Faint feedback fading in, a multitude of demonic voices chanting in tongues, the feedback becomes clearer, wails of tormented lost souls almost undetectable in the background, louder, it grows, the sense of doom impending looms larger, a throbbing bass line becomes evident first subconsciously then audibly, a guttural voice completely indecipherable growls. The feedback disappears, a thumping, driving drum beat and and razor sharp guitars in its place, rumbling kick drums join, the intensity builds, the riffs build, layer upon relentless unstoppable layer. Suddenly, a single guitar riffs furiously, followed moments later by the rest of the band keeping perfect pace, then barked vocals, clear, but too fast to comprehend, the guttural voice returns "HELL AWAITS". Screaming, wailing frenetic paced solo, single guitar again, back to the full band, once again the rhythm section drops out just leaving the guitars, another tremolo abusing solo, then suddenly it's all over with a no nonsense finish.
The listener is left asking, "what just happened?"
The song just described, "Hell Awaits" is one of the most distinctive, intense opening tracks to an album ever (Slayer managed to top it with "Angel of Death" on ‘Reign in Blood’, but that's a story for another day). Many bands have produced tracks with dynamics and a sound like this since. None, however, did it in 1985.
Yes, Satan's favourite sons were back with a vengeance. The title track's ode to damnation was quickly followed by six more pummelling tracks dedicated to all things ungodly– mass murder, vampirism, and necrophilia all get a mention, and the songs just that shade more disturbing because they are first person descriptions. While Metallica were chanting "DIE DIE DIE" on "Creeping Death", Slayer upped the ante, with a chorus of "KILL KILL KILL" on "At Dawn They Sleep". The track is also notable for the first appearance of Dave Lombardo's now legendary double kick drum solo.
From the frenetic rifferama of "Praise of Death", the percussive cascade of "Necrophiliac", there's no let up on this album. As "Hardening of the Arteries" fades into nothingness, you're left with a feeling of relief the sonic barrage is over, but also craving more, as your body struggles to cope with an adrenaline induced high.
In hindsight, all the ingredients for the definitive Reign In Blood were present on Hell Awaits. It just took Slayer a little more time to perfect the recipe, cutting away the excess, expanding the essential, and building intensity.