30 Years Ago: Slayer Released ‘Seasons in the Abyss’

ANTHONY BOLLERO | Go Venue Magazine

There’s not much that can be said about Slayer’s fifth studio album that hasn’t already been said over the past 30 years.  Many will argue that Reign In Blood is the pinnacle of their career, not to mention a thrash metal masterpiece (no argument there).  Without denying the brutal ferocity of that album’s 28:55 assault, Seasons in the Abyss seems to find the band at a point in their career where their songwriting had really strengthened and matured. Coming in hot off of two, solid, career defining albums — 1986’s Reign In Blood and 1988’s South of Heaven, 1990’s Seasons in the Abyss is a perfect blend of the speed and brutality of their earlier works, and the slower, “drag you through Hell” tempo of ‘South of Heaven’.  This is also the last album to feature the original lineup of Tom Araya, Kerry King, Jeff Hanneman (rest in power), and Dave Lombardo before his first departure in 1992.

‘Seasons’ grabs the listener by the throat right away with a maniacal intro to what became an instant Slayer classic and live staple — “War Ensemble“.  The boys aren’t painting a very pretty picture here by any means. Tom Araya addresses the controlled panic of a soldier in combat with savage imagery in front of a wall of thunderous drums and blazing guitars The summit of the chorus is one that still draws a mischievous grin across my face every time I scream along:

The final swing is not a drill / It’s how many people I can kill

Seasons in the Abyss Artwork

Without taking a moment to pause the fellas charge on with “Blood Red“, which features one of my favorite riffs on the entire album.  To me, this song seems to speak of oppression under communist dictatorship.  I could certainly be wrong in my assumption, but there’s a couple of lines in there that seem to clearly point to that.  Draw your own conclusion, of course.  After all, art is left to interpretation, right?

While “Spirit In Black” speaks of souls suffering eternal torment (familiar territory for Slayer), “Expendable Youth” takes on the issue of inner-city gang violence and warfare.  Although the tempo slows down a little for this one, strong riffage continues to prevail along with nice, tough solos from both Hanneman & King.

Closing out the first half of ‘Seasons’ is one of my absolute most favorite Slayer tunes of all time, “Dead Skin Mask“. That haunting intro riff traded off between King & Hanneman sets the perfect stage for a dive into the demented mind of Ed Gein.  The creepy voice you hear at the end is that of a close friend of the band, Matt Polish.  When they recorded this part, Tom instructed him to pretend he was a little kid who didn’t want to play anymore and wanted to go home.  Then, they pitched up his voice to make it sound like a little kid.  I’d say the end result was extremely effective.  Very eerie and unsettling.

Hallowed Point” opens up the final half of this album with just as much ferocity as it started with.  A true headbanger, this tune talks about the motivations of using a gun and what it can do to a human body.  It’s neither a pro nor anti-gun song.  It simply speaks of the power and dangers of using a firearm.  Chugging right along is “Skeletons of Society“, which seems to speak of a nuclear fallout and keeps a steady, almost “militant” tempo throughout.

Temptation” is an interesting tune in that Tom sang overdubs with himself on this one for the first set of verses.  He did two separate vocal takes, each with different timing.  Once, the way he thought sounded best, and another the way Kerry intended.  When Rick Rubin layered both on top of one another, the fellas liked the result so much that they kept it in the final mix. “Born of Fire” was actually originally written as an instrumental, as odd as that may sound. Kerry came up with the lyrics at the last minute that everyone seemed to dig, so a new track was “born”, if you will. Fitting. Heh, heh. 

…and finally the closing title track and big daddy of the album, ”Seasons In the Abyss‘, which is probably one of the longest and most atmospheric songs Slayer has ever written.  Clocking in at 6:34, this tune effectively takes everything that Slayer had built over the past near decade and puts it on display as a brilliant closer to a phenomenal album. It also boasts one of the best choruses of the band’s career:

Close your eyes / Look deep in your soul / Step outside yourself / And let your mind go / Frozen eyes stare deep in your mind as you die / Close your eyes / And forget your name / Step outside yourself and let your thoughts drain / As you go insane, go insane

So…take some time this crazy, fucked up mess of a year and celebrate 30 years of the album that brought us some of the biggest songs in thrash metal and one of the best metal tours ever — 1990-1991’s Clash of the Titans Tour (with Megadeth, Anthrax, and Alice In Chains in the US; Testament and Suicidal Tendencies in Europe), which is the one and only time Slayer played in my hometown of Springfield, IL on June 11th, 1991. But, heed the warning of German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche — “And when you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.”

Slayer, 1990 – L to R: Dave Lombardo, Kerry King, Jeff Hanneman and Tom Araya (photo credit: Marty Temme)