In a move almost no one expected, Slayer has released arguably the best metal record of 2006 in Christ Illusion. There is going to be a lot of people who will hear the VERY recognizable elements of Slayer on this and will quickly dismiss this as more “same old, same old”, and in doing so will miss out on what is the best songwriting package Slayer has delivered since “Seasons In The Abyss” 16 years ago.
This record is the prototypical modern era Slayer record. It has all of the elements that make Slayer, well, Slayer.. the speed, the thrash, the aggression. However, Slayer’s core sound has continually expanded as they evolve with the metal scene. There are some black metal influences here, some Nile-like guitar riffing, even some metalcore influences in the heavy double bass beat patterns all over the record. Still, Slayer makes all of these elements their own and successfully incorporates them into their own style – without comprising anything that makes Slayer Slayer. The most important element here is the songwriting.
A key factor is the return of original drummer Dave Lombardo. Since Dave left, he has continued to grow and evolve as a drummer in the many projects he was involved in, and this diversity and experience really comes through here. Dave delivers, in my opinion, his most inspiring and interesting drum performance on Christ Illusion. Paul Bostaph, most agree, is a better pure technical metal drummer. A true machine. Lombardo’s style however is KEY to Slayer’s sound and his return highlights that. Has his feet ever sounded faster than on “Supremist”? Is that an actual blastbeat I hear? YES!
This is the first record since Seasons in which I can honestly say that I like every track. The previous few Slayer records “God Hates Us All”, “Diabolus in Musica” and “Divine Intervention” all had their good moments and their forgettable moments. Christ Illusion is really a strong record as a whole without any glowing weaknesses.
If there is a weaker track, for me its probably, ironically, the much hyped lead track “Cult”. This has more to do with the over-the-top lyrical content. It’s not that I’m offended in the least, it just comes across so overtly as to approach parody. Jesus Christ this Jesus Christ that, “I’ve made my choice! 666!”. I just feel it detracts slightly from the song. A great song to scare the parents with though.
A note on Slayer lyrical content: Art has a responsibility for each age to document things that don’t go into a history book. People’s fears, their desires, the mood of the times, the lifestyle, the beliefs, the ugliness, the beauty. This is reflected through song, through sculpture, through paintings, through books. Slayer is a reflection of the darkness of modern society. Violence, warfare, destruction, murder, corruption, genocide, betrayal, slavery, control, fear, punishment, religion. Whether it’s recounting the horrors of the Jewish holocaust in “Angel of Death” or viewing the 9/11 event through the eyes of a terrorist on “Jihad”, Slayer touch upon the dark realities of life that people don’t like to think about. They do this without glorifying, without judgment or even condemnation – they merely reflect what “Is”, music being their canvas. If the world ever ends, Slayer will play the soundtrack. Having said that, sometimes Slayer try a bit too hard to be “Satanic”. While no one in the band is a Satanist (vocalist Araya is in fact a practicing Catholic), the lyrics are just Kerry King’s way of rejecting organized religion (King writes most Slayer lyrics and music), it can still become near comical if it’s used too much. An example is “Cult”. A minor point.
While I genuinely enjoy every song on the record, a few highlights:
“Flesh Storm” – A great Slayer album opener. Very catchy chorus, the break down near the end has a heavy groove and is classic Slayer.
“Jihad” – definitely one of Slayer’s most controversial songs, lyrically, and musically one of their most unique. Doesn’t sound like any other Slayer song and shows off impressive tempo changes and dynamic shifts. Really creepy monologue delivered by Araya at the end.
“Skeleton Christ” – a medium tempo crushing song. A song that wouldn’t seem too out of place on a Chimaira record. Heavy, pounding, mid tempo behemoth of a song. Great Chorus.
“Supremist” – could be Slayer’s fastest song. A true blazer, heavy and relentless. The slow ending with Araya reciting “Must maintain control of the weak / must contain the minds of the free” is a picture perfect example of a Slayer moment to send a shiver down your spine.
Slayer has returned, and in returning they have ascended back to their throne, and retaken their dominion over all that is metal.