Monday, July 22, 2024

Slayer – Seasons in the Abyss

jeff hannemanYou may have read on this week that the great Jeff Hanneman, guitarist with legendary metal band Slayer passed away at the age of 49. This devastating news was met with a stunning reaction from the worldwide metal community, as everyone banded together to show their respects to a man who changed the genre we love so much forever. Reading through some of the tributes on Twitter last night from people as diverse as Slash, CM Punk and Robb Flynn really showed how much he meant to the world, as a musician and as a man. It seems only fitting to write this week’s RAMzine classic on my personal favourite Slayer album: “Seasons in the Abyss”.

Release in October 1990, the album includes the classic Slayer line up of Hanneman on guitar, Tom Araya on bass and vocals, Kerry King on guitar and Dave Lombardo on drums. Opening with the frenetic “War Ensemble”, the band set their stall out early, with the signature Slayer sound evident for all to hear. The riff bursts from the speakers like souls bursting from the very gates of hell, and Lombardo’s virtuoso drumming at breakneck speed powers the whole thing along. What is most interesting about this song however is that the mid-section is much more musically minded than previous Slayer albums. It calls back to early Black Sabbath being a big influence on them, with the slower tempo and rhythmic vocals really coming to the fore.

slayerNext up is “Blood Red”, a song absolutely filled to the brim with groove, and harmonised riffs. This is a much more mature Slayer; they’re playing for the song and really trying different tempos. However, the sound is intrinsically Slayer. The signature guitar tone and the way Hanneman and King play off each other is legendary. The guitar solo in this song is also surprising; again it follows the more musical tone and has memorable melody parts.

Following this is “Spirit in Black”, which is possessed of what I believe is the best riff on this album. It has a much more punky tempo and again, is simply a song you cannot fail to bang your head to. The lyrics are also very catchy, with lines like “coils of the serpent unwind” creating vivid images in the mind of the listener. However, the verses are the main strong point of this song. The way the riff plays off the upbeat drum patter creates an almost commercial, punk-metal feel. Well, as commercial as Slayer can get.

Up next is “Expendable Youth”, a song which is again at a slower tempo. The Black Sabbath influences come to the fore once more with the evil sounding guitars and solid drums providing a fantastic platform for Araya’s signature snarling vocals. Lombardo’s fills in this song are so precise, and add an extra texture to the Slayer sound. This isn’t just a thrash band, this is a band who want to explore more than just breakneck pace.

Next is “Dead Skin Mask”, a song which has one of the most haunting guitar lines I’ve ever heard. Araya’s spoken vocals over this line sends chills up the listener’s spine, and this haunting effect is complete. Don’t listen to this track in a dark room alone! The song holds a really deep groove all the way through, and the slow tempo seems to add to the haunting evil effect.

slayerFollowing this is “Hallowed Point”, which returns to the classic brutal Slayer we all know and love. Araya spits the vocals with absolute venom and the guitar partnership of King and Hanneman has never sounded so sharp, the notes attacking the speakers and the whirlwind guitar solos just show how technical they are. This short song reminds us what Slayer were born to do; play fast, heavy music.

Up next is “Skeletons of Society”, a song which relies on a marching feel, started with a solid tom beat by Lombardo. The riff adds to this effect and really calls to mind a skeleton army marching across the land. When the main drum part kicks in, the effect continues and this simply a brilliant headbanger of a song. This is a real surprise on the album; once track 7 kicks in, it is more often than not just album filler. However, this is genuinely one of the best songs on the entire album.

Next is “Temptation”, which begins with some fantastic drum fills. It develops into a punky song with layered vocals from Araya, which creates a call and response effect. This effect is very unlike Slayer, they usually just have the one vocal line. However, it does show their versatility and willingness to explore new soundscapes.

Slayer+attackFollowing this is “Born of Fire”, which once again begins with some stunning drum fills and breaks into probably the fastest song on the album. Lombardo is on top form here, and his drumming influence is there from all to see. The evil lyrics once more come to the fore, as well as the guitar attack which is akin to being sprayed by white hot bullets from all sides. Except it’s musical and absolutely amazing.

Closing the album is the title track, “Seasons in the Abyss”. This song, more than any on the album, harks to the influence of the legendary Black Sabbath. It is also probably the most commercial song on the album, with the vocal melody and chorus just being simple scales that get stuck in the listener’s head. However, the clean guitar intro, with the layered distorted part over the top of it is the greatest part of the song. The effect is quite simply mesmerising as it sets you up to take a journey into ancient lands with Slayer.

In closing, simply put, this album is absolutely amazing. It is equally as good as “Raining Blood”, however it is completely different. Here, Slayer embraced their slower side, and thus, became even darker. With regards to Jeff Hanneman, his legacy is right here on this album, with songs such as “Spirit in Black” and “Dead Skin Mask” having his creative fingerprints all over them. Buy this album, turn it up and raise your glass to the great man. RIP Jeff Hanneman. A true metal legend.

FOR FANS OF: Anthrax, Exodus, Testament

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