Home > Music > Slayer – Hell Awaits (1985)

Slayer – Hell Awaits (1985)

folderSo the 8th International Day of Slayer has passed, Jeff Hanneman’s body is decaying, and Hell Awaits is my personal favorite Slayer album. Now, I’ve referenced both of these beforeand I even told people to go out and buy Slayer albums when Chile was struck by that nasty earthquake early in 2010, on the grounds that Tom Araya was born there. On the other hand, I’m probably not hopelessly addicted to the works of this band, otherwise this review might’ve gone up much sooner.

The key to understanding Hell Awaits lies in its variety, as the band goes through a multitude of musical ideas in some of its longest compositions. With the exception of the 28 minute blastfest that is Reign in Blood, such appears to be the traditional Slayer methodology, but these are still some of Slayer’s most ambitious songs. The thing about these songs is that Slayer uses the same riff approach that they developed on Haunting the Chapel and would use on later albums – monophonic, consonant, but with lots of minor/diminished chord progressions. Instead of changing the riffs, Slayer made their songs longer by adding more riffs and more tempo changes. Furthermore, modulation is limited primarily to the occasional choruses – the monophonic, monotonal approach with extended song structures is very similar to what many bands would do a few years later in the name of death metal.

In fact, there isn’t much separating ’80s Slayer from the death metal bands it influenced at all. Naturally, the aesthetics aren’t quite as extreme, as Tom Araya’s vocals remain relatively “human” sounding, if less tonal than his shouts and screams on Show No Mercy. The production is also somewhat weak, as the guitar tone is thin and mixed too low relative to the drums. More reverb would probably have helped this album sound better. Either way, this album would be very well served by having the production of one of its contemporaries. Either way, the similarities are there, and much of the earliest death metal recorded takes its musical language from this band. The good folks at the American Nihilist Underground Society (aka “ANUS”) figure that this makes Slayer at least honorary death metal, but I’m not so sure.

Regardless, Hell Awaits is a success in Slayer’s catalog, albeit one that doesn’t get as much attention as the other high points. To be fair, Reign in Blood massively ups the speed and aggression, and South of Heaven is probably a more accessible conduit for the ideas on this album. On the other hand, by then, Slayer had incorporated a lot of hardcore punk elements into their sound (a trend that many would only pick up on with the release of the 1996 cover album Undisputed Attitude), and the proto-death metalheads had gleefully followed them by doing the same. Polemics about the evolution of death metal aside, writing about this album only solidified my belief that it is the best written of the band’s discography, even if it’s not the most visceral experience the band would give us.

Highlights: “Kill Again”, “At Dawn They Sleep”, “Necrophiliac”, “Crypts of Eternity”

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