Slayer Albums – Ranked! (From Worst To Best)

Slayer were a prolific thrash metal band from LA County, California. The original lineup consisted of guitarists Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman (RIP 2013) vocalist/bassist Tom Araya and drummer Dave Lombardo. Paul Bostaph would later replace Lombardo for duties behind the kit, Exodus’ Gary Holt would carry the legacy of Hanneman after his death.

Covering almost four full decades across eleven studio albums, it’s impossible not to mention important heavy metal music without Slayer’s name passing your lips, with no need for any further introduction, let’s take a closer look at the band’s extensive history, ranked!

#11 – Repentless (2015)

Slayer’s final album as a band and one that gets a lot of negative attention for reasons both deserved and not. Repentless was an album written lyrically by Kerry King, one of the only times that he had sole songwriting credit on a record, as primarily it would be the double act of King and Hanneman, and it’s safe to say that the writing here is the weakest in their history.

Musically Repentless plays it very safe but there are some highlights that elevate the material higher than you would expect from the stigma stuck to the album. The title track and Pride and Prejudice are great examples of aggression and that classic ruthless nature of the band’s earlier spirit. However, there are a lot of filler tracks and songs in the list that do absolutely nothing but diminish the legacy violently, to just being plain boring and passe. See: Implode, Take Control or Piano Wire for instance.

Does that make Repentless lazy or by the numbers? Maybe.
Arguably this is a record that Slayer shouldn’t have even made according to many fans, It’s clear that listening to it that the omission of Hanneman’s input is sorely missed, may he rest in peace.

#10 – World Painted Blood (2009)

No sanctuary. World Painted Blood is a completely fine album with no real high points or obvious lows. The title track itself is a great time, but it’s a struggle to commit much more to memory from this 2009 effort. The musicianship is completely fine, vocals are good. It is business as usual, almost like the band are on autopilot, and that’s the reason this album ranks so low compared to some of their riskier efforts that we will get to later down the list.

#9 – Diabolus In Musica (1998)

Slayer go nu-metal and it was something that probably should never have happened but this record yielded some surprising diamonds amongst a lot of rough. For the most part, it doesn’t work. Though, Diabolus In Musica’s strong suit came in its oppressive atmosphere and the grinding and fierce nature of tracks such as Stain of Mind and In The Name of God.

The latter song especially has such a slick and sublime opening with a rioting, thick chugging guitar pulsating into a vile eruption of powerful snarls from frontman Tom Araya over that stunning infectious main riff. These kind of moments are peppered all throughout Diabolus In Musica, that seductive groove just rocks so fucking hard that it’s impossible to resist, hence why I can’t rank the record any lower.

#8 – Divine Intervention (1994)

What more can really be said about Divine Intervention apart from the fact that it’s Slayer’s sixth album? That may sound reductionist but hear me out. How the fuck do you follow up genre masterpieces from the late 80s such as: Hell Awaits, Reign In Blood and South of Heaven? It seems the answer with this record was simple, replace Lombardo behind the kit and try and speed up a little following Seasons In The Abyss infatuation with everything slow and heavy.

By no means a bad record, Divine Intervention just seems a little underwhelming when compared to the wealth of records that came before it and had large boots to fill. There is a lot to love here: The Killing Fields, 213 and Fictional Reality are incredible songs in and of themselves, but do they really match the heights of their predecessors alone? Not really. This album just didn’t do enough different to stand out in a positive or risky way.

#7 – God Hates Us All (2001)

Here’s where things get fucking controversial. Before I’m dragged out into the streets by raving fans and hogtied to the railway tracks, let me try to justify this entry for you. There’s a reason why songs like Payback and Disciple remained live staples for the band even when this record seemed to underperform critically and commercially, because they are powerful, aggressive and catchy as all hell tracks.

From the chanting chorus on the latter, to the formidable way that War Zone seems to entrance you into fighting an entire army bare handed (especially that opening riff) God Hates Us All remains to be Slayer’s most underrated album that they have ever produced. There is so much that is stellar about this one, it sounds grandiose and overpoweringly omnipresent with a modern touch that differentiates itself from Slayer’s early work.

#6 – Christ Illusion (2006)

With their tenth album, Slayer somehow managed to channel their unholy powers into creating a record that touched on elements of not only Seasons In The Abyss but the groovier parts of God Hates Us All too, whilst still harkening back to their roots all at once.

Jihad is a phenomenal that fits the description above in every respect. The slow acoustic intro leading into that thundering rhythm guitar main riff and mesmerising guitar solo. It sounds completely and utterly massive. Look no further than Skeleton Christ if you’re in any doubt that Slayer can’t make you fucking move on this record, it may sound simple musically, but it’s heavy as all sin and it is one of my personal go-tos when the band’s name is mentioned in conversation. Goes without saying that Araya shouting ‘Hail Satan’ is an absolute win too.

#5 – Seasons In The Abyss (1990)

Slayer started the new decade revitalized with this masterclass in pacing, progression and power oozing from every pore of this disgusting beast. As mentioned above, this was the album that the boys took a different approach on compared to their 80s efforts, slowing down and being more atmospheric and sinister in a way that paid off greatly.

Seasons In The Abyss is now thirty years old but stands the test of time beautifully for its simply flawless lineup of incredible songs. Choose literally anything featured on this record and you’re in for a winner. There are no low points, I have virtually nothing bad to say about Seasons and that’s because with outstanding tracks like: Dead Skin Mask, War Ensemble, Expendable Youth, Hallowed Point and Born of Fire, how could I?

That’s simply the caliber of the material that we’re dealing with here from this point on. Really, consider everything onwards as effectively completely interchangeable with one another. This is the Grade A stuff.

#4 – Reign In Blood (1986)

Widely considered by many to Slayer’s most brutal album, if not the most savage record ever at the time, what can I really add to the conservation about Reign In Blood that hasn’t already been said? It’s been dissected to death over the last three decades and for good reason, it’s one of if not the great thrash metal albums ever forged.

From the chilling album art to songs about Joseph Mengele (Angel of Death) and that unstoppable all-time classic Raining Blood, there’s frankly nothing new I can say, so what’s the point in trying? It’s Reign In Blood and it’s amazing, but you already knew that.

#3 – South of Heaven (1988)

South of Heaven was the fourth record that the band put out following a two year absence from Reign In Blood, and that time was used to strip back and refine their core sound into something darkly magical.

It might not be as immediately overt as the likes of what came before but the more primal yet controlled rage from Tom Araya and the steady, trance-like drumming from Lombardo are arguably a career best to this day. This record contains some of the most well written songs in the band’s history, included but not limited to: Behind The Crooked Cross, Ghosts of War and Cleanse The Soul.

Heaven feels like the culmination of their classic sound. It is not as violent as later entries, and it shares more in common with speed/heavy metal than the gut wrenching thrash it would later inspire, as it stands though with an album as well made as this, I can’t help but love every single second.

#2 – Show No Mercy (1983)

A bonafide classic for the ages to be sure. The original and many would say the best. A rare case where the origins of how this album came to be is nearly as interesting as the end result itself. Show No Mercy is an institution and it changed the face of not only thrash metal but shook the landscapes of the music world and pop culture for decades, even to this very moment in time.

Containing the almighty Die By The Sword, the spellbinding Black Magic and the insidious Evil Has No Boundaries, among others. I find myself often unabashedly praising this release almost every time the topic of metal music is brought up in any regard. Here was a record that single-handedly birthed so many genres and inspired so many generations of musicians across the world, it’s unbeatable.

#1 – Hell Awaits (1985)

Take everything that I’ve just said about Show No Mercy and amplify it by a million. Whilst Slayer’s debut is a landmark victory in music to be sure, their true prowess was unleashed masterfully in their sophomore record Hell Awaits.

Cast your mind back to the year 1985 and what were the hottest heavy metal records releasing at the time? Sure, there were strong efforts by the likes of Saxon, Exodus, Celtic Frost and Possessed, but there was nothing that matched the face melting speed or scorching brutality of Hell Awaits.

This was the album where Slayer shed their NWOBHM skin and struck out on their own with something incontestable, in every sense of the word an unadulterated monolith of sound that would not be caged or rivalled by mortal man. On a less hyperbolic note however, the track list is simply marvellous and nails everything you could ever possibly want in a heavy metal/thrash record from the surreptitious villainy of Necrophiliac, to the incinerating guitar solo of At Dawn They Sleep and beyond.

Slayer were and always will be an incredible band and a shining example of music as art. Sure, they had their missteps over the decades, but I would be remiss to deny them their rights as an irresistible force of nature. They will be missed, but they left one hell of a legacy!

The Best Metal Albums of 2019

Rounding out the end of the 2010s in style, 2019 was a monumental year for metal music of all genres and persusations. As such, here at Pit of Plagues, we’ve found that limiting ourselves to ten mere records this year was just too difficult. Without further delay, here’s our extended list totally our picks for the top fifteen metal albums of the year, list is ranked in no particular order. 

Hath – Of Rot and Ruin

An open that will no doubt be heavily featured in many other end of year lists, Of Rot and Ruin is a landmark victory in death metal music and the album stands head and shoulders above a lot of its competition for countless reasons. Taking the lyrics of FromSoftware’s Dark Souls and running with it in the darkest and most sincere fashion possible, Hath combined their love of the series with their unrivalled technical ability and truly a second is not wasted here on a fantastic atmospheric record that will stand the test of time for years to come. 

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Gaahl’s Wyrd – Gastir – Ghosts Invited 

Gaahl is a man that certainly needs no introduction if you’re at all familiar with the black metal scene in recent years. Gaahl’s Wyrd sees the ex-Gorgoroth singer and former Trelldom spearhead use his unique vocal range and creativity to utilise a more matured and slower dark metal album than what he has been traditionally known for in the past. The result is a very cold, moody and artistic expression of possession that gets in your head and refuses to let go. Getting to see many of the songs present on the album, including standout for me, ‘Carving the Voices’ was one of the most intense live performances I have ever seen, and a true testament to the band’s commitment to their pioneering craft.  

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Darkthrone – Old Star

Good old Darkthrone. Heavy, old school and unrelenting in their approach against modern conventions. The duo’s latest effort is a slightly faster and punchier 80s inspired effort consisting of six songs and heavily inspired by the likes of Motorhead, Venom and the like. It may be short but Old Star is certainly sweet, tracks like ‘I Muffle Your Inner Choir’ and ‘The Key is Inside the Wall’ will make any self respecting metalhead want to shred away on their axe to the catchy riffs, and bang their heads until they develop brain damage. In short, It’s Darkthrone. You know exactly what to expect from these guys, they don’t disappoint. 

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Green Lung – Woodland Rites

One of the freshest things to happen to the metal genre in a very long time, Green Lung’s debut record Woodland Rites set the world alight with their ritualistic 70s acid rock/doom metal hybrid that’s as infectiously catchy and addictive as the substances available at Woodstock in 1969. Out of everything on this list, Woodland Rites is one of the most listened to albums here. I personally just couldn’t get enough out of tracks like ‘Let the Devil In’ or ‘Templar Dawn’. It’s clear that these guys are inspired by all manor of acid rock and stoner music and the Londoners take full advantage of modern production with that proto metal flair to create something very special here. 

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Insomnium – Heart Like a Grave

Insomnium have been one of my favourite bands of all time for well over five years now. Heart Like a Grave is another solid jewel in the crown of melodic death metal and continues that steady stream of atmospheric, folkish and melancholic melodic death metal that the Finnish rockers are well established for. Heart Like a Grave borrows and adapts from the band’s lengthy back catalogue in the best ways, it’s easy to hear something on this album and get that nostalgic feeling from The Day it All Came Down or One For Sorrow. That’s not to say that plenty of new and exciting things aren’t brought to the table here, because they are. Namely, the addition of Jani Liimatainen (Cain’s Offering) who brings an aura of bright and youthful energy to the guitar work which really works in the band’s favour, most notable on songs such as ‘Valediction’ as well as ‘And Bells They Toll’. Without question, Heart Like a Grave is not only one of Insomnium’s best albums, but also one of melodic death metal’s finest hours also. 

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Mgla – Age of Excuse

The ultimate criticism of humanity, a depraved and misanthropic account that humanity is a plague that needs to be rid from the earth. True nihilism, true darkness. Age of Excuse is a black hole, a vortex that sinks forever never letting the listener catch a breath or see sunlight again. Powerful atmosphere and technical pounding drums permiate every facet of this modern black metal masterpiece from start to finish. Mgla very much are leading the charge in showcasing the best of atmospheric black metal with their own identity and polish to boot and Age of Excuse may be their best album of their career yet. 

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1349 – The Infernal Pathway

1349 are a band that I feel have never really got their day in the sun alongside their genre contempories. All that has changed with the release of the bleak and blackened The Infernal Pathway with strips back black metal to its raw essentials, relying only on old school blackened shredding and thrash technique and catchiness to spread their message. This record doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but what it does it take you back to the times of the first wave (Bathory especially) and remind us all why we fell in love with black metal in the first place. 

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Embrional – Evil Dead

Evil Dead wears its black and dried up heart on its sleeve and is unashamedly primal in execution. It’s a record that isn’t afraid to slow down and let a knuckle-dragging caveman riff or tremolo bridge ride on for a few minutes and let the listener soak in the heavy and overbearing punishing nature of the music before unleashing on songs such as ‘Day of Damnation’. In a year with so many phenomenal death metal records, Evil Dead is one that fans of the genre should not pass up on. 

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Pissgrave – Posthumous Humiliation

Pissgrave are a band that don’t give a fuck about anything! If that isn’t already self-evident by the album cover or the raw and eerie approach to their simplisitic song writing prowess then I’m not sure honestly how else to convince you. On Posthumous Humiliation, the band boil down death metal to the bone and deliver a wretched abortion of grinding guitars, putrid drums and demented vocals in such a fashion that only they themselves could pull off without it all going to shit. A lesser band with the same parameters would crumble under the circumstances but Pissgrave rise above their unique soundscape and put out one of 2019’s most punishing records without breaking a sweat. 

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Absentation – The Intellectual Darkness

One of the most surprising albums of the year for me, Syria’s very own Absentation floored me with their catchy, punchy songwriting and melodic guitar playing. What was especially impressive, I found, was that Absentation is the work of one man, and you would be damned if you knew that from your first few listens. Without a doubt, The Intellectual Darkness has been one of my most spun death metal albums of the year and it’s mostly because I just can’t get enough of the thrashy and in-your-face attitude or catchy death metal riffs that can be found on tracks like ‘Thoughtless Thoughts’ and ‘Endless Insanity’. The man behind the band has promised that 2020 will yield an even bigger and more technically impressive album in the near future so stay tuned to the page people, you never know, this might not be the last time we see Absentation on an end of year list. 

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Blood Incantation – Hidden History of the Human Race

I’ve used the term old school a lot in this list so far and no more is it fitting than when describing Blood Incantation’s latest effort, History of the Human Race. Bands like Immolation come to mind in the latter portions of the record and it’s inspiring to see a death metal band in the late 2010s have the guts to throw a near-20 minute epic of a song as a finale to an album. There’s little more that I can add that hasn’t already been said, so I’ll keep it brief. Fearlessly blending psychotic death metal with trippy space-like atmospherics, Hidden History of the Human Race sounds and feels like an album that could have been released thirty years ago, giving it a a timeless feature in the halls of metal history. It’s something brave and exciting that definitely should not be glossed over. 

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Negator – Vnitas Pvritas Existentia

Without question Negator have pumped what is the standout black metal record of the year. Combining the likes of modern Dark Funeral with the straight up and uncomprimising approach of bands like early Behemoth, Negator’s newest album is as fast and as dark as the best that Norway has to offer whilst grinding away at fearsome speeds at times. It might not be the most wholely original effort on the list but Vnitas Pvritas Existentia takes the best of black metal’s recent years and polishes it to a mirror shine.

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Deadspace – The Grand Disillusionment 

Is it any surprise to anyone that this record would show up here? I’ll keep this review short as I’ve already written a lengthy review on this very site, link below. However, The Grand Disillusionment is a groundbreaking, bold and modern depressive black metal album that encapsulates the human condition, self-loathing and hatred for all of mankind in a way never done before. Its brazen and unforgiving approach is uncomprimising and the way the album never really slows down in its intensity makes it especially scarring. 

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Батюшка – Панихида (Batushka – Panihida) 

Forget the controversies, forget the in-fighting and the meme of a million bands all using the Batushka name and let’s focus on the original and the best for a moment. Derph’s true follow-up to 2015’s Litourgia hits every note that the debut did and more with an album that is darker, edgier and more chaotic in every way. Panihida stands head and shoulders above anything done by Bart’s poor imitation, (If you can call the trainwreck that is Hospodi an imitation and not a complete fucking failure to music) and shows all unequvically that the true king is here to reign forever more. Everything is more developed and more concentrated here than on the debut, such as the chanting and clean vocal passages and the thick blackened tremolo audio assaults. It’s more of something you love.

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Inferi – The End of an Era | Rebirth 

It’s hard to exactly pinpoint just what makes Inferi so special on a record such as The End of an Era but any speculation going into the album are quickly washed away by some of the most captivating and spellbounding technical guitar playing to ever grace modern melodic death metal, or modern metal generally speaking. A very tightly focused and incredibly sharply executed release, End of an Era encapsulates the many amazing developments in the way we perceive metal music and how the genre can transcend the boundaries of our known understanding and evolve into something greater of almost indescribable energy and passion. It’s a true marvel to relish in and yet another example of just how talented this band are and how earned their rise through the ranks in recent years has been. 

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Honourable Mentions:

‘I, The Mask’ – In Flames
‘The Heretics’ – Rotting Christ
‘Vale’ – Burden of Sight
‘Entity’ – Nucleas
‘I: Voice’ – Warforged
‘Sulphur English’ – Inter Arma
‘Violently Expunged’ – Disgruntled Anthropophagi
‘Steeping Corporeal Mess’ – Fetid

 

Ghost – Prequelle Album Review

The not-so Dark Ages, the Swedish metal outfit’s take on the black death.

It has been a difficult and troubling time for Ghost leader Tobias Forge in the last two years, following a very public lawsuit leading to his ghouls being fired and him taking up arms to helm an album entirely of his own vision with new talent onboard.

The resulting release is the 2018 album Prequelle which follows three years after the highly successful breakthrough album Meliora and is headed by Cardinal Copia (Forge) as the cult’s newest leader.

How does everything come together? Well in a word, polarising. There’s no doubt that what we are hearing is that of Ghost, there is the same focus on the old school sound and of course Forge’s operatic high vocals soaring across every track. However, It’s the song structures that have changed the most, as the sinister atmosphere and depth of prior records have been somewhat reduced and lost in translation in favour of more sweeping catchy choruses and conventional songwriting.

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Instrumentally, Prequelle boasts some of Ghost’s best work yet with a real influence on the technical and rhythmic side being brought to the forefront as the 1980s flare is worn on its sleeve. Ghost are no longer a band mimicking that of Mercyful Fate or Blue Oyster Cult, this is instead a whole new interpretation of the material and it is demonstrated as that of an experience, a singular flowing dark show of epic proportion.

Yet it is in that side of the presentation where some of the cracks begin to show on the record. Prequelle’s high points are some of the highest that the band have ever reached before, case and point; Rats, Dance Macabre and Life Eternal taking center stage as quintessential songs from the band that can stand on their own as flawless metal tracks in their own right.

With that said, the songwriting takes a severe hit in the lyrical department. Unfortunately, the backstage drama of the last two years has crept its way into the songs on this album too in a way that is difficult to look passed. See the Light is about Forge coping with people giving him abuse online and tarnishing his reputation following the accusations brought up against him and it is presented in quite an unpleasant way where Forge is almost adding insult to injury.

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This is a different Ghost and this is very much Forge’s vision now wholly, he stated in interviews that the album would tackle a lot of dark subject matter and would do it whilst being bright and optimistic at the same time; wearing its heart on its sleeve and with a tongue firmly planted in cheek.

What we have here is a fantastic album but it leaves me wanting a lot more and asking where the other third of the release really is. There are two main instrumentals and whilst both of them are wonderfully performed, they mainly serve as roadblocks to halt the steady flow of the album. As a result, there is never a consistent tone or speed to a lot of what we hear. The release starts really strongly and winds up at the very end with a beautiful and moving closer however that still leaves the middle portion lacking.

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Pro Memoria for instance starts strongly but goes on for way too long and the instrumental lead in is used several times to daisy chain the other songs to it as if its being led up to. Yet, the song itself does not really go anywhere special in its almost six minute long run time. It’s equally as confusing when considering that it is sandwiched between the great Dance Macabre and the haunting, classic sounding Witch Image.

To summarise, Prequelle is a valiant effort that has a lot of good ideas and isn’t afraid to step out of the comfort zone and try something new and daring. Not everything pays off and the execution and questionable choices leave room for speculation, but these small issues do little to tarnish what an intriguing and catchy album that this album truly is. Sometimes when taking a bold step forward you have to take risks and not everything will pay off and I admire Ghost for taking that step, and I cannot wait to see what comes next.