Slayer – Christ Illusion

5 out of 5

Label: American

Produced by: Josh Abraham

CHRIST.  …Sputtered, in this context, as an exclamation of the thrashiest metal ever.  Many moons back, when I’d hoped to listen to Slayer’s albums chronologically, I was impressed by how forward sounding their debut was.  Jumping ahead 20+ years to their post-9/11 anti-government, anti-religion, war-questioning riff Christ Illusion – their first reteam with original drummer Dave Lombardo since 1990’s Season in the Abyss – I am not only impressed by how vicious this now-veteran group still sounds (without the put-on of toughness that, to me, resonates from the similarly aged Metallica), but also, and perhaps mainly, just how goddamn present and solid the album sounds.  This has seemed to have been Slayer’s lasting skill: to always sound like a group legitimately recording in the now, on step and battling with the current iteration of thrash and metal and not just turning in an every-X-year effort.  September 11th and the response that followed were certainly the source of emotion for many albums produced at the time (and since), but the themes on Christ’s Illusions slotted into Slayer’s general oeuvre, suddenly injected with even more immediacy and intensity; hence, while Tom Araya and crew aren’t necessarily breaking new ground with their critical chants and rage, the lyrics of the disc feel like they matter more than usual.  ‘Having Something to Say’ has ruined some albums, but the focus serves the disc perfectly, and holistically hones the sound: all of the tracks have a beginning, middle and end – they’re all 3+ minutes, without a single dialed-in riff – and feel unique, and powerhouse producer Josh Abraham has made sure to keep the vocals clean and forefront in the mix, giving them the primacy they deserve.  So we hear every fiery expiration from Araya, punctuated by Lombardo’s dynamite drumming and the King / Hanneman axe attack.

It’s a perfect thrash disc, executed by a group who have undoubtedly influenced the majority of the bands rising and falling in their wake, and then managing to outplay them multiple decades and albums into their career.