There are very few bands that take me back to the 80s and my awkward teenage haircut more than Slayer. Over the last couple of years I’ve found myself falling down a satanic speed metal rabbit hole where I’ve been revisiting and adding to my collection some of the most important speed metal albums to my existence on wax. I never realized growing up how much Slayer affected me. From age 13 to 18 I was all about Metallica, Megadeth, and Anthrax. While I did dabble in Slayer I always seemed to keep my distance. Call it a fear of satanic panic, paranoia of ritualistic killings I’d hear about on the evening news, and just the general feeling that Slayer fans were basically the kids in The River’s Edge, and those kids scared the hell out of me. As much as flirting with the dark side seemed exciting and the best way to keep the jocks at bay, I just felt like there might be a Pandora’s Box of evil just waiting to open as soon as I’d hit play on that Maxell copy of Hell Awaits for the 666th time. I just didn’t feel I had enough moxie to hang with the Slayer crowd. I was too much of a square, man. I thought I was cool with the occult and Hell and all that “Angel of Death” noise, but really the most ritualistic I got was listening to Motley Crue’s Shout At The Devil on my boombox in the backyard playing badminton with the neighbor kid and watching the edited cut of The Exorcist on network television.
I was living on the edge, guys.
So in my revisiting of those classic speed metal albums I realized just how amazing Slayer were. At their core they were a southern California hardcore band. Even in some of their most progressive moments Slayer were pure nihilistic punk rock. Reign In Blood, Hell Awaits, Show No Mercy/Live Undead, and South Of Heaven have become favorites of mine, but I think the album that hit me the hardest was Seasons In The Abyss. That came out in the fall of 1990, my junior year of high school. My older brother bought it in February of 1991. I went with him into town when he grabbed it. I remember I bought Queen’s Innuendo at the same time. Talk about the ying and yang. I remember seeing the video for “War Ensemble” and thinking that nothing could get that heavy. Nothing before it or what came after could reach those kinds of metal highs again. Then you hear a song like the title track “Seasons In The Abyss” and you realize these Slayer cats were almost a damn progressive rock band. The chicken scratch guitar solos of Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman didn’t matter. When they locked in rhythmically with the monster drummer that is Dave Lombardo there was no stopping these guys. Seasons In The Abyss was indeed the most progressive and technically on point record they ever made.
Even back then with me attempting to drown out my brother blasting that Seasons In The Abyss cassette in his room with myself blasting Freddie Mercury secretly telling the world goodbye with “These Are The Days Of Our Lives”, I couldn’t help but notice just how good that album was. By the time I’d made it to my senior year Slayer had released the video for “Seasons In The Abyss” and all bets were off. It was like a cross between Lawrence of Arabia and Headbanger’s Ball, but in the desert. It was this amazing mix of cinematic grandeur and progressive speed metal. It was also this crossover song that seemed to fold in fans of all makes and tastes. I can remember even my girlfriend’s marching band buddies digging the track as much as my hesher Music Appreciation classmates. In-particular, the drum line guys were pretty floored by the skill and precision of drummer Dave Lombardo. Seriously, to this day I think he’s one of the best metal drummers to ever walk the face of the earth. I feel every Slayer album he played on was top notch because of him. Nothing against Paul Bostaph, but Lombardo is the man and one of main reasons Slayer was so good(my opinion, what’s yours?)
Anyways, when I delved into the speed metal re-christening a couple years ago Seasons In The Abyss was at the very top of the list of albums to get. Prior to snagging it, I was able to find OG pressings of Hell Awaits, Reign In Blood, and South of Heaven. When it came time to grab an OG pressing of Seasons I instead grabbed one of the recent 180 gram reissues. I have no complaints. Though I prefer original pressings of these speed metal classics, this reissue sounds amazing, and at over half the price of the going price of 1st pressings I’m fine with it(btw, those new Metallica reissues sound amazing, too.)
As far as the songs? Man, they all retain their power, aggression, and dark eccentricities very well. The nice thing about Rick Rubin producing is that nothing sounds dated. He didn’t kowtow to current engineering and recording trends of the time. His style was to let the band do the talking, not let gated reverbs and bright treble on everything do it. Because of that all of Slayer’s records sound of the time they’re being played in. I think that’s what appeals to me so much with them. Their music sounds good anytime. You could be frozen in a cryogenic state for 200 years, wake up from your sci fi nap, and then put on Reign In Blood and even the alien warlords running the planet by then would be like “IRUYC *$&CKDHF ++UCHRXM~?”, which roughly translated means “Hey, is that the new Slayer album?” So much of the stuff that came out in the mid-80s and early 90s has a certain musical “taint” on them that puts a very specific expiration date on the record. Songs like “War Ensemble”, “Hallowed Point”, “Deadskin Mask”, and “Skeletons of Society” get better with age, like a fine wine(blood red, of course.) When Slayer started out they weren’t the most proficient players, but what they lacked in skill they made up for in animalistic rage and fury. By the time Seasons hit they’d had 8 years of recording, touring, rehearsal, and societal woes and missteps under their belts, which turned them into this precise and jagged speed metal behemoth of a band.
From “Show No Mercy” to “Seasons In The Abyss” these California metal freaks grew leaps and bounds, while still retaining all of the youthful abandon and punk rock attitude they started out with. Not all the of the “big four” can say that.
Seasons In The Abyss is still a solid album, even 26 years after its initial release. I still don’t think I could hang with those River’s Edge kids, but really, who would want to?