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Christ Illusion

American Recordings (2006)
Rating: 6.5/10

So, the king of drums, Dave Lombardo is back in the saddle, and longtime artistic collaborator Larry Carroll continues where he left off from Seasons In The Abyss (1990) with more strikingly gory artwork. The cover art alone possibly suggests the four-piece are going back to basics, ditching some of the dynamics and structures which made the previous two records so bloody awful.

Christ Illusion does see Slayer back on track, although with Kerry King still dominating in the songwriting stakes this revitalised Slayer is not without its flaws.

Album opener ‘Flesh Storm’ treads over familiar ground, the track shifting between tempos as Tom Araya barks out the usual visceral barrage of unholy words as King and Jeff Hanneman rage with those vicious riffs and recognisable solos. And maybe that’s the problem: Slayer suddenly feeling the need to recreate the gory horrors of Reign In Blood (1986), South Of Heaven (1988) and Seasons In The Abyss, but never once matching their terrifying splendour.

The relief however is that Christ Illusion doesn’t bow down to nu-metal crap, and neither does it attempt the hurtling vulgarity which God Hates Us All (2001) miserably failed at. Lombardo’s drums give the band that thrashy edge once again, and I’m pretty sure that if Christ Illusion had followed Seasons In The Abyss then I’d have respected Slayer more, especially as they were, for me anyway, the be all and end all of extreme metal in the 80s and early 90s.

Although Slayer fans will find much to savour here, they’ll find the brief workings of King especially, rather formulaic. The initial blast of ‘Catalyst’ simply sounds like another Reign In Blood rework, and Araya still seems to have that overly aggressive rasp that made God Hates Us All so annoying.

I’m also of the opinion that Slayer do not have to resort to constant foul language in order to get their anti-religious views across; if anything, such tumult suggests an almost naïve approach to proceedings.

Kerry King’s third track in a row, the chugging ‘Skeleton Christ’, is all too keen to follow suit, except at a slower pace. The first trio of tracks suggest a Slayer sound, once again, bereft of any sinister notion, except for Dave Lombardo’s unique double bass drum sound.

With what seems per usual with Slayer nowadays, it’s down to Tom Araya to bring a bit of grit to proceedings with the war-torn rumbles of ‘Eyes Of The Insane’, which brings to mind the potent whine of ‘Mandatory Suicide’ (1988) from all those years ago as it builds and builds with a crushing drum rumble. Sadly, it seems the more hostile Araya gets nowadays, the more his vocal grates, and ‘Eyes Of The Insane’ is ruined by the recent levels of profanity.

The same could also be said for the controversial ‘Jihad’, which begins promisingly with a cutting riff, but again we’re soon back to God Hates Us All territory in the form of those despicable rants and all too familiar hooks that sound like cast offs from the band’s late 80s discography.

Kerry King is then keen to stamp his authority with two more short and sweet bursts – usually of one word titles – in the form of ‘Consfearacy’ and ‘Catatonic’; the former a three-minute head shrinker which gallops along without effect. However, King does occasionally get it right – which has seemed rare over the last few albums – and the ‘Catatonic’ is a real, simmering behemoth of a track. Lombardo’s drums really jolt, as do those almost doom laden riffs, but the sad truth is whatever route this track takes, it’s just not the Slayer of old.

‘Black Serenade’, co-written by Hanneman and King, is a stormy mid-tempo trudge that gets its rusty hooks into the flesh, but once there fails to cause any severe damage, and it’s this track that just about sums up modern day Slayer; a band who once existed as gods of their chosen realm, but who today seem to wander in a blood stained limbo, heavily reliant on their back catalogue to perform gigs, and forever stuck in some huge, dark rut of indecision.

King’s ‘Cult’ is another mid-tempo chugger, but give it 90 seconds or so and you know where it’s going as the drums hasten, and Araya’s phlegm-soaked growl of “Religion is a whore” attempts to shock. But we’ve been here before, all those years ago when us kids were tainted forever more by the likes of ‘Angel Of Death’ and ‘Mandatory Suicide’. It’s as if Slayer exists only as jobs for the members in question.

I admire their longevity, and their muscular presence in the metal world, but as loyal fans we have been waiting for the next “special” Slayer record for so long now, and it never rears its ugly head. Album closer ‘Supremist’ confirms my thoughts, because despite its almost power metal-style intro, once again the band resort to another rapid rant that exists as nothing more than a blur, and I’m left wondering where Slayer go from here?

Neil Arnold

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