Defining Metal

Slayer hell awaits

Article by Lance Viggiano inspired by International Day of Slayer.

A candidate for the best work within a genre of music should capture every manifestation as best as it can and be able to answer the question: what is X? One might make the argument that the best album must capture the genre at its summit; still, that is a far more difficult essence to capture as in the case of metal, both black and death metal scaled adjacent but different peaks and therefore offer their own unique views of the same musical landscape.

Slayer‘s Hell Awaits is a near perfect cross section between metal’s significant manifestations. Hell Awaits contains prototypical death metal and black metal, while retaining an inheritance from heavy metal through Iron Maiden legacy motifs and finally, the raw motion of speed metal. Topically, the album unites metal in finding meaning in death, horror and uncertainty while embracing the perspective of the persecutor – be it nature, demonic entities or evil men. This is not unlike Altars of Madness (itself an updated Slayer) or Onward to Golgotha; each record is as much black metal as it is death metal – not to mention candidates as well for a genre best of, although just specific enough to one direction and therefore slightly edged out in defining heavy metal by Slayer.

Araya’s delivery is urgent and well-enunciated while his inflections hint at the full-fledged distortion which was to come about in the maturation of metal. Lombardo’s performance is technically proficient, innovative in both a speed and aggression; accenting with strikes that are well within-the-pocket. One can detect harbingers of later washes of ambiance through hypnotic double kick based patterns giving precedence to the melody while diminishing the significance of the rhythm. King and Hanneman start with a foundation of hardcore and NWOBHM to build walls of distorted litanies informed by horror music soundtracks as opposed to B-movie camp. Cacophonous soloing borders pure noise and works within the dual lead tradition. Purposeful chugging gives way to ominous resolutions in a manner familiar to the speed metal lacking the emotive cadences provided by Slayer’s phrasing. Hell Awaits moved beyond its ancestors by ditching cyclical construction in favor of the narrative form of composition that would come to define metal music later in its life cycle. The record’s visual presentation is not at once terrible and majestic like Reign in Blood’s nor does it capture the contrast driven mysticism of the crypt-craving Under a Funeral Moon; still, it is striking, imposing, iconic and above all EVIL in form and feeling.

A roaring roll of thunderous toms beckons the howl of a madmen celebrating every flaw in his soul in one solitary moment of exothermic lucidity. A sudden collapse of momentum into a mosh-ready break that rips apart remnants of riffs, splits skulls, and swells the fleshy masses within them before a gradual crescendo replaces the grooves with exhilarating gore. A complete pause filling foul spaces with anticipation is followed by an ecstatic outburst in brief cycles before reaching a climax of laughter mimicking riffs over rapidly pulsating beats. Hell Awaits contains almost too many moments that epitomize metal to be considered anything but the record that answers the question: What is metal?

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13 thoughts on “Defining Metal”

  1. Ludvig B.B. (vOddy) says:

    I think that people chant “SLAYER!” at any given chance, because Slayer is a metal band that appeals to the various groups of metalheads: those who like heavy metal, speed metal, thrash metal, death metal, and black metal, while also being a band that all of us can agree is great.

    Wide, and nigh universal appeal, is possessed by Slayer.

    1. Thrash metal does not exist you fruit cake! It is called speed metal. Maybe speed-death hybrid but “thrash metal” is something only the fags that grew up reading Metal Archives would consider as a subgenre. Also and most importantly: Dark Funeral and Ungod just released a new album in case you didn’t know. And I love cocks.

      1. Rainer Weikusat says:

        Kai Hansen doesn’t exist.

  2. Kermit the Fucking Fuckface Frog says:

    Great summary of a great album. Definitely agree that the narrative composition is a huge factor in separating HELL AWAITS from its predecessors and laying the groundwork for what was to come.

  3. OliveFox says:

    “At Dawn They Sleep,” still leaves me in awe.

    1. C.M. says:

      My favorite song of the album.

  4. Can you survive the blitzkrieg says:

    Possibly my number one of all metal albums! I will never forget the first summer of listening when 13, those early memories of walking on shores and woods first hearing this through headphones are some of the greatest experiences of my youth, the album never fails to get a strong reaction out of me, it is perfection.

  5. Rainer Weikusat says:

    The most easily recognizable difference between this and Altars of Madness (or, for that matter, even ancient Possession tracks) is that there’s a strictly functional rhythm section. Listening to Morbid Angel for the first time with a (somewhat chaotic) background in thrash and speed metal was amazing because of the way the different voices dynamically interacted with each other instead of the more conventional layering.

    1. David Rosales says:

      There you have it!
      Perfect appreciation of the revolution that Morbid Angel lead.
      Nobody but them did it like that so early.

  6. morbideathscream says:

    This is where Slayer expanded beyond their NWOBHM influenced sound, but still awesome mind you, of show no mercy and haunting the chapel with an album that sounds like it came straight out of the abyss properly named hell awaits. This album has a sound of it’s own, it doesn’t really sound like any other Slayer album. Only 2 albums come close to matching the sound of hell awaits, one being altars of madness and the other being Infernal Majesty’s none shall defy. I always considered those albums to be 3 of a kind.

    1. Thighs Mightily Contract says:

      What the FUCK is “Infernal Majesty’s none shall defy”? Are you trolling us now?! I’ve never heard of it. But you consider it in league with the best of the best? FUCK>

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