Review by Felix on November 25, 2021.
After the sad news of Jeff Hanneman's death, I frequently read that he had been the creative mind of Slayer. Additionally, everyone agreed that his death meant an irreparable loss for the band. Apart from the fact that every human being is an irreplaceable individuum, I do not share the point of view that Hanneman had been the considerably stronger composer than Kerry King. Of course, the blonde guitarist had written fantastic thrash metal classics. In particular, 'Angel Of Death' must be mentioned. Maybe the best and definitely the most discussed thrasher of all times. But what about the compositions of King, just think of rockets like 'Evil Has No Boundaries' or 'Piece By Piece'? Furthermore, when having a look at the here reviewed album, we have to realize that King wrote seven tracks on his own. Hanneman delivered only the remaining three pieces. But King was the spiritual father of the tracks that stood out.
Christ Illusion was a tradition-conscious work of the band. Very critical listeners might have thought that the album presented nothing else than an act of self-plagiarism. Nevertheless, the band took a step in the right direction. Tom Araya and his partners in crime did no longer follow stupid trends so that lousy products like Diabolus In Musica and God Hates Us All were pushed into the background. Instead, Slayer remembered their earlier records such as Seasons In The Abyss or Divine Intervention which had been - at least partly - in close proximity to their real classics. In other words, Christ Illusion appeared as a distant relative of Reign In Blood. Tom Araya's vocals sounded very aggressive and matched with the violent and powerful riffing in a successful manner. His diabolic approach gave this album its special flair. Dave Lombardo made a perfect contribution, too. But I guess it is a matter of course that his drumming could only be insufficiently described by words such as excellent or overwhelming. However, his precise and stormy high speed performance was already well-known.
Most songs were driven by his vehement and fast-paced drumming. 'Catatonic', written by King, was the exception to the rule. This slow-moving tune possessed a demonic aura as well as an intensive and dramatic ending. It was therefore a relatively unusual sample of the band's work, but nevertheless one of the best tracks of the album. Its doomy heaviness definitely left its mark. But as mentioned above, the full-length was characterised by brutal and straightforward eruptions in the vein of their works before Diabolus In Musica. Already the rushing opener represented the return to the old values of the former thrash metal Gods. 'Flesh Storm' did not reach the timeless class of the songs of their first three albums. But it could also not be ignored that it surpassed each and every track of the two previous full-lengths. Its ultra-aggressive approach was not at the expense of complexity so that it did not leave much to be desired. The following tracks commuted between phenomenal high speed and harsh mid-tempo while avoiding groovy parts successfully. The variable 'Skeleton Christ' demonstrated the combination of high velocity sections and slower parts in a representative manner. But the best was yet to come. 'Cult', the ninth track of the album, seemed to be a leftover of the band's most glorious days. The song provided the connection between Christ Illusion and two masterpieces of the group, namely 'Angel Of Death' and the similar 'War Ensemble'.
'Cult', also written by King, was equipped with the same tremendous amount of dynamism, vehemence and velocity. It only narrowly failed to achieve the level of the legendary opener of their equally legendary third album. The menacing beginning, the rapid verses, the mind-blowing bridge and the devastating chorus, every section of 'Cult' was simply perfect. This carefully structured outburst proved that King was still able to create a song which possessed the specific DNA of Slayer. Finally, the sound has to be mentioned. 'Cult' as well as the other tracks benefitted from the mix. As expected, the production was flawless. It convinced with the necessary pressure while being transparent and edgy as well. It also did not come as a surprise that the lyrical content could be neglected. Therefore, try to ignore the lyrics as well as the childish cover with the blatantly obvious reminiscence of Reign In Blood. Just focus on the music of the best Slayer album for decades.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10264