Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Slayer - Haunting the Chapel (1984)

Slayer's debut album, Show No Mercy, had sold over 40,000 copies worldwide and the band were performing some new songs live, which made producer Brian Slagel want to release an E.P. The album was recorded in Hollywood with sound engineer Bill Metoyer. Slagel was acting as executive producer. Metoyer, a filthy Christian, was not bothered by the lyrics to Show No Mercy; however, he was so terrified by what he heard, while recording Haunting the Chapel, that he thought he would go to Hell for contributing to this blasphemous creation. Since the studio had no carpet, Dave Lombardo set his drum kit on the concrete and it went 'all over the place' while playing. Gene Hoglan was given the task of holding the kit together and was given some credit for coaching Lombardo with regard to double-bass. Unleashed from the fiery depths in August 1984, this completely destroyed anything being released by their so-called peers. It annihilated At War With Satan, slaughtered Apocalyptic Raids and massacred Ride the Lightning, which was released a week or so later.

After becoming very familiar with the classic Show No Mercy (listening to it, over and over, every night), I still had an insatiable thirst for more. My best friend and I had a weekly ritual of hanging out, on Friday nights. After walking through the cold streets, in the dead of winter, we went back to his house. His parents were gone to a party or something, meaning that the good stereo was at our disposal. Sitting in a broken chair in the middle of the room, surrounded by several large floor speakers, he handed me his latest musical acquisition. The cover featured simple artwork; the familiar image of the Slayer logo in the middle of a pentagram made of swords (minus one) with the title of the album written across the top, in blood. It was simple yet effective. Despite being obsessed with this band, for quite some time already, I was not prepared for what was about to happen. I remember looking up with wide eyes and seeing my best friend saying something, but the volume was all the way up and I was unable to hear him. Chances are, I wouldn't have comprehended what was being said, anyway, as I was blown away by the aural assault. Surrounded by the blasting speakers, I could feel the music battering my skull. Suddenly, I was no longer feeling the cold chill of winter on my face; rather, I was burning in the flames of Hell.

Haunting the Chapel opens with "Chemical Warfare". The song begins with very intense thrash riffs and the rumbling drums, building a sense of tension, before exploding with hellish vengeance. Tom Araya's vocals are far more evil and sinister than anything heard on the previous album. The lethal attack of Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman is backed by the furious drumming of Dave Lombardo. This is incredibly violent, yet it possesses a deceptive sense of melody. As the song shifts gears, into the somewhat mid-paced part, Tom's voice can be heard screaming in the distance. The production may not be top notch, but it perfectly compliments the music and adds a dark quality to it. Listening to this, you can almost smell the flames rising all around you. The guitar solos attack you from all sides, shredding through your feeble brain and leaving you defenseless as Tom's demonic laughter almost mocks your pathetic condition. While the lyrics deal with war, they are done so in a different manner than what would come later. It is still approached from the Satanic perspective.

"Falsified spirits, farther they fall
Soon they will join us in Hell
See the sky burning, the gates are ablaze
Satan waits eager to merge"

This one song was all it took for Slayer to completely decimate anything that had come before, in terms of speed, aggression and pure evil. After hearing this for the first time, I felt like my heart had nearly exploded. It was an intense experience that got the adrenaline flowing and the blood boiling, yet it wasn't over.

"Captor of Sin" begins with a slightly more relaxed pace, bursting forth with a scream and an explosive lead. The immediate feeling is reminiscent of Venom, yet as the intro bleeds into the main riff, you realize that this is more vile and unholy. Tom's vocals, in particular, are far more venomous and possessed than even the previous song. The music on this E.P. seems to build upon the foundation created by "Black Magic", leaving behind most of the NWOBHM influences to create something beyond evil. The sounds of this record drag you down into the pits of Hell, to a place of eternal torment. Of course, this was their intent all along, as Tom goes so far as to scream this in an ominous tone.

"I'll take you down into the fire"

This incredible collection of early Black/Thrash concludes with "Haunting the Chapel". Something must be said of the production on this E.P. as opposed to the later albums. This sounds less up front and in your face, while being even more lethal. Part of the beauty is that there is a little breathing room in here, as if the band is surrounded by dismal fog and raging flames. The production and songwriting go a long way to create an atmosphere of pure evil. The opening guitar riffs eviscerate the listener as the pounding drums crush your bones into dust. The lyrics tell the tale of a dark ritual, raising the dead and sending them to attack the church. This is another masterpiece of early Black Metal.

"Ghosts from Hell invade this feeble shrine
Heaven's holy house will fall in time
Satan's morbid soldiers chant in lust
Destruction of the church we'll burn the cross"

The vocal delivery, once again, is filled with hatred and scorn. Tom's tormented screams are absolutely inhuman. Musically, there is nothing up-tempo about this. As the song increases in speed and intensity, your heart bursts from your chest as you burn in the fiery depths. Your charred corpse further violated by the wicked lead solos, dismembering your blackened remains.

With Haunting the Chapel, Slayer declared war on the underground. This tore through anything and everything that existed at that time, obliterating Venom and even rendering the first Bathory album obsolete before it was ever released. This had a lasting impact on Thrash and Death Metal, though bands like Kreator, Possessed and Death never managed to touch this in terms of evil or intensity. This is essential listening for any fan of Black, Death or Thrash Metal. The last two lines of the E.P. say it all.

"Haunting the chapel, Hell's demons prevail
Death has come, the house of god has failed"

Get this or die.