August 3, 2006

CD Review: Slayer - Christ Illusion

The original Slayer is back. As soon as Christ Illusion starts, there is no denying that Slayer still has "it," whatever "it" is. This album marks the first time that the original lineup has been in the studio together since the 1990 classic, Seasons in the Abyss. That combination of Tom Araya, Kerry King, Jeff Hanneman, and the returning Dave Lombardo, is a force to be reckoned with. Slayer has been at the forefront of thrash metal from the beginning pioneering the genre with albums such as South of Heaven and the landmark Reign in Blood.

I have never followed Slayer all that closely, although I am a big fan of those early albums, in particular Seasons in the Abyss. I have not heard God Hates Us All, but after what I consider mediocre for Slayer albums Divine Intervention and Diabolous in Musica, Christ Illusion is an eye opener. That in and fo itself is an interesting comment, due to some people saying that Slayer has been making the same album over and over. Slayer is a band that has never strayed and never wavered from what they are, extreme pioneers, and in doing so, their style has not evolved all that much, and therein lies the beauty of their output. They know what they are doing, and they just do it, brutally, honestly, and with pure aggression.

The pre-release version of the disk I have to review starts off with two versions of the lead track, "Flesh Storm." Which version of the song will appear on the release disk, I am not sure, but I prefer the version labeled "Alt. Vocal." The difference is slight, the alternate version has Tom Araya singing a little throatier, as opposed to a higher scream on the other version. In either case it is proof of the aggression about to be unleashed. And, if you didn't already know that you had slipped in a Slayer disk, the initial screaming lead from Jeff Hanneman should be enough to tip you off.

The album is full of the religion, hate, and politics lyrics that you have come to expect from Slayer, but to me the lyrical content, as interesting as it can be is secondary to the musical content. None of the tracks disappoint, all of them featuring blazing speed, face melting lead breaks, and some great chugging riff sections.

Top tracks include the holy war controversy of "Jihad" and the outright pit-chugger "Skeleton Christ." "Consfearacy" is sure to get the speed freaks in the pit adrenalized to cause some mass disturbance, not to mention "Catatonic," which features some of the best head banging riffs on the disk.

Closing the album is the epic "Supremist." This is very reminiscent of the older Seasons material. A think guitar wall, relentless drums, and Tom Araya's distinctive growl all combine to deliver a strong track that will leave you wanting more.

It has been 5 years since any new Slayer material has reached the masses. It has been a long but worthwhile wait, as this disk is more focused and powerful than my last couple of experiences, not that they are bad, but this album is far and away the stronger work.

From the trademark Tom Araya scream, to one of the best metal guitar duos in King and Hanneman, to the returning juggernaut of Dave Lombardo on the skins, they have not missed a beat. This is the Slayer album I have been waiting for, you will not be disappointed.

One last note of interest, in addition to the return of Dave Lombardo, artist Larry Carroll has returned to the fold. Now the name was not familiar to me, but the artwork definitely is. He created the cover art for those classic albums like the previously mentioned Seasons in the Abyss. He has created the cover for this album on a 4'x4' block of wood using various materials. Rather fitting to have his return coincide with the return of the original lineup.

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