Title: Seasons in the Abyss
Genre: Thrash Metal
Release Date: October 9, 1990
Length: 42 min.
Label: Def American
Producers: Rick Rubin, Andy Wallace, and Slayer
Personnel: Tom Araya (Lead Vocals, Bass Guitar), Jeff Hanneman (Guitars), Kerry King (Guitars), and Dave Lombardo (Drums)
With the bittersweet news of Slayer’s imminent retirement, Mr. Malone wanted us at E.D. to each write at least one Slayer review, and hopefully more. He’s already done one, and so has Mr. Keating. Here’s mine.
In the year of 1990, it was good to be a thrasher.
That year, numerous, awesome, thrash releases hit the shelves of record stores the world ‘round:
Annihilator’s Never, Neverland, Anthrax’s Persistence of Time, Believer’s Sanity Obscure (which also, strangely enough, introduced symphonic metal to the world on the track “Dies Irae (Day of Wrath)”), Deliverance’s Weapons of Our Warfare, Death Angel’s Act III, Exodus’ Impact Is Imminent, Flotsam and Jetsam’s When the Storm Comes Down, Kreator’s Coma of Souls, Megadeth’s Rust in Peace, Morbid Saint’s Spectrum of Death, Suicidal Tendencies’ Lights… Cameras… Revolution…, Tankard’s The Meaning of Life, Testament’s Souls of Black, Tourniquet’s Stop the Bleeding, Vio-Lence’s Oppressing the Masses, and many, many more.
These days, we’re enthralled to get just a few new thrash albums. Back then. . . different story!
In addition, the heavily thrash influenced metal subgenre of death metal was truly taking off with many major releases for itself, like Cannibal Corpse’s Eaten Back to Life, Death’s Spiritual Healing, Entombed’s Left Hand Path, Napalm Death’s Harmony Corruption, and Obituary’s Cause of Death. Sludge metal, another heavily thrash influenced subgenre, was beginning to appear too, combining elements of thrash, doom metal, and Southern rock.
Thrash was also slowly transforming into groove metal, as shown by albums such as Exhorder’s Slaughter in the Vatican, Pantera’s Cowboys from Hell, and Prong’s Beg to Differ.
Judas Priest even, loved by and influential to all kinds of thrashers, released an album many – myself included – consider their best, after having been around for twenty-one years, by bringing in many speed and thrash influences on Painkiller.
Yes, the near-demise of several metal subgenres was just around the corner. Things like grunge and stoner rock and metal, indeed, were already stepping up in 1990 to take the place of the likes of thrash, exemplified by the releases of such albums as Alice in Chains’ Facelift and Kyuss’ “Sons of Kyuss” EP. Yet most thrashers wouldn’t have realized this at the time. So, in 1990, thrash had the metal world by the balls.
And then, on October 9th, Slayer dropped Seasons in the Abyss and absolutely outdid everyone. It was their third and last album in a consecutive line of legendary LPs produced by Rick Rubin, and it was their fifth and last album (for a while, sixteen years) to feature drumming beast Dave Lombardo. There are parallels to be drawn in saying Slayer was about to implode, more or less, just like thrash as a whole was about to do, but for this record, everything was metal thrashing mad.
Seasons in the Abyss was a continuation of the Slayer sound these four guys had been building over the course of nine years in Show No Mercy, Hell Awaits, Reign in Blood, and South of Heaven, but Seasons also built upon the existing Slayer foundation.
The guitar riffs from Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman were still complex and fiery speedy, the lead work frantic, but the band could also drop effortlessly now into a mid-tempo range without bogging anything down. Tom Araya’s vocals were still wrenching and foreboding, but he had learned from his experimentation with actual singing on South of Heaven to add a bit of technical skill into his vocal cord usage. All three of the writers in the band – Araya, Hanneman, and King – showed, also, that they could stray away lyrically from their reliance on hellish supernatural and fantasy imagery and venture, intelligently, into the horrors of human reality: war, murder, socio-political evils, and the weak and seducible human nature. Humankind, they seem to say on Seasons, is a messy, muddy, bloody, nasty, corrupt, cruel cesspool, worthy of contempt and easily as terrifying as the demons and devils that filled Slayer’s previous works. Man is inherently evil.
In going this route, Slayer created yet another thrash metal classic, even a heavy metal classic, and the album I love most of Slayer’s career. Slayer showed here – put on wicked display in one, forty-two-minute album – everything contained in their toolbelt, and they made it work marvelously. Rubin’s production work was great as well, because he made it modern and clean, allowing each bandmember to shine the correct amount and layering them masterfully, while maintaining a smart, measured quality of grit, grime, and heaviness.
“War Ensemble” kicks off the album, and right away, you notice how strongly written this is. The track is the epitome of Slayer’s choke-hold. It’s a killer intro that sets the mood and assaults the senses, as well as showing how Seasons’ instrumental work will benefit the songwriting and themes, not the other way around. “Dead Skin Mask” and “Skeletons of Society” find Slayer actually interested in social commentary and discussions on a cerebral level, and not only are they capable of engaging there, but also they kill it.
Ten tracks of solid gold, not a misfire in the bunch, and all leading up to the final track of those ten, a majestic piece, one of the longest songs Slayer had ever attempted: “Seasons in the Abyss.” The six-and-one-half minute runtime may seem to go against Slayer’s quick-and-to-the-point musical attitude, but you spend every second of those six-and-one-half minutes transfixed under Slayer’s heavy metal spell, until the last Araya scream of “Go insane!” This title track contains my favorite Slayer chorus:
“Close your eyes,/Look deep in your soul./Step outside yourself,/And let your mind go./Frozen eyes stare deep in your mind/As you die!”
Chilling! The album also contains my favorite Slayer lyrical moment, courtesy of King, in one of the album’s only fantasy/supernatural moments, on “Spirit in Black,” in another chorus: “Coils of the serpent unwind./Buried beneath, you will find,/Deep in the halls of the damned,/Spirit in black ‘till the journey’s end.”
Seasons in the Abyss may not be the last great Slayer LP that many regard it to be, as, for my money, there’s at least a very strong argument for their 2009 World Painted Blood, the last album with the full original lineup, before Lombardo left the band again and Hanneman died of cirrhosis in 2013. Yet Seasons is inarguably Slayer’s last classic album and found the band at the height of their powers.
Since we enjoy grading albums around here, my grade for Seasons is 98%. Those two points off are for a production that does sound slightly aged, though I praised it and stand by my praise, and for a couple clumsy lyrical moments.
Seasons in the Abyss is an absolute essential for every thrash fan and for any heavy music fan in general.
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