When it was released in 1985, Slayer's second full album, Hell Awaits, seemed to many a nearly impenetrable cacophony of sound. However, it proved to be incredibly ahead of its time instead, and has since been confirmed as a mandatory item in the band's remarkable discography. Why? Well, despite its many memorable tunes, the songwriting on Slayer's 1983 debut, Show No Mercy, was firmly entrenched in blues-based punk/metal, and it wasn't until the following year's more excessive Haunting the Chapel EP that the band began adding the unusual arrangements, varying tempos, and dissonant nuances that paved the way to a wholly distinctive sound all their own. These experiments (rooted in the at once ingenious and ingenuous innovations of Venom's early work) were fleshed out even further on Hell Awaits; starting with the terrifying title track, continuing through the mesmerizing "At Dawn They Sleep," and arguably pushed over the limit of reason by the corrosive "Hardening of the Arteries." Here, the listener is introduced to a far more technical, almost progressive, side of Slayer -- a side never heard before and rarely since, for that matter. Meanwhile, comparatively straightforward thrashers like "Kill Again" and "Necrophiliac" made it plain that the group's love of pure speed remained intact, even if here, their sharp-edged riffs were often buried in overwhelming distortion. And perhaps most crucial of all, the musical backdrops unleashed by all the above (as well as equally worthy entries "Praise of Death" and "Crypts of Eternity") actually managed to inflict a true sense of horror and fear on par with their lyrics -- therefore marking Hell Awaits as the first album unmistakable as coming from anyone else but Slayer. True, it was ultimately eclipsed by its peerless successor, Reign in Blood (still largely considered the greatest thrash metal album ever recorded), as an irresistible force, but one could still make a confident point that Hell Awaits' uniquely daunting compositions arguably proved just as influential to future extreme metal acts.
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AllMusic Review by Eduardo Rivadavia