After 1990’s classic “Seasons In The Abyss,” Slayer parted ways with original drummer Dave Lombardo, and then (maybe coincidentally) proceeded to go downhill. 1994’s “Divine Intervention,” 1998’s “Diabolus In Musica,” and 2001’s “God Hates Us All” were all decent enough, but no where near as novel or all around great as their earlier releases, and thus, Slayer lost some fans. Well, Lombardo returned to Slayer’s live act a couple of years ago, and the band entered the studio last year with their original lineup for the first time in fifteen years, making some fans have a rekindled hope and high expectations for Slayer’s tenth studio recording, “Christ Illusion.”
“Christ Illusion” isn’t a timeless classic like, say, 1986’s “Reign In Blood,” and it in no way reinvents the band or the genre. But it is, hands down, the fastest, most inspired, most powerful, and all around best Slayer release since the aforementioned “Seasons In The Abyss.” Guitarist Kerry King (who wrote most of the album) could use a few new song ideas, but bare in mind that he has a reputation to live up to, so he can’t drift too far from his famous subject matter.
The guitar shredding (done by Jeff Hanneman and the above mentioned Kerry King) is, as expected, fantastic. The riffs are smoking, the leads are lightning fast, and the solos are careening. Another area in which “CI” succeeds is in the vocal department, because frontman Tom Araya has improved his performance. His yelling is still kind of grating at times, but for the most part, Araya sounds more committed, a little more diverse, and all around much more listenable than he did on “God Hates Us All.”
“Flesh Storm” and “Catalyst” blow the album’s door open, and are about the fastest songs Slayer have written since the umpteen year old “War Ensemble.” Both of these songs blindside the listener with brutal, blistering, insanely fast, dual guitar leads and two solos. Track three, “Eyes Of The Insane,” slows down the album’s pace significantly for a few tracks, but things pick up again for song number six, “Consfearacy,” which is another blinding guitar onslaught.
“Skeleton Christ” is backed by punching, cascading riffs and a catchy, rhythmic drum beat, and “Catatonic” boasts crunchy, churning, lumbering power chords. But the album’s best two songs are probably “Black Serenade” and “Cult.” The former song effortlessly changes speeds as it segues from thunderous, pounding riffs to buzzsaw leads to wild, off-the-map solos. And the latter, “Cult,” is another scorcher with stellar, remarkably fast drumming by Lombardo. It’s also highlighted by some of Kerry King’s most blunt and openly blasphemous lyrics to date (such as “Religion is hate/religion is war” and “I’ve made my choice…six six six!”) These lyrics will undoubtedly get tattooed to your brain, whether you want them to or not, after just one listen. And finally, the set closer, “Supremist,” is also of note because it features the first ever blast beats in a Slayer song.
Slayer are probably not going to make another indisputable masterpiece like their discs from the 1980’s, but this album shows that they definitely still have some life left. If you gave up on Slayer in the early Nineties, it’s doubtful that “Christ Illusion” will change your mind, but it will surely put a huge smile on every fan’s face.