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Slayer - Christ Illusion

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Artist: Slayer

Album: Christ Illusion

Label: American

Review date: Aug. 20, 2006

Those involved in its creation hope that Slayer’s new disc, Christ Illusion, will be as revered as the band’s 1986 classic, Reign in Blood. Conventional wisdom says they’re punching above their weight. Still, the new effort has a couple of things going for it, not the least of which is the return of original drummer Dave Lombardo. The album was also executive-produced by Rick Rubin, who worked his antisocial magic on Reign.

The good news is that this is the band’s strongest music since Seasons in the Abyss. The bad news is that, compared to their vaulted ’80s output, the album lacks intensity. Over the years, Slayer’s ability to shock has been severely compromised. The 24-hour news cycle is mostly to blame; advances in media have gifted the world with ’round-the-clock images of real-life atrocity and despair, making Slayer’s visions seem less horrific. And there are only so many serial killers and historical madmen to wax poetic about. After Josef Mengele and Ed Gein, where do you go?

To the travel agent, apparently. Much of Christ Illusion uses the Middle East as a backdrop for grim observations on mankind’s wartime bloodlusts. Songs such as “Flesh Storm” and “Jihad” are metallic studies in intemperate aggression. Both describes blind adherence to militant ideologies -- the team you play for is irrelevant, body count is what matters.

“Cult” and “Skeleton Christ” take on organized religion, one of Slayer’s most time-honored topics. Unfortunately, their indictments lack punch, as bassist/vocalist Tom Araya’s Catholic background is well documented. This might confuse the pentagrams and inhalants set, but it doesn’t stop Araya from howling, “No man upon the crucifix…I’ve made my choice: Six-six-six.” You gotta wonder how many Hail Marys he says before bedtime.

Musically, the disc is solid if unadventurous. It’s impossible to overstate the influence Slayer has had on countless thrash, death and black metal bands, and much of their instrumental juice remains. Nobody can do Slayer as well as Slayer, but they’ve gotten so good at it that there’s little left in the way of surprise. Nevertheless, it’s great to hear Lombardo’s cavernous toms and slashing cymbals behind Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman’s relentless riffs.

Araya’s voice sounds much as it always has, which is to say clipped and guttural. Thankfully, he doesn’t attempt any actual singing, save for the cheesy refrain on “Flesh Storm.” He sounds particularly good on “Confearacy,” which is as close to a political statement as the band has ever made. Slayer are a little late to the Bush-bashing party, but they manage to get in a couple of zingers. “I can’t relate to your verbal idiocy / No one’s in control when the government’s the enemy,” Araya barks over some classic demonthrash.

You gotta give it to the band for sticking to their musical guns. Many groups of Slayer’s vintage have long since sold their souls to VH1 docs and life coaches. Slayer help us remember a time when the devil still made the best offer. 

By Casey Rae-Hunter

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