I'm a metalhead, so I must worship the ground that each member of Slayer walks on, right? Eh, not exactly. A militant, unflagging love for all things Slayer has almost become a metalhead stereotype of sorts. Every up-and-coming thrash band cites Slayer as an influence. You'll see at least twenty Slayer shirts at every gig, regardless of attendance. They are the only band whose underground credibility has never been in jeopardy. That's no small feat, considering that Kerry King has played with Sum 41 and Beastie Boys. If you're a metalhead, it's practically a given that you're a Slayer fan. So why am I not a Slayer fan?

To be honest, their most revered album - 1986's Reign in Blood - doesn't appeal to me. It's bland. In my opinion, most of their catalogue is bland. And I've listened to all of their albums. Ironically, the only Slayer records that I dig are the ones that don't get much attention. A prime example would be 1998's Diabolus in Musica. Die-hards threw a hissy fit over the album's emphasis on groove, as it seemed like a reaction to the success of bands such as Sepultura and Machine Head. Whatever. The riffs were heavier than fuck. That's all I cared about. Check out "Bitter Peace," and tell me you don't want to commit murder.

I'm also quite fond of Hell Awaits, the subject of this review. It's regarded as a watershed release, but if you were to corner a metal journalist and ask him to name the essential albums of the 80's, I guarantee that he would gloss over this furious clod of death metal (yes, death metal) in favor of Reign in Blood. To each his own. Still, I feel that this album is just as important as its successor, if not more so. First of all, this is one of the earliest death metal recordings in history. Don't believe me? "Kill Again" is basically a Cannibal Corpse song. Guttural growls didn't exist in 1985, but if you pay attention to the music, you'll realize that this track could have been written for CC's Eaten Back to Life.

That's one of the things that I fancy about Hell Awaits. It combines the urgency of Bay Area thrash with the demented chord progressions of New York-style death metal. "At Dawn They Sleep" fits that description to a tee, as does "Necrophiliac." The second half of this disc isn't as memorable as the first. If you're working on something while the last few tracks play in the background, you won't notice when they begin or end. To be fair, that probably wasn't a problem in 1985. This shit was lethal back in the day.

So yeah. I think that Hell Awaits is better than Reign in Blood. Do you have a problem with that? It's not my fault that it's the more energetic album. It's not my fault that the production is superior (you can actually hear the bass). It's not my fault that I've heard "Angel of Death" way too many times. It's not my fault that I have nothing else to write about. On second thought, that might be my fault, but I'm going to find a way to pin the blame on someone else. The devil made me do it?


  1. I strongly disagree with you about 'Reign in Blood' and Slayer in general (bland? really?), but you're spot on in highlighting this sometimes neglected album from early in their career. On this album, the band walks that fine line between the truly sinister and the utterly cheesy with utmost confidence. I also have a soft spot for 'Show No Mercy' and the 'Haunting the Chapel' ep. Those early eighties thrash records have a certain sloppy, almost punk rock charm to them that would disappear as the bands got older and more successful. Same thing with the first two Metallica and Anthrax albums, Exodus' 'Bonded by Blood' and Megadeth's 'Killing is My Business...'.

  2. Yeah, I know that I'm in the minority, but Reign in Blood strikes me as banal. There are so many other records from that era that deserve plaudits, but the Big 4 hog up all of the limelight (I don't care for Anthrax either).