About halfway through my first listen of Christ Illusion, one concept became cemented in my gray matter. Blood? Nope. Death? Negative. Blasphemy? Nuh-uh. What I kept focusing on was that Slayer's fans -- long haired, black-clad heshers with an inclination to use the word "fuck" in normal conversation -- expect, if not demand, little change from their overlords. In short, Slayer sure as hell better not stop kicking ass and taking names. Fear not, loyal disciples: with Christ Illusion, Slayer is back in ferocious form.
The merciless tempo and ridiculous soloing of "Flesh Storm" makes for the perfect reintroduction to the band -- not that we need one. "Catalyst" follows suit. Kerry King takes over and lets his signature whammy-bar dive-bombs and "Flight of the Bumblebee" shred do the talking. And although I have always approached Slayer's drop-D arrangements with some trepidation -- in the past, the band's slack-tensioned guitars have struggled to cope with King and Jeff Hanneman's alternate picking onslaught -- "Skeleton Christ" alleviates all concern, eventually finishing in grand, Dimebag Darrell style. "Eyes of the Insane" is a distinct but welcome change of pace, Dave Lombardo's machine-gun rhythms forming the backbone for Tom Araya's impressively intact scream. Throughout the album, Lombardo's drumming is almost as visual as it is auditory. If you close your eyes, you can almost see his fierce tom rolls coming as he pounds out a faultless double-kick rhythm and gilds the lily with just enough cymbal work.
"Jihad" is Hanneman and Araya's stab at lyrical relevance -- "When you reach ground zero you will have killed the enemy/ the great Satan" -- although its divisive subject matter is a mere footnote to an otherwise masterful song. Despite its loathsomely pun-y title, "Consfearacy" is speed-metal in its purest and most enjoyable form. The album's first single, "Cult," finds the members of Slayer cribbing from themselves as a quiet, ethnically inflected riff ushers in four and half minutes of classic thrash. The album's final track, the King-penned "Supermist," had me grinning as Araya screamed "I hate the fact we breathe the same air!"
And that was only one of several times I found myself transfixed in Slayer's almighty majesty while listening to the album. Christ Illusion is not a throwback; it's something new steeped in something old. And it should be just what the fans are looking for.