On that date above, exactly two weeks shy of my entry into the world of adolescence, my parents gave me some money to grab an early present for myself. Could I have chosen better than the album that combines the heartless aggression of Reign In Blood with the leisurely menace of South of Heaven?
Third straight rec produced by the redoubtable Rick Rubin, third straight with cover art by Larry Carroll (which is okay, but I would have loved if the face was puking Christ into a pit), fifth straight fucking great effort. Even the booklet is memorable. The eight-panel foldout features complete lyrics in barely-legible gothic font, surrounded by black and white photos of the band members, looking like they're embarrassed to be near such piss-poor design.
The credits show promising parity: six songs touched by Tom, and seven each for Kerry and Jeff.
"War Ensemble"--Not a pro-war song, but easily misinterpreted as one by people who have chicken pot pie for brains instead of for dinner.
There's no respite on the battlefield, so why should there be respite in the studio, or on the stage? "War" has never sounded better (the actual word, I mean). Slayer do not give the tiniest sliver of a shit. The word "blood" appears twice in the first verse. This is pinnacle Slayer. All that's missing is a "Hail Satan!" But maybe that's implied at this stage.
"Blood Red"--This band would just as soon spray you with piss as impress you with technique, finesse, or logic. I love you, Slayer. I want you to take me behind the school and perform my abortion.
Slow, without being plodding. The chorus lick is playful, but not happy. (Slayer are never happy! Stop smiling!) This is the second song by a Big 4 band to reference the Tiananmen Square protests in China, but where Anthrax's "One Man Stands" saluted the resolute will of the justice-seekers, Slayer is more concerned with the unsightly face of tyranny, or what happens when "peaceful confrontation meet(s) war machine."
"Spirit In Black"--Seasons in the Abyss is nagging me, but I dig it. There's a section of my brain that requires a good tune to obsess over for a decent portion of the day, and these offerings are qualifying with minimal expenditures of effort.
This one, goddamn. The progression from campfire to wildfire is quite a sound to behold.
Meta time! "Where the blood forever rains"; "Hell awaits!" (Tom even says the second in the identical timbre and cadence of the original.)
"Expendable Youth"--Slayer tackling social commentary. Odd. Kinda…Anthrax of you, guys. (Only Anthrax would have a guest appearance by Ice Cube and it would be awesome.) Not bad by any stretch, I'm just accustomed to Tom talking about blood-dripping demons giving the high hard hellish one to pale shrieking virgins with all the elegance of a tank. Variety is the spice, I suppose.
"Death the only solution!"
No wonder y'all wrote about it, then!
"Dead Skin Mask"--As a true crime buff, I'm not sure why you'd write about Ed "The Plainfield Ghoul" Gein and not Carl "Rage Personified" Panzram. So Gein killed a couple old ladies, robbed some graves and kept weird shit around his Wisconsin farm to scare visiting children. Panzram traveled the country, killing 21 and sodomizing (by his count) a thousand unlucky boys and men. I can only assume that the sheer volume of his depravity overwhelmed Slayer.
Most overrated Slayer song? All's subjective, but I'd give it my vote. (Which according to the Internet is only half a vote, seeing as I pee sitting down.) Musically it's passable, but the imagery is far too fanciful for a schlub-farmer with abnormal urges. "Placid faces and lifeless pageants." Nah. Not for Ed Gein. For H.H. Holmes, maybe.
"Hallowed Point"--First blast louder than el diablo's le petit mort. A "War Ensemble" reprise of sorts that focuses on the artillery. Ascension is the cause of, and solution to, the tension.
"Skeletons of Society"--Grinds similar to "Expendable Youth," but not so I'm put-off. Creepy as a smiling pug, and wouldn't you know that's not a deal-breaker either. Clean the kitchen to this one.
"Temptation"--Another lurid trip into a decadent netherworld…but I guess they all are. In the mood to acquire some souls? Ten'll get'cha twelve. Live a little!
The most riveting thing about "Temptation" (those dual vocal tracks during the verse) was not part of the original plan. When the engineer put both of Tom's takes up to a band vote, they couldn't decide. Tie goes to the listener.
"Born of Fire"--Originally intended for South of Heaven under the title "Stress." The decision to place it on the next album was wise, as they turned the piece into a savory slice of the infernal afterlife. John Milton woulda killed to create such a foul cadre of cretins. They eat flesh of any age, drink blood of any type, and defile bodies of any shape.
As much as I enjoy the rollick to be had throughout, "Born of Fire" is really about Kerry's final solo. At first I thought it most reminiscent of a prolonged sting from a bullet ant. But that was when I was a silly teenager whose metaphors were entirely reliant on animals. Now--older, wiser--I hear a musical approximation of a woman in the throes of multiple orgasms. This is a good thing, namely because multiple orgasms are good things. Or rather, a lot of one good thing.
"Seasons in the Abyss"*--The title track happens to be the longest and bestest track as well. Close as Slayer ever got to a radio hit, thanks to that sonorous beast of a chorus that stopped short of phenomenal, kicked it in the gut with such force it fell onto its side, and then with one quick leap 'n land, snapped it in half.
Slayer have dominion over dozens of caverns filled with broken adjectives.
Seasons in the Abyss, what a wicked little bastard. Every song sounds like the last thing you hear before a bullet crashes through the window and smashes into your head.
*That's Kerry King doing backup on not only this chorus, but the one for "Skeletons Of Society" as well.