Where to begin? Even the cover art chosen for this album is perfect, the medieval feel of the swords and dungeon-esque stone circle recall Slayer’s early 80s image, such as the cover of Show No Mercy, but the laughing skull whose nose forms the spine of a human skeleton against a backdrop of the infinity of the universe infuses a feel of vast loneliness, finality and horror. This album is really something special- the themes in the cover art seem to find their way into the songs on the album, almost like the band was using the art as inspiration (or vice-versa). Take the song `Divine Intervention’, where the twisting arrangement climbs to an eerie, `final’ -sounding plateau, while Tom Araya’s voice (coming from several directions at once) speaks suitably angst-ridden lyrics over the echoing, hollow guitars with a conviction rarely heard on other albums. This is key – the conviction on this album, this is the sound of a band after a 10 year dominance of the genre; playing at the edge of their ability and unafraid to take risks. From the commanding opener, `Killing Fields’, through the vicious `Sex Murder Art’, and on through the haunting `213′, every element in the music seems to fit perfectly, leaving the listener on the edge of their seat.
Once you’re through listening to it, the album feels `epic’: so many dark places have been visited, no songs sounding even similar to each other – every song has its own vibe and manic, distressed guitar work. The guitars on this album are mesmerizing. Others may disagree, but the ‘different’ tone has a lot to do with it (I read somewhere that Kerry and Jeff switched from Marshall JCM800s to modified JCM900s for this album). What ever they did – it drives the mood of the album perfectly, having a sort of ‘over the edge’ and ‘gushy’ sound to it – very sinister. It’s also cool that Jeff’s guitar sounds different than Kerry’s – think when the first guitar comes in on `Killing Fields’, then a louder, more-midreangey one crash-lands into the mix playing the same riff, taking up the intensity a hundredfold with its looser, over-the-top sound. The songs on this album consistently employ this sort of `edgy’ guitar work, full of odd timing and sprawling, decrepit solos. I was frankly devastated upon hearing the standard-metal riffs resorted to on their next release, Diabolous in Musica, but we won’t go there.
My review falls far short of conveying the unique darkness on this album. I’m often surprised to hear what other heavy metal fans seem to value in music. It seems many people are really only seeking something -fast-, aggressive, lots of yelling etc. If you are someone like that, on a surface level this album will not disappoint. However, if you crave music for its atmosphere, its ability to convey our darkest and most suffocating doubts about our existence, and true unapologetic, unrestrained art, then this album is essential listening. A high water mark for Slayer.