“Hell Awaits” is classic Slayer! The confronting horrific imagery, the gruesome lyrics, the awesome shredding riffs, the fantastic crunching drumming, the anger drenched screaming vocals. It’s all here in all its glory. This album marked a real step up in ferocity for these US youngsters. After ripping holes in the metal scene with their debut, there was really nothing else for these thrashers to do but try to outdo themselves with its follow-up. This is a faster Slayer, a heavier Slayer, and a darker, more satanic Slayer. Everything got turned up a notch and their trademark sound was comprehensively built upon with enthusiasm and raw talent.
I don’t think there is a better introduction to an album than “Hell Awaits”. It’s no coincidence that the band started with this track for their also classic live album “Decade of Aggression”. The words “join us” repeated over and over backwards in what sounds like a background of Hell itself. Then the guitars take over. Each subsequent riff is pure unadulterated Slayer and segues perfectly into the next until it builds up to climax and payoff, all before a single word is spoken. Other highlights for me are “Kill Again” and “Necrophiliac”, both demonstrating the more ferocious side to this legendary band, but there are no filler tracks to be found.
I must admit that it took quite some time for this album to get its claws into me. I always preferred “Show No Mercy” and well…nothing compares with the legendary “Reign in Blood” that would soon follow. And yet 20 years on and this album really stands up tremendously well. What seemed fairly raw and chaotic at times when I was a teenager is now such a breath of fresh air when compared to the mechanical, occasionally lifeless proficiency of the modern generation of metal. That’s not to say this is messy, as Slayer were a well-oiled machine by this stage and Dave Lombardo in particular could never be anything but perfect. It’s just that there are riffs and solos flying everywhere. Tom seems to be struggling to keep up with the shredding music at times while blasphemously screaming out his lyrics. There’s very much a live sound throughout with a production that just oozes passion and hunger. This is thrash in its purest form and I love it more than ever. If only they were still this good!