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Slayer "Christ Illusion"

By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Monday, July 24, 2006 @ 6:50 PM

On American Recordings

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08/08/06 might not have the same sinister ring to it as 06/06/06, but Slayer’s latest Soundtrack to the Apocalypse will arrive two months later than initially planned, on what would seem to be a benign August Tuesday. But 09/11/01 also began as a benign Tuesday until all terrorist hell broke loose while the band’s last opus, God Hates Us All, was hitting the shelves in what surely is the most freakish coincidence in metal history.

So we can only hope the release of Christ Illusion, the band’s first album as the original fearsome foursome in some 15 years with the return of drum god Dave Lombardo, is greeted merely with the usual outrage from those who’ve typically taken offense at all things Slayer for the last 25 years — although the way things are boiling over in the Middle East right now, we could be staring Armageddon in the face by then.

Christ Illusion comes designed with outrage in mind. From its defiantly sacrilegious cover art to its ceaselessly misanthropic, blasphemous plot lines, it demands OUTRAGE —more calculatingly so than any other album the band has done.

And that, in a nutshell, is Christ Illusion’s glaring weakness. The band, and in particular guitarist Kerry King who wrote 70 percent of the material, seem more interested in provocation than anything else. While provocation has always figured in Slayer’s formidable arsenal — as evidenced by “Necrophiliac,” “Silent Scream,” “Angel of Death,” etc. — it was never the main motivator. Here it is, or so it seems, and it hamstrings and cheapens the overall effort.

Indeed, to be blunt, when bassist/frontman Tom Araya spits such King-scripted diatribes as “Supremist’s” “Pissing on your faith/incinerate God’s whore/Perpetual is my reign/I will eat your soul” or ”Skeleton Christ’s” “I laugh at the abortion known as Christianity/I’ve seen the ways of God/I’ll take the devil any day/Hail Satan,” Slayer sink to the level of God-repelling dunderheads Deicide.

“Cult,” which anyone who’s seen the Unholy Alliance Tour — that couldn’t start on 06/06/06, as planned, either because of Araya’s appendicitis. Spooky! — will have heard, offers more of the same rote “There is no fucking Jesus Christ” railing. It’s deja vu all over again from God Hates Us All — and once you’ve titled something God Hates Us All, haven’t you made your point enough already?

Guitarist Jeff Hanneman and Araya offer a different take on religion with “Jihad,” which sees holy war through the eyes of the terrorist, and no doubt will be Christ Illusion’s most controversial track — especially if some flag-waving Fox News dipshit like Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity gets clued in. “Fuck your god, erase his name/A lady weeps insane with sorrow/I’ll take his towers from the world/You’re fucking raped upon your deathbed.” Nice.

Even more cold-blooded is the text ”Jihad” borrows for its climax from the motivational letter left behind by 09/11/01 ringleader Mohammed Atta — “You must not comfort the animal before you kill it/Strike as champions at the heart of the nonbelievers,” etc. It’s the same sort of detached, matter-of-fact tactic Hanneman and Araya have employed for “difficult” subjects in the past — Josef Mengele’s Nazi atrocities in ”Angel of Death” or Jeffrey Dahmer/Ed Gein’s ghoulish proclivities in “213” and “Dead Skin Mask” — with great effect. But here it feels atypically crass and exploitative, as if it was done purely to get a rise out of people — kind of like what right-wing slag-bag Anne Coulter did by slamming the 9/11 widows in her latest load of excreta, “Godless.” And Slayer’s usually a lot more clever than that.

When not fixating on religion, the band revisit their other favorite subject — war — in surprisingly familiar terms. “Flesh Storm” is essentially King’s rewrite of Hanneman’s classic “War Ensemble” — with the accompanying music borrowing both from that and “Angel of Death.” And “Eyes of the Insane” offers a post-traumatic sequel to “Mandatory Suicide,” again with a soundtrack that recalls the original, but boasting a couple truly mammoth hooks that do shake things up. And truth be told, Slayer could have shaken things up a bit more musically here. In the lead up to its release, the band members were emphatic that Christ Illusion, to quote King from our April interview, “sounds like a damn Slayer record.” And it certainly does. But some more of the aforementioned pounding hooks that punctuate “Insane” or the spasmodic tempos and surging riffs that power “Jihad” and the menacing “Black Serenade” would have been welcome. The droning “Catatonic” pretty much lives up to its name as the Illusion’s one “experimental,” and weakest, track.

The grandiosity and imposing presence that made South of Heaven or Seasons In The Abyss so magnificent — but have largely been missing since — are again noticeable in their relative absence. Too often here, the band simply either dips back into their old bag of tricks, as on “Flesh Storm” or the drill sergeant cadence of “Cult,” or settles for full-frontal attack mode — “Catalyst,” “Consfearacy,” “Supremist” — perhaps figuring that, if nothing else, sheer brutality will do the trick. And while the ruthless, Bush-bashing “Consfearacy” benefits from Lombardo’s tornadic drum salvos — his performance is top notch throughout and does give the album a looser feel than Paul Bostaph’s technical precision offered —at the end of the day the effect is more numbing than satisfying.

Basically, the bottom line here is this: If the mere fact that Christ Illusion is a “new Slayer album” will be enough to scratch your Slayer itch, then you should be more than satisfied — and I’ve got to admit, at times, it works for me, too. But for anyone expecting — or at least hoping — for anything more monumental than just another “damn Slayer record,” hate to bust your bubble. Christ Illusion is full of sound and fury that ultimately doesn’t signify a whole hell of a lot.

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