Cult’s Milestones in Metal: Slayer Hell Awaits

Trampled, Scratched and Covered in Cobwebs…

But it Shall Spin Forever
Hell Awaits
1985 Metal Blade records
Track Listing
Hell Awaits
Kill Again
At Dawn they Sleep
Praise of Death
Crypts of Eternity
Hardening of the Arteries
I was just a young and naïve lad when I discovered this album, and boy, did it transform my adolescence. It is the prominent guilty party, among a few others, of shaping my musical tastes dramatically, which at the time consisted of Adam Ant (I swear the infamous Prince Charming music video will have a prominent place in an endless musical loop awaiting me in my own personal hell), Terence Trent D’arby and other popular acts that died dramatically within the early eighties. [Didn’t you ask to do the review of the Flock of Seagulls reunion CD?- Ed. (Renfield)]
Suffice to say the first time I heard Slayer my mind was literally blown! Before this experience I had only heard snippets of some Guns N Roses tracks and various AC/DC songs, which I had rather taken a liking to, but nothing even close to, or resembling the deviant screeches, break neck rhythms, double bass drums and hellish chants and lyrics that this thrashing foursome from Huntington Park, California would soon be recognized the world over for.
The cassette tape I owned very quickly wore out. I would use the excuse I needed to run to the store so I could press play on my walkman in order to lose myself (again) in its splendor. For me Hell Awaits was a new fascinating, exciting and rather wicked audio experience.
I became hooked faster than a starving fish and like any gateway drug worth its weight, it introduced me to a world whose existence I had never known before. This was my introduction to metal, and I haven’t looked back since.
Hell Awaits was originally released in 1985. It had notable competition at that time, including thrash and metal standout albums from such acts as Possessed, Celtic Frost and Anthrax.
Also worthy of a mention is the Freshman release from Megadeth, Killing is my Business… Worthy of a brief mention is the fact that Kerry King joined the Dave Mustaine’s stable for a short while (following the Haunting the West Coast tour -1984 – supporting the Haunting the Chapel EP) only to return before the recording of Hell Awaits citing that Megadeth was “taking too much of my time”. To think that the Slayer legacy could have been severed short and that this genre defining album may never have been made!
The cover of this release by Albert Cueller, depicts the damned and their journey to the very depths of hell. Three figures are escorted by demon like figures and captured in various poses including dismemberment, evisceration and decapitation.
The album’s title track describes the grisly art in one of its final verses…
“Warriors from hell’s domain,
Will bring you to your death,
The flames of Hades burning strong,
Your soul will never rest”
Onwards to the music.
Kerry King cites Mercyful Fate as an influence for this release (and Slayer‘s first – Show No Mercy) and primarily the reason for the running times and variation of riffs in many of the longer tracks.
The title track is the first up. It is introduced to us by the screeching of guitars and a chanting of sorts. Recent internet research has helped me solve the puzzle of what the chanting actually is. The phrases “Join us” and finally “Welcome back” are reversed and repeated to great effect.
Over the years this introduction has become one of the most recognized album introductions within the metal scene, surpassing even Venom’s infamous introduction to Black metal, a chainsaw upon metal door hinges.
The track itself picks up from an initial ritualistic drum beat into a mid tempo gallop that breaks into a riff that sets the pace for the remainder of the track. Frenzied solos filled with fret picking madness are masterly provided by both Hanneman as well as King and hint at the sonic brilliance and insanity the rest of the album contains.
Tom Araya’s vocal style is hardly a singing style, it has more of a shouted approach (which is more commonly found in earlier punk music) which fits the music perfectly. In this, the opening track, the vocals seem a little rushed at times though are still decipherable only cementing his worth as a competent front man.
The lyrics in this track touch upon the descent into hell, damnation and the struggle between the forces of light and darkness, in which darkness has the upper hand.
“Angels fighting aimlessly,
Still dying by the sword”
Of course the last line may be a nod to a track from their first release, “Die by the Sword”.
Nonetheless, a standout track to start the album.
The next track, Kill Again, takes no time whatsoever in building to a great rhythm within a breakneck pace. The lyrics revolve around an overbearing lust and need to kill. This is admittedly one of my personal favorites and a track I am guilty of singing along to even without it playing between my ears.
At Dawn They Sleep is a track based upon blood hungry beings, vampires of sorts. It’s worth mentioning this track was Tom Araya’s first lyrical contribution to the band although he is also attributed for Crypts of Eternity. This track boasts great breaks in both rhythm and pacing and even a short drum solo from Dave Lombardo.
Necrophiliac, the fifth and shortest track on this album, has lyrics that could so easily have been pulled from the darkest depths of an insane mind and this is probably the reason why it is my favorite Slayer track. Coitus with the deceased [Yeah, I’m surprised here too folks!– Ed. (Renfield)] and the desire to go to the …fiery pits…through most nefarious deeds certainly make this a track to remember. Of all the tracks on this album I would imagine this one, from the lyrical content and subject matter, to be predominant in the influence of up and coming bands in the death and black scene.
Crypts of Eternity, up next, has a chilling, frenetic and remarkable introduction oftentimes seeming like something pulled from a Morbid Angel release, but of course this had to be an influence for them as it was released four years previous to their first major effort (Altars of Madness in 1989).
In my opinion this track reeks of the influence of Venom most notably the Seven Gates of Hell track, even to the point of Tom Araya sounding like Cronos when he sings “spell” in the chorus. Venom was a huge and reported influence on Slayer, especially within their first two releases.
The longest track on the album Crypts takes the listener on a remarkable journey narrated by chaotic and mesmerizing riffs it tells of the insanity within the unfathomable nature of the underworld.
At the five minute mark there is a riff that is quite possibly my favorite on this album that leads to a truly memorable and outstanding riff laden finale. The final words spoken “My kingdom, my domain” are chilling and bring about a great conclusion to this epic song.
The final track on the album is Hardening of the Arteries. Maniacal musicianship, melodic rhythm and head banging riffage are showcased here that which also burst at the seams within the entire album, the final minute however hints at the dark majesty of mid tempo mastery more commonly found within a future Slayer release entitled South of Heaven.
I will argue that this album shows more finesse and variation than Slayer‘s follow up release which is widely considered their milestone. This album is longer, while Reign in Blood (1986) runs barely over the 29 minute mark, and delves more into technical at times slightly twisted and bizarre, hellish mid tempo riffs rather than the all out speed Reign is known for. It was light years ahead of Show no Mercy and propelled Slayer into the forefront of the speed/thrash metal scene where they have reigned (pardon the pun) for now close to thirty years.
If you haven’t already, and I can’t fathom why, give this chunk of legendary metal history a spin, it has stood the test of time, there’s only a handful of releases that can boast that! Closing your eyes the names of countless other bands flash across the backsides of your eyelids those who have emulated the same style, even current bands that still do. The impression Slayer has left upon the metal scene is huge, and they continue to inspire new talent with each and every release. A legendary band and a formidable release, I present to you…Hell Awaits!