When it was released in 1985, Slayer's second full album, Hell Awaits, seemed to many a nearly impenetrable cacophony of sound. However, what appeared to be pure noise back then only proved to be incredibly ahead of its time, and Hell Awaits has since been confirmed as a mandatory item in the band's remarkable discography. Why is that? Well, despite its many strengths and memorable tunes, the songwriting on Slayer's debut had been firmly rooted in blues-based punk/metal, but as hinted by the more excessive Haunting the Chapel EP which followed, Slayer had discovered that by adding harsh arrangements and no small amount of dissonance to its compositions, these could inflict the true sense of horror and fear described in the band's terrifying lyrics with much greater impact and effectiveness. Thanks to the L.A. quartet's astounding musicianship, these theories (rooted in the ingenuous innovations of Venom's early work) would be developed further than anyone could have ever imagined, and not only define Slayer as the ultimate thrash metal band of all time, but also make them the most hallowed godfathers of all the extreme sub-genres yet to come. Beginning with the dauntingly complex title track and continuing through songs like "At Dawn They Sleep" and "Hardening of the Arteries," complex arrangements and numerous time changes clearly reveal this new direction, displaying a more technical, almost progressive side of Slayer never heard before (and, to such extremes, rarely since). Yet, the group's love of speed is hardly compromised, and, though buried in distortion, the more straightforward thrash of "Kill Again" and "Necrophiliac" remains just as irresistible a force. In conclusion, this may rightfully be considered Slayer's first important record, and while ultimately less potent in its entirety, its drawn-out compositions would arguably prove just as influential as its timeless successor, the greatest thrash metal album ever recorded, Reign in Blood.
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