Slayer - _Christ Illusion_
(American Recordings, 2006)
by: Gino Filicetti (Jackie: 6.5 out of 10; Todd: 6 out of 10)
Gino Filicetti

No, it's not true. I haven't actually come out of retirement to write this review on Slayer's latest release (as tempting as that might be). Actually, what you are about to read is a joint review of _Christ Illusion_ written by Jackie Smit and Todd DePalma. Such a momentous occasion as a Slayer reunion deserves nothing less; therefore it is only fitting for two of our writers to approach this review with a critical eye evolved after decades of Slayer fanaticism.

One more thing: when you finish absorbing their views on the latest Slayer album, make sure you also read Todd DePalma's retrospective of Slayer's career in his article Killing Again.

Jackie Smit

Let's face facts. Slayer circa 2006 are a distant cry from the band that blazed a genre-defining trail of musical destruction and forever etched their jagged logo into the annals of heavy metal back in the Eighties. For some, the decline started as far back as 1990's _Seasons in the Abyss_. In this writer's opinion, it was most vividly underlined on the infinitely forgettable _Diabolus in Musica_. Either way, the message was echoing loud and clear: Slayer had finally, and perhaps almost understandably, bought into their own hype. Don't agree? What's been Kerry King's stock answer to every single criticism thrown his way in the last eight years? A bombastic, resounding: "We're Slayer." You'd argue that he's not wrong to make such a claim, but there's an age-old proverb that springs to mind stating that by a man's own measuring stick shall he be judged, and one fact that's indisputable is that Slayer have set themselves some pretty high standards over the years.

They failed to reach those lofty heights with 2001's _God Hates Us All_, an album that definitely had its moments, but at best contained an EP's worth of outstanding material. Sadly _Christ Illusion_ careers down the same route, though you wouldn't think it on the face of the blistering opening attack of "Flesh Storm". This is about as close to classic Slayer as you're going to get these days. Every member, especially Lombardo, is on fine form, and even the wind-tunnel guitar solos -- little more than thirty second bursts of mindless cacophony for the last several years -- are hoisted back to their former glory.

It's soon after this that it all starts going pear-shaped though. Songs like "Skeleton Christ" and "Black Serenade" are nothing more than the sound of Slayer being lazy. The riffing sounds recycled and tired, and Tom Araya's trademark vocals (as has been the case since _Divine Intervention_, really) appear to have been permanently replaced by monotonous, ineffectual yelling. Not that you'd care about anything he's saying, given the fact that the lyrics smack more of the ravings of a teenage boy fresh out of puberty than the intelligent social observations of a group of fourty-somethings.

It's perhaps even more frustrating then to find Slayer proving -- on a handful of numbers -- that they've still got what it takes, and in the midst of all the tepidity, _Christ Illusion_ manages to show why the band remain as revered as they are. "Eyes of the Insane", for example, blends the experimental and eerie mood of "Dead Skin Mask" with the balls-out aggression of "Mandatory Suicide", and makes for possibly the best tune the band have gifted us with in a decade. But at the end of it all, _Christ Illusion_ is just another latter-day Slayer album. It bears most of the hallmarks of the band responsible for _Hell Awaits_ and _Reign in Blood_, but the hunger to be the best has been replaced by a false sense of thinking themselves better than they are.

Todd DePalma

And so we greet the inevitable. Fourteen years after the release of _Seasons in the Abyss_, the original Slayer line-up of Tom Araya, Jeff Hanneman, Kerry King and Dave Lombardo have reunited; ready to pursue what may be the most successful metal tour of the past decade. But they still make music, too! _Christ Illusion_, the group's tenth full-length record, has already been a marketing coup for the band. They've even got artist Larry Carroll back on board, proving it's all too easy to upset certain retailers in Bush country. But are these ingredients, so enticing to both old and young fans, themselves mere deception?

The surprising thing about _Christ Illusion_ isn't necessarily that it tries to recreate the past -- it does; the question is, whose past? Listening to the album, as the leads tear through and old bass-mouth Tom Araya screams his guts out repeatedly (his most one-dimensional performance yet), you know it's Slayer -- but the music itself reveals a crisis of ideas, returning to the simplistic agro-filler of their last few outings with unconvincing attempts to re-enliven the act. The album's opener, "Flesh Storm", represents the wiser choice, leading in with some feedback and gradual bass-line that explode immediately into full song. No plodding introduction, just speed metal; and exactly what they needed to re-introduce the line-up once again. Once they've wrapped up the similarly straightforward "Catalyst", however, the problem becomes clearer. "Consfearacy", a blatant attempt at reviving their crossover influence, comes off as desperate and flat, along the lines of Hanneman's old punk songs, while "Catatonic" and "Supremist" sound nothing like Slayer at all; one being a groovy patchwork of Kyuss and Pantera, the other a weaker attempt at death metal (the taut and dull simplicity of the guitar echoing here the work of later Deicide).

Lyrically, the band is at their worst when not directly attacking religion or government. Kerry King has the formula down pat, but his more recent and juvenile lyrics don't trump the shit I've written in my high-school note-books -- and seldom do they combine in an atmosphere that raises the subject matter above being "pissed off". "Eyes of the Insane", about a soldier's battle-trauma, fits the general salvo on war and America, but for all its psychotic blather becomes nothing more than toe-tapping pit-fodder (the trade-off between King and Hanneman, basically a free-jazz exercise, makes it at bit less ordinary). Ditto the much-ballyhooed single, "Jihad", which plays with some typical scale patterns before launching into a mediocre hardcore track, Araya's jump-up, jump-down vocal command spread out in some painful absorption of Mike Muir. Religion's a whore, 666=$$$, see you at Sunday mass, Mr Araya!

Compared to Celtic Frost's _Monotheist_, which saw a band not only redeem their past mistakes but attempt to advance their sound (this too, in a modern framework) one can only look with disappointment on _Christ Illusion_. The sad thing about it is realizing there are no more tricks up their sleeve. Over half the album was written by Kerry King, and it would be easy to attribute its general laziness and tiring of creativity to him, but really, everyone else falls in right behind him. Dave Lombardo, despite some refreshing fills here and there and an overall tight performance (could you doubt it?), is still a moot point, and cosmetically, Josh Abraham deserves effusive praise for making what is left at all entertaining.

(article published 7/8/2006)

7/8/1998 A Bromley Slayer: Monarchs to the Kingdom of the Dead
12/24/2009 J Smit 7.5 Slayer - World Painted Blood
12/24/2009 J Ulrey 9 Slayer - World Painted Blood
7/8/1998 A Bromley 9 Slayer - Diabolus in Musica
6/9/1996 G Filicetti 7 Slayer - Undisputed Attitude
4/18/1996 G Filicetti 10 Slayer - Live Intrusion
11/29/2006 J Smit Slayer / In Flames / Lamb of God / Children of Bodom Hung, Drawn & Quartered
10/31/2004 A Lineker Slipknot / Slayer / Hatebreed / Mastodon Slipknot vs Slayer 2: Mandatory Maggotcide
8/31/2004 A McKay Slipknot / Slayer / God Forbid God Forbid! It's Slayer -and- Slipknot
7/20/2003 J Smit Slayer / Lamb of God Raining Classics on a Lacerated London
4/12/2002 A McKay Slayer / Hatebreed / Diecast Aggroculture
8/12/2000 P Schwarz Iron Maiden / Slayer / Entombed The Maiden Voyage to a Brave New World
8/12/2000 D Rocher Iron Maiden / Slayer / The Almighty The New Millennium Maiden Slayers
1/16/1999 M Noll Slayer / Sepultura / System of a Down Facing the Slayers, Down in the Grave
7/8/1998 A Bromley Slayer / Clutch / System of a Down Slayed, Once Again
8/12/1996 D Schinzel Slayer / Unsane Slayer Slaughters the Sacred Shoe
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