Record Review by Adam McKibbin
Slayer is indisputably one of the most important and influential bands in metal history. But as the genre has moved on from its thrashing heyday into its confused contemporary state, the risks of sticking around have become greater. An old giant is an easy target; witness the self-parodying descent of Ozzy Osbourne, or the gleeful panning of Metallica’s wince-worthy St. Anger. On the other hand, Slayer doesn’t need to recruit many fans away from death metal or math metal; as long as the old ones stick around, they will keep doing just fine.
Christ Illusion gives everyone plenty of incentive to stay on board. The automatic assumption with Slayer is that it would be impossible to equal Reign in Blood and Seasons in the Abyss, and that may be true, but Christ Illusion is absolutely in their league—and has the advantage of being set against a considerably more agitated state of affairs around the world. Having to use the first Gulf War as song fodder seems almost quaint now. Things have spiraled so out of control that it’s shaken the well-documented worldview of guitarist Kerry King, the primary songwriter on the record: “I need to redefine how I see the world today,” he writes on the unfortunately titled “Consfearacy.” “Seems that all the war didn’t even up the score.”
Singer Tom Araya chews into lines like that as though he’d written them himself. Age, surprisingly, suits him well. His vocal growl has held up, and it’s infinitely more commanding and intimidating than the hundreds of screamo-babies populating hardcore today. His bandmates are in peak form, too, with King and Jeff Hanneman each helping restore faith in the shredding guitar solo. That happens as early as the standout opening track (the fortunately titled “Flesh Storm”), and carries on throughout the record as they trade off and top one another. The major lineup development is the return of Dave Lombardo behind the drumkit; he is appropriately savage, but also nimble enough to keep up with Araya’s possessed ranting and King and Hanneman’s amp-frying.
Hanneman and Araya are the songwriting duo responsible for classics like “Dead Skin Mask,” and they echo that slow-and-sinister grind on “Eyes of the Insane.” Their songs often feature more of an arc, as on “Jihad,” which starts out lean and midtempo before building to a full-blooded, galloping rampage. Ostensibly written from a suicide bomber’s perspective, it’s all too easy to transpose it to fit the current American government: “War of Holy principles / I’m seeking God’s help in your destruction.”
King, meanwhile, largely sets his sights on Jesus Christ, and he forgets to bring his kid gloves. His disgusted criticisms of religion—that it sanctions torture and murder, that it stems from mythmaking, that it favors blind faith over hard reality—are on point and, at the very least, provocative. But the inevitable “Hail Satan” conclusion cheapens the process. Why remain in that same paradigm? On the other hand, maybe it does take a Faustian bargain to still be able to thrash this gloriously after almost 25 years.
More by this writer:
Peace Takes Courage - Interview
Nine Inch Nails - Live - Oct. 1, 2005
Rise Against - Interview
System of a Down - Mezmerize