Christ Illusion (American)
by Tim Den
Most Slayer fans look at me in disbelief when I say that the band’s last studio album, God Hates Us All, didn’t do much for me. In the midst of the unrelenting thrash hailstorm, I felt numb and desensitized. I sensed an urgency in Slayer to “prove their might”: A desire to push the limits of heaviness instead of songwriting. Yes, God Hates Us All was one of Slayer’s heaviest albums ever. But in the chase for physical and aural impact, the band forgot to calculate dynamics. Every song bled into the other into white noise: All power, always in-the-red. This was especially apparent in bassist/vocalist Tom Araya’s performance: He basically screamed in the same pitch, same tone, same ferocity, the entire time. Intimidating? Yes. Over-the-top? Yes. Unbelievably beast-like? Fuck yeah. But also overbearing and excessive. Two traits that, unlike most of their thrash peers, Slayer had been able to keep under control. There was always some semblance of nuance, craft, and ebb-n-flow in the band’s blasphemous compositions (see “Seasons in the Abyss,” “Spill the Blood,” “Serenity in Murder,” etc.) to counterbalance the pure murderous intent, but God Hates Us All seemed to want none of that.
So imagine my surprise when Christ Illusion showed up reeking of classic Slayer. Every bit as iron-willed as God Hates Us All, Christ Illusion also brings back the smarter breakdowns, riffs that don’t always revolve around the low E string (hooray for weird pull-offs!), tiny bits of off-time within fast tempos (opener “Flesh Storm” being a good example), different tunings, and more. At 10 songs in just under 40 minutes, it even spans the same playtime as timeless works such as South of Heaven and Seasons in the Abyss. Araya’s delivery has once again returned to that which we love most: A varied arsenal of screams, growls, plain-speaking, and a full-grasp of the entire (angry) emotional range. All of this makes Christ Illusion a much more flexible, accessible, and thought-out record than its predecessor, not to mention a much more fun record to listen to.
But the star of the show is returning drum god Dave Lombardo. Christ Illusion, as most know by now, is the man’s first studio work with Slayer since ’90’s Seasons in the Abyss. Since then, he’s worked with everyone from Mike Patton to the music of Vivaldi, and he brings to the table a unique, irreplaceable sense of pacing, breath, tension-building (check out the last two parts of “Skeleton Christ” for a lesson in appropriate mood escalation), and instinct for tasteful fills that Slayer simply cannot live without. As countless people have pointed out, Slayer just don’t sound like Slayer without Lombardo. And maybe that’s why God Hates Us All lacked the needed dynamics: Paul Bostaph is inhuman, but he just doesn’t click with Slayer the way Lombardo does. I attribute 50% of Christ Illusion‘s “classic Slayer” feel to Lombardo’s presence (and another 20% to Araya’s occasional melodic vocals): Everything he does just feels right.
Having been a long-time fan of Slayer’s, I definitely did not expect the band to present an album as cohesive and enjoyable as Christ Illusion this late into their career. I don’t think I’ve been this psyched about a Slayer album since ’94’s Divine Intervention. Behold: The Gods of Thrash are back!