Thursday, September 8, 2016

Slayer - Hell Awaits (1985)

It is quite hard to match up the words "progressive" and "Slayer" together. Both are like magnets with the same charge, they just push away from each other. Still, I cannot find any word in the dictionary that describes "Hell Awaits" the best, it simply is progressive. Well, not exactly Dream Theater progressive, but more Mercyful Fate progressive, which is not surprising since that was the band that Slayer was influenced by in those days. With the longer songs (including 4 that goes over the 6 minute mark), it was clear to see that Slayer really tried to expand their wings in their sophomore effort.

Do not be mistaken though, "Hell Awaits" still packs the same, evil punch that the debut "Show No Mercy" did, but the success from the predecessor led to changes, some good, and some bad. First up, the good changes. The band feels tighter performing like clockwork, giving everything they got, and the same can be said about the song writing, which feels more cohesive. The classic Slayer beat is certainly there, and while it would still take another album to make it perfect, it was clear that the band was well on its way towards completing their sound.

However, we also have some bad changes, and most of them are in the production. Unlike last time, the band actually got a budget to record after, which led to a more professional approach. Now, even if "Show No Mercy" was a rough cut, "Hell  Awaits" could be seen as the exact opposite, sounding quite clean... too clean actually. It does not sound band, but it is missing a soul (which does sound like it would suit the band perfectly, but trust me, it doesn't).

On to the music itself, and while "Hell Awaits" does not contain any straight up classics, it still packs a lot of good punch, helping in solidifying the band. My personal favourite is "Kill Again", not only because it could be seen as a early blue print to other Slayer classics, such as "Angel of Death" and "Chemical Warfare", but the performance here is simply awesome, especially from Tom Araya. Even though I laugh my ass off every time he screams "Homicidal Maniac", he performs his vocals with tons of passion, raising the bar of the song even higher. It might even be my favourite performance from Tom ever, including every song that was to come in the future.

Another fantastic song is "Praise of Death", and on this song, it is Kerry King and Jeff Hannemann who steals the show, battling it out time and time again with their guitars until only one is left standing (spoiler alert, it is King who ends on top). It is thrash to the bone and definitely worth the five minutes of play time. You also got to love the pure evil that is the title track, while "At Dawn They Sleep" is a nice change of pace, slowing it down a notch (and it also include a cool drum break down). And "Necrophiliac" is... a song about fucking dead people. Do I really need to explain more about that song?

"Hell Awaits" is definitely an upgrade from "Show No Mercy" in close to every aspect (besides the soulless production), showing the band's potential. This is a Slayer album from the first to last second. It is heavy, evil, energetic, and short, just how it should be. While it it still far from perfect, "Hell Awaits" is a great thrash metal album, foreshadowing what would eventually come in the future for this band, and yes, it is indeed a bright future.

Songs worthy of recognition: Kill Again, Hell Awaits, At Dawn They Sleep, Praise of Death

Rating: 8,5/10 Necrophiliacs

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