks off Reign In Blood yet betraying a further depth of Hanneman refining his hardcore punk leanings into trickier metal territories. 'Blood Red' is a nice slowdown into atmospheric darkness, showing Slayer operating in Hegelian synthesis with their previous two records, though one could argue that the continuing alternations between brutal thrash and slower grooving numbers gets a little monotonous over a slightly padded 42min run time. I find that a minor quibble personally as the songwriting here is generally excellent.

To pick at the one minor scab that keeps Seasons from outright classic perfection, it would be the slightly dreary 'Skeletons Of Society,' with its relatively bland mid-tempo riffs extended past the point of redundancy -- a minimalist, low-brow groove that would sadly haunt this band for the rest of their career. Otherwise though, its all winners. True favorites over the years include 'Spirit In Black,' a galloping onslaught of thunderous thrash and primitive grooves. This tracks grows through several different iterations and is absolutely blazing by the finish. 'Dead Skin Mask' is as catchy as it is creepy, highlighting Slayer's bizarre fascination with the most disturbed mindsets. 'Temptation' is also killer, though different from the norm, focusing on heavily accentuated hardcore/crossover grooves of the NYHC variety. Written by King, 'Temptation' points the way toward a better incorporation of these influences than what actually came to pass from his pen.

The masterpiece though is the title track, six-minutes and thirty-six seconds of Stygian darkness culled from the depths of Hanneman's songwriting ability. This was the track that originally got me into Slayer with frightened baby-steps towards a band that in 1990 was still utterly terrifying to those of us unexposed to true metal. Perfectly coupled to Hanneman's morosely parched and dying sounds are Araya's lyrics of sanity lost amid ritual sacrifice. The lyrics throughout the album are particularly sharp and diverse, tackling everything from otherworldly horror to modern-day warfare to late-80's cultural alienation.

With Jeff Hanneman's passing fresh on the mind, this record becomes even more poignant for as it stands, Seasons In The Abyss completes a three album run of excellence nearly unrivaled in all of metal. Despite later declines, inner-feuds and departures, and underwhelming returns, one truth remains: these early albums are utterly unfuckwithable. Slayer forever!