SLAYER — Seasons in the Abyss

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SLAYER - Seasons in the Abyss cover
4.21 | 105 ratings | 3 reviews
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Album · 1990

Filed under Thrash Metal
By SLAYER

Tracklist

1. War Ensemble (4:51)
2. Blood Red (2:48)
3. Spirit in Black (4:07)
4. Expendable Youth (4:10)
5. Dead Skin Mask (5:19)
6. Hallowed Point (3:23)
7. Skeletons of Society (4:40)
8. Temptation (3:25)
9. Born of Fire (3:07)
10. Seasons in the Abyss (6:34)

Total Time: 42:29

Line-up/Musicians

- Tom Araya / bass, vocals
- Jeff Hanneman / guitar
- Kerry King / guitar
- Dave Lombardo / drums

About this release

Label: Def American Recordings

Thanks to Stooge, Pekka for the updates

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SLAYER SEASONS IN THE ABYSS reviews

Specialists/collaborators reviews

Vim Fuego
Sometimes what makes an album great is the memories it encapsulates. When you hear it, or think of it, it takes you back to a different time. “Seasons In The Abyss” holds such a memory for me.

The 1990 follow up to “South Of Heaven” was a difficult album for Slayer, because every single album after the universally lauded “Reign In Blood” is by definition a difficult album. How do you carry on from an album often declared the greatest in thrash metal? Do you try for a “Reign In Blood II”, or do you follow a different path? Slayer chose a different path. “South of Heaven” was the result, which copped equal parts criticism and praise because of a perceived radical shift in direction. All Slayer did was slow down a bit. How to follow that without copping further criticism? “Seasons in the Abyss” is the obvious answer. “Seasons In The Abyss” drew on the best of the previous two albums, and refined it into one of the greatest metal albums of 1990.

And here’s the memory time. Early in 1993, I departed on a road trip with my best mate Harry.[1] January in New Zealand is mid-summer, and a great time to go on holiday, so we planned to cruise around the bottom half of the South Island. Harry couldn’t drive (he still can’t despite what his licence says!) so we’d go in my car, and crash with his extended family wherever possible. Preparing for the trip, choosing the appropriate tunes was an important mission. Harry and I share very different musical tastes. He claims to be a metal fan, and in fact, I got my first few metal albums off him (Iron Maiden’s “Somewhere In Time”, Motley Crue’s “Girls, Girls, Girls”, and the K-Tel “Masters of Metal” compilation). However, Harry doesn’t have a musical bullshit filter. Yes, he could listen to Maiden and Metallica, but he’d also listen to whatever crap was currently popular, just because it was popular. As far as I know, he still does to this day. This is a person who thought Milli Vanilli should keep their Grammys because even if they hadn’t done any singing, people still loved them. He thought Vanilla Ice should get away with blatantly plagiarising Queen’s “Under Pressure” because “Queen wasn’t using that song at the moment”. For him, popular meant good.

At the time of this road trip, Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Achy Breaky Heart” was popular, so guess what he picked for roadie music… Yep. “Some Gave All”. Not only that, his nieces who we would see on the trip were right into New Kids On The Block, so along came “Step By Step” and “Hangin’ Tough”. That the boyband was aimed at 13 year old girls (we were both 20), and had just been accused of lip syncing live didn’t seem to matter. Just to round out the crapfest, he decided “Pornograffitti” and “III Sides To Every Story” by Extreme would also be good choices, because they were metal, and he was convinced I didn’t like them simply because I hadn’t listened to them enough.

To counter, I grabbed a few albums we could both tolerate, like AC/DC’s “The Razor’s Edge”, a couple of Iron Maidens, in the form of “No Prayer For The Dying” and “Fear Of The Dark”, Bruce Dickinson’s “Tattooed Millionaire”, and Alice Cooper’s “Welcome To My Nightmare”. I also threw in Nirvana’s “Nevermind” and “Incesticide”, which Harry was just discovering, and a couple of purely defensive albums, in the form of Exodus’ “Force Of Habit” and the subject of this little review, Slayer’s “Seasons In The Abyss”. I’m sure I took others along too, because I think we had about 30 tapes between us, but that’s all I can remember.

Our mode of transport was my 1965 Austin 1100[2]. It was a fine example of the shit turned out by the worst of Britain’s automotive industry. In the summer, I had to turn the heater on full blast while driving on the open road to stop it from overheating. In 30°C summer heat, this necessitated driving with the windows open most of the time. It also didn’t have a radio of any sort, so our sounds went through my Walkman with a pair of tiny external speakers, with a total output of about 4 watts. It had to be turned up full blast to hear even the faintest strain of music.

So off we went! Tootling down State Highway 1 at somewhere near the speed limit of 100 km/h (it was slightly uphill, there were two of us in the car, and it was a bit windy. That crappy car saved me a fucking fortune in speeding tickets though!), we decided turnabouts with the music was the fairest way to do things. I started with Nirvana’s “Nevermind”. All well and good, both of us found it tolerable. Next though, Harry put on fucking Billy Ray, the man who made the mullet uncool again. The twanging, moaning, and complaining was unbearable. And it got worse when I had to shut up and he put on the tape! It was fucking excruciating! It was 35 minutes of sheer torture. So you can guess what I picked next...

Slayer fans will remember the first time they heard “War Ensemble”. Like “Angel Of Death”, it crashes straight into the guts of the song, with no room for an introduction. King And Hanneman in full flight, Dave Lombardo smashing it with snare and his legendary double kicks. We got to the end of the first double kick barrage, about 30 seconds into the song, and Harry turned it off! A bit of a tense confrontation followed, made a little difficult by me needing to drive while we argued. It went something like this:

Me: Turn it back on!

Harry: No! That’s not music! It’s noise! (reaches for the Walkman, intending to remove the tape)

Me: It’s more music than that shit you just subjected me to! Turn it back on. You’ve had your turn, now it’s mine!

Harry: Billy Ray Cyrus isn’t crap. He’s sold millions!

Me: He’s crap, and that Achy Breaky Fart is shit! You picked that, and now I picked Slayer.

Harry: But I don’t like it.

Me: And I don’t like country music, but I put up with it!

We came to something of a compromise, and on went Alice Cooper I think, but the line in the sand had been drawn. There was little conversation on the rest of the drive to Timaru, our destination for the night.

Harry’s step-sister and her family gave us a bed for the night. After a couple of beers, tensions eased, and we discussed the music situation for the next day’s journey to Dunedin. I pointed out to Harry I hadn’t brought any death metal with me on this trip, which I already knew he hated. Harry conceded I could listen to Slayer on the way to Dunedin, on the proviso he got to listen to something else first. It wasn’t Billy Ray this time. It was the New Kids On The fucking Block. I hatched secret plans to lose that “Step By Step” tape out the window, but kept the idea to myself in case of retaliation.

So, “Seasons In The Abyss” attempt 2. “War Ensemble” passed without incident. Then into the abrasive intro to “Blood Red”, and Harry was looking quite irritated. Once the intro passed, so did the irritation. It isn’t near as fast a song as “War Ensemble”. Slayer had begun to explore slower tempos on “South Of Heaven” and it was starting to come to fruition with songs like this, pounding along at a double time march. Harry started to get into the groove. He hated the solos though.

He didn’t pick the transition to “Spirit In Black” due to Rick Rubin’s habit of not leaving a gap between songs. It fits this album perfectly, so no momentum is lost between songs. The higher tempo didn’t impress Harry, nor did the solos once again. He was starting to think this was one fucking long song.

The transition to “Expendable Youth” is more obvious, as the song slows a little, and is heavier for it. Harry commented that the singing wasn’t very good. I told him it was still better than Billy Ray Cyrus, and there was another uncomfortable silence for a bit as we continued to chug south, sweating our nuts off with the heater blasting full bore.

The first sustained notes to “Dead Skin Mask” saw Harry’s expression change from irritation to interest, and then the deep spoken voice brought on genuine surprise. Tom Araya’s chant on the “Dance with the dead in my dreams...” refrain saw him sit right up and take notice. I told him it was a song about a serial killer. He’d previously only encountered serial killers in music in Alice Cooper’s fantasies, and I think this genuinely interested him. And then came the child’s voice at the end, pleading with Ed Gein, and I think it may have actually disturbed my friend!

That was the end of the side, and I thought he was going to turn the tape over, but no, he took the fucking thing out, and went to put something else in! Another heated (and heatered) discussion followed.

Me: Put it back in. That was only one side!

Harry: I thought we could just have one side each.

Me: But you made me listen to the whole New Kids On The Block tape!

Harry: I thought we could start doing it now.

Me: But that’s not fair! You got a whole album and I only got a half a one!

He wouldn’t budge. I think “Dead Skin Mask” had really upset him!

Instead, we got “Pornograffitti”. As well as being unable to drive, Harry also can’t sing. It doesn’t stop him. I had to put up with him tunelessly harmonising through the ever excruciating “More Than Words”, and then singing flat as a fart through “Hole Hearted”. The only good thing about it was that “Hole Hearted” was the last song, and I knew the album was over. I wanted to carry on with Slayer. Harry didn’t. He wanted Billy Ray Cyrus again! Another discussion...

Me: Put on side two of my Slayer tape. We just listened to a whole tape of yours, and it was only meant to be one side!

Harry: No, it’s my turn again. You liked that last one.

Me: No I didn’t, and that’s got nothing to do with it! You chose that one!

Harry: Yes you do. You gave me the tape.

Me: No I don’t. Why do you think I gave you the fucking thing? I didn’t like it.

Eventually, a sense of fair play prevailed, due in no small part to me threatening to stop and make Harry walk, and we got the second half of “Seasons In The Abyss”. “Hallowed Point” blasted straight in, with its tempo lifted straight from the “Reign In Blood” album. Harry still didn’t like the speed, but he was starting to appreciate the Hanneman/King solos a bit more. They were a bit more frenetic than the Murray/Smith Maiden solos he was used to, and even more chaotic than Kirk Hammett’s from “...And Justice For All”, which he was becoming to enjoy. Once again, I think he must have missed the transition to the chuggier “Skeletons of Society”. The dual whispered vocals put the shits up him again, but there were no more complaints. I think Harry was just trying to get the ordeal over with.

The intro to “Temptation” was too much for him again, but he seemed to like Lombardo’s impressive drum fills, and the groove the song hits before the solos. “Born Of Fire”’s rapid, almost hardcore, feel didn’t seem to be to his liking, but I was loving it, growling “Born of fire” along with Tom and playing air drums on the steering wheel.

Slayer fans will know what comes next... Yep, the atmospheric horror show that is the title track. Like “Dead Skin Mask”, Harry seemed interested from the intro, with the acoustic guitars and gong, but was also a little on edge, as if expecting something terrible to happen. There were no more ethereal voices, and he seemed genuinely impressed with the chorus. I started singing along with it. The menace and atmosphere of the song was somewhat lost because of the tinny little speakers, but the essence of impending doom was still there. The song’s insistent groove actually got both heads in that little car banging, or at least nodding in time with the music. By the end of it, Harry was actually singing along too.

As we climbed the car-destroying Kilmog Hill into Dunedin, and I was rapidly running out of gears to change down to, the final notes of the song faded away. Harry and I were both quiet for a moment, reflecting. We had both started out as clueless but enthusiastic teens five years earlier, tentatively dipping our toes into the unknown waters of metal. Harry had done little more than splash about in the shallows. I had dived right in the deep end. Between us now, there was an abyss. It took this fittingly titled album to finally bring it out in the open. For the next week, we holidayed quite happily. The rest of the music we listened to was stuff we both agreed on. I got no more achy breaky earworms, and Harry got no more dead skin nightmares. It stayed that way until the final day of our tour, as we headed back north for home. We were both getting on each other’s nerves by then. As we cruised across the parched McKenzie Basin, a certain achy breaky melody emanated from our still open car windows. We both knew what was coming next...[3]

1. Not his real name, but if he ever reads this he’ll know it’s him, and he can go and get fucked for subjecting me to Billy Ray fucking Cyrus!

2. Austin 1100: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BMC_ADO16

3. Harry and I remain friends to this day, although he still hasn't read this... If you are reading this and recognise yourself in this little story, IT'S CALLED POETIC LICENCE! IT DOESN'T HAVE TO BE TRUE!!
Warthur
With Seasons In the Abyss, Slayer found a comfortable sweet spot between the frantic speed of Reign In Blood and the slower style of South of Heaven, and in doing so hit on a sound which they would return to regularly in subsequent releases. The production could be better here and there - in particular, the cymbals on War Ensemble sound rather thin and are a little too prominent in the mix - but on the whole it's a solid Slayer album that most thrash fans will enjoy, even though by this point Slayer were contentedly working the musical turf they'd carved out for themselves as opposed to continuing to break new ground.
adg211288
So here we are. The guy who really does not like Slayer who got put up to do a review for Slayer album, that review being for God Hates Us All, is now doing a second Slayer review. Seeing as I found little to enjoy on God Hates Us All, why put myself through another album by a band I clearly don’t enjoy? Why still would I choose to write a review for it which at the end of the day will only likely annoy Slayer fans for saying negative things about the band’s albums? I’ll tell you why, I actually want to find something that I can enjoy about Slayer. No Slayer fan needs to be told what an influential and respected thrash metal band they are, so I’ve decided that I owe it to myself as a metalhead to give some of the band’s other work a go. The album I’ve chosen to review now is their 1990 album Seasons in the Abyss, which is their fifth album. I choose this one because some time ago I remember seeing the music video for the title track and actually quite liking that song. Again, I’m written this introduction before checking out the album so my words that follow may be taken in context.

There are ten songs on Seasons in the Abyss and the first as these is War Ensemble. Initial reactions are that of the typical thrash metal affair with some speedy guitar riffs and shouted vocals. After having only heard the band’s God Hates Us All album right through previously (see above introduction) I notice that many of the faults that I found with that album are absent on War Ensemble. This isn’t exactly the sort of metal that I personally would listen to by choice but from a neutral standpoint I can see why fans of the genre like Slayer and thrash fans should lap tracks like this one up. It’s got aggression and technique to boot. Personally I’d say that Tom Araya’s vocals are the weak link in Slayer’s sound, at least from listened to War Ensemble. These are typical vocals for thrash and they will never be my cup of tea personally, but I would be lying if I said that they didn’t work for this song and indeed this album. Following track Blood Red shows a slightly more melodic side to his vocals. I quite like the guitar riffs on this one. By the time the third track, Spirit In Black, hits the eardrums I was actually starting to get into the atmosphere of the album a lot more than I initially expected I would. I must say that Spirit In Black is a pretty good thrash song, one that even I can enjoy and as the album moves into Expendable Youth I’m ready to confess that my opinion of Slayer being an awful band is perhaps slightly misjudged. I can’t say that I’ve liked everything on offer on Seasons of the Abyss up until this point, I didn’t think much of War Ensemble for example despite noting the absence of practically everything I disliked about God Hates Us All in my last review, but from Blood Red to Dead Skin Mask all I’ve found is solid if somewhat generic thrash metal that isn’t offensive to my ears.

The second half off the album kicks off with the short and fast track Hallowed Point. This is another typical thrash metal song that should please the thrash fan very much. Even I have to admit that I am nodding my head to its groove but at the end there isn’t really much to write home about a track such as this. It’s generic thrash, but hey, something tells me that that’s what a Slayer will come looking for with Seasons in the Abyss. In contrast the seventh track on the album, Skeletons Of Society, is something which I’m hearing as something of downer in comparison to some of the stuff on offer here. I can’t find anything really noteworthy about this one and unfortunately its tracks like this one that that make me think again that Slayer isn’t that great a band. I freely admit at this stage that up until this point the band has given their fans a solid thrash album with few low points, but from Skeletons Of Society through to Born Of Fire it seems to have taken something of a downturn. Fortunately things do pick up for the title track. The vocals here are the best of the album and it is definitely the album’s gem.

Overall I’m pleasantly surprised to find so much material on Seasons in the Abyss that I enjoy, but to me this sounds like an album that only a dedicated fan of thrash metal will enjoy. What few down moments there were spoilt it for me, though I guess maybe a thrash would still enjoy those moments to some degree.

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