This album is Slayer
's greatest hour, and without question among the handful of records that make up the apex of metal music. It's a somewhat curious record, when Slayer
's career is looked at as a whole; it is a darker, more sinister record than either Show No Mercy
or the far more lauded successor. It's not the most accessible record of the band's career, by any means. And
yet, the songwriting is so masterful from start to finish, and the record so malicious and sinister in tone that it has always stood out to me as being one of the single greatest metal albums ever made.
was definitely a natural development from the band's earlier records; whereas Show No Mercy
showcased a form of thrash that was still heavily indebted to the NWOBHM (though with the signature Slayer
feel, no matter what anybody will try to say), Haunting the Chapel
began shedding that influence drastically, with songs like "Chemical Warfare
". Hell Awaits
is the logical result of what the EP started, as a whole. The NWOBHM-isms of that debut are completely gone, with a couple of exceptions, and the songs are among the most progressive in Slayer
's entire catalog. With the exceptions of "Necrophiliac
" and "Hardening of the Arteries", all of the songs clock in above four minutes. The song structures, while still verse-chorus, also now extensively showcase a considerable amount of flexibility for a good number of these songs. (most notably "At Dawn They Sleep
", and "Crypts of Eternity
") Apparently the band listened to a good deal of Mercyful Fate
's works around this time era, and it shows throughout.
It says a lot about this album, however, that despite being Slayer
's most 'progressive' record that it still comes off as one of the most absolutely malicious records ever made. (regardless of genre) This shows the most in Tom Araya's vocal performance, which is frankly one of the most caustic vocal performances ever recorded for a metal album. Araya's voice on this record is exudes just absolute viciousness and malice, be it the too-fast performance on the legendary title track, or his grisly delivery on "Kill Again
", where he grinds out syllables, one at a time. Araya's vocals are absolutely fantastic and this is the peak performance of his career, even throwing in a couple of those glass shattering screams for emphasis. ("Crypts of [fucking] Eternity
Even beyond that, the rest of the band is in the absolute prime of their career. Hanneman and King
's riffcraft on this record is simply spellbinding throughout; each riff is immediately brilliant and memorable throughout. The songs reflect that; they're absolutely jam packed with riffs... and yet the songs never collapse under them. Take the entire intro to "Hell Awaits
"; each riff carefully builds up and off of each other throughout this entire section, until it finally explodes into the verses. Or how "Kill Again
" carefully builds up, with its racing, hellish tremolo riffs and audible bass lines. The songs on here the most deliberate of Slayer
's entire career, and while it lacks the raw, overwhelming violence of Reign in Blood
, it makes up for it with its intensely hellish, filthy, sinister atmosphere in every way. Every song is a standout on this record, from the aforementioned title track, to the twisted and deranged "At Dawn They Sleep
", or the way "Crypts of Eternity
" winds up before finally exploding. Even the more underrated tracks on here, like "Praise of Death" demolish legions of lesser thrash acts without a sweat. Each song fits in well together throughout, and the album's consistency, as I said before, is absolutely unbelievable.
The production job is another matter - a lot of people don't like it, but I absolutely love it. It's very dirty and with the way the reverb is utilized, it gives the songs a hellish, sinister atmosphere not seen anywhere else in Slayer
's entire career. The guitar tone is dark and filthy, but every riff is clearly defined throughout, with the usually absent bass guitar being incredibly loud in the mix, adding a foreboding presence despite entirely following the guitars for the majority of the running time. The drums sound great as well. The band are in absolute top form of their entire career, particularly Dave Lombardo who delivers an absolutely killer, varied drum performance throughout the entire record.
This is a masterpiece, bar none. As much as I love albums like Reign in Blood
, Show No Mercy
, and South of Heaven
- all records that would've been the absolute highlight of any other band's career, mind - this is my favourite Slayer
album. Without a doubt, one of the greatest metal records of all time, regardless of subgenre.