This week it’s time to head back to 1990 and have a look at an album that propelled Slayer into a new decade.
Slayer – Seasons In The Abyss
Released October 9, 1990 via Def American
My Favorite Tracks – Seasons In The Abyss, Dead Skin Mask, Skeletons Of Society
Slayer had quite a run of it through the late ’80’s, what with essentially redefining thrash metal with Reign In Blood and then pulling up on the throttle and chilling out a bit on South Of Heaven. The change in speed and/or sound did not resonate with everyone but was probably a wise choice, as attempting to do RIB again would have likely proven disastrous.
The band hit the studio with Def American mastermind Rick Rubin to crank out their next album and hit on a bit of gold with a combination of their more mid-tempo fare along with some bursts of energy. Slayer would also mostly pull back their lyrical fare from the demonic and supernatural to more of a look at real-world issues.
Seasons In The Abyss comes in with the standard American Recordings track list of the time at 10 songs (that’s all Rubin and company would pay a group for) and a run time of 42 minutes, which is a virtual eternity in Slayer world.
The opener sets a quick pace as the band pound through a dark look at war, one of metal’s favorite topics. This is a stark look at the true scope of a battle and it’s supplemented with a very aggressive and re-energized Slayer. We don’t necessarily know what or where this battle is, though the Rhine is mentioned so Germany is a good guess, but it is definitely brutal.
The pace comes down just a hair as the band shred through a condemnation of governments using violence to silence their citizens. This one is quick and dirty and the next song kicks straight off.
Spirit In Black
This time we do revisit the more supernatural with a descent into Hell. Tom Araya is running the show as some poor sap is sent on his way to the eternal torture chamber. The song gives a few call backs to prior Slayer works, such as “blood forever rains” and “Hell awaits.” It’s also clear that the band did not piddle around with finding new guitar tones or anything – they have their sound locked in and banged this out efficiently.
A song that discusses gang violence, though of course in Slayer fashion. Gangs were the number one scapegoat of media and politicians around this time and of course the root causes of gang existence were never truly addressed. Slayer are not offering any solutions, though, this is more of an observation of the battle for turf and the cold reality of bodies on the ground.
Dead Skin Mask
This track is a look at infamous murderer and grave robber Ed Gein, the real-life influence for many Hollywood serial killers. Slayer amps up the creepiness factor with a twisted riff as Tom Araya yells through the process of a killer’s mind deteriorating. It would mirror how Gein would claim that he did not remember moments during his murders or grave robbing. This one has been one of Slayer’s marquee tracks through the years.
Pretty simple here – the band kicks the speed up a fair bit and discusses the issue of hollow point bullets, which were a hot-button issue in the early 1990’s. The bullets expand on impact and can literally tear apart a person’s insides, as opposed to the more straight shot of a “typical” bullet. The song does not really participate in the debate over the bullet, rather it simply follows the journey from firing to shredding someone apart.
Skeletons Of Society
The tempo on this one goes way down, almost to a doom metal pace. The song marches through the eyes of a survivor of an apparent nuclear holocaust. It’s probably not shocking that Slayer’s version of the post-apocalypse is a grim one. The solos from Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman here, always dissonant, are an extra special touch on this track that’s a bit of a departure from the album’s norms.
Back to a thrash pace again and also the topic of satanism and the old classic stuff like possession and being corrupted. While couched in a lot of fanciful and supernatural stuff, the song does make a fairly real-world point about how it’s always evil that is the tempter and the attractive option, at least viewed through the lens of belief in that sort of thing.
Born Of Fire
Slayer breaks it open speed wise here as they get at least within the ballpark of Reign In Blood speed. The song is kind of a stock rundown of more evil imagery as the lyrics were written last minute by Kerry King. While Slayer’s slower pace has worked well through this album, it is nice to hear some straight-ahead bashing for a bit.
Seasons In The Abyss
The album closes with a track that really slows things down and gets into some gnarly sounding tones. A creepy intro runs for a few minutes before the song really kicks in and picks things up a fair bit. The lyrics are a bit more abstract here, they are dealing with the concept of The Abyss as presented by noted occultist Aleister Crowley. I personally have no clue what it’s really about so I’ll leave it alone. A brilliant video was also filmed for the song and was shot in Egypt, adding a huge degree of visual awe to the song.
Seasons In The Abyss would mark another notch in Slayer’s now-lengthened thrash belt. The album would get to number 40 on the Billboard album charts and also break on several other nations’ charts. An eventual US gold certification would come, and the album has sold at least 800,000 copies.
For Slayer it was a boost in reputation after South Of Heaven and its transitional nature left some fans alienated. Now people were used to the newer Slayer sound, and there were still a few all-out thrash moments to be had. It also positioned Slayer quite nicely entering the 1990’s, as their style would fit in with rising “alt-metal” movement while conventional thrash fell by the wayside. These songs, both in studio and live form, would frequent MTV programming, especially Headbanger’s Ball.
Though Slayer would make it through the very tough 1990’s relatively well, it wouldn’t come without some cost – drummer Dave Lombardo, often regarded as the band’s best asset, would quit the group in 1992. But he left after a successful album and tour cycle for a record that reinvigorated long-time fans and brought in many new ones, myself included.
3 thoughts on “Slayer – Seasons In The Abyss (Album of the Week)”
I’m so nostalgic for this album. It came out when I was in Jr. high and it fckn rips as hard today as it did then.
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Same time frame for me, it was a great time to be alive.
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I knew of Slayer before SITA but was never a fan. This album made me a fan. It was perfect for my listening taste buds at the time and the title track is one of the best thrash songs on the 90s.
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