“Soundtrack to the Apocalypse”
Every fan of heavy metal has listened to this band.
Even people that don’t listen to heavy metal are familiar with the name.
Over the years, Slayer has consistently built a strong catalogue and even stronger fanbase, from 1983’s “Show No Mercy” on Metal Blade Records to their debut on American Recordings, 1986’s “Reign in Blood,” to newer albums like 1998’s “Diabolus in Musica” (one of my all-time favorites) and 2001’s “God Hates Us All,” Slayer has cranked out some of the most blistering, awe-inspiring tracks of all time.
Singer and bassist Tom Araya, guitarists Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman, along with a rotating line-up of drummers (most notably Paul Bostaph and Dave Lombardo), have been tearing through the metal scene for over 20 years. Surely it was time to put some sort of career retrospective out.
Enter: “Soundtrack to the Apocalypse.”
“Soundtrack to the Apocalypse” is a box set of Slayer material spanning its years with American Recordings.
There are two different versions of the box set: a four disc set and a limited edition five disc set. The four disc set consists of three CDs worth of “greatest hits,” rare and live tracks, songs from soundtracks, overseas releases and a DVD of performance footage spanning 20 years. The limited edition consists of the same thing but comes in an “ammo box” and also features a banner, backstage pass and fifth disc that features a full concert.
So, is this a box set worthy of one of the greatest (metal) bands of all time? Let’s take a look at each aspect of the set and then at the set as a whole.
The first disc acts as a “greatest hits collection” off the band’s first four albums for American Recordings (the bandÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½s Metal Blade catalogue is ignored). There’s a nice remix of “Criminally Insane” and crisp transfer of “Raining Blood” (both off the “Reign in Blood” album). From the live version of “Chemical Warfare” (off 1991’s “Decade of Aggression”) to the chunky, riff-heavy “Seasons in the Abyss” (off the 1990 album of the same name), Slayer’s older stuff sounds as good as ever.
Most of the second disc continues chronologically, touching on Slayer’s next four albums. There’s a whopping five tracks from Divine Intervention (with “Serenity in Murder” and “Dittohead” standing out as the stronger cuts), three off Slayer’s “Undisputed Attitude” (“Gemini” was a nice pick), three off “Diabolus in Musica” (including “Stain of Mind”) and three off of “God Hates Us All” (with the obvious inclusion of “Disciple” with a chorus of “God hates us all…”).
The remaining tracks are where the meat of the collection finally starts to get exposed.
First up, there’s Slayer’s cover of “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” off the soundtrack for the 1987 movie “Less Than Zero.” It’s not a bad cover per se, but I remember thinking at the time of it’s initial release that Slayer could have really made this a creepy-ass, heavy cover.
Also from the realm of movies, there’s “Human Disease” from “Bride of Chucky” and “Disorder” off the “Judgement Night” soundtrack.
The tracks off the “Judgement Night” soundtrack featured heavy metal bands and rap artists joining forces (Cypress Hill and Pearl Jam; Biohazard and Onyx). In this case, Slayer teamed up with Ice T which wasn’t such a stretch at the time since Ice T was also fronting the metal band Body Count.
Rounding out disc two are songs available off the overseas releases of “Diabolus” and “God Hates Us All” (two each) — with “Wicked” being one of the stronger tracks on the entire set.
The third disc consists entirely of rarities. There’s live tracks from the very early days (the disc kicks off with “Ice Titan” live from 1983) all the way to 2002 (“Bloodline” live in Sweden), rehearsal stuff, home recordings (a couple of home recordings by Jeff Hanneman — “Raining Blood” and an early version of “South of Heaven”) and a rough studio mix of “Piece by Piece.” There’s also a track Slayer did with Atari Teenage Riot complete with industrialized techno that seems totally out of character for the band, but at the same time not a terrible song.
This is the DVD of the box; it contains 15 live tracks spanning the band’s career. From “Die by the Sword” (live from 1983) to “Disciple” (live from 2003), the disc offers a glimpse into the evolution of Slayer, from an 80’s big-haired, thrash band in a small California club, all the way to grizzled, tattooed, head-shaved, arena-touring, metal veterans.
The earlier clips are pretty rough. The video is as clear albeit somewhat grainy, but the audio is murky at times, with a lot of bass; the sound is ambient instead of coming off the sound board (which is what is done when the show is specifically being taped for release). Obviously these shows weren’t taped to be put on DVD and released, but they do their job showing the band in its beginning stages. Though the clips are seen out of context (I know it’s California, 1983, but what club? And is Slayer the opener or headlining?), it’s still amazing to see them packing the house with what appears to be die-hard fans. “Aggressive Perfector” is particularly fun to watch.
The later clips are great both sonically and visually. “War Ensemble” and “South of Heaven” (live from Michigan in ’91) feature great live energy. The ESPN performance of “Bloodline” is solid, even if the band was performing in a cramped space. “Disciple” and “God Send Death” (live from France, 2003) sound good, although the band was performing on a dark set so there’s not too much to look at.
In addition to the live footage, there’s two other “gems” to be had. There’s some home video footage of the band accepting the Heaviest Band Award at the Kerrang! Magazine Awards in 1996, and an electronic press kit for “Diabolus in Musica.” While the award thing is a little too lengthy for what it was (the band simply said thanks and that was it), the EPK is great to watch — spliced between interview clips from all band members is rehearsal and live shots of the band performing what was, at the time, new material. But it also gives a little insight into the album in general and where the band was at that point in its career. The EPK is definitely the highlight of the DVD.
The deluxe edition of “Soundtrack to the Apocalypse” also features a fifth disc: a full-length concert from the band’s Anaheim stop on the God Hates Us All tour (2002). This was Slayer’s first tour with original drummer Dave Lombardo back in the fold (he had left the band in the early ’90s). The CD comes in a “Blood pack” sleeve — essentially a slip case that’s filled with fake blood and floating skulls — that looks pretty cool.
As for the set list, the band dug way back for this one. After kicking off with the two opening tracks off “God Hates Us All,” the band essentially played all their classics. Sure, they fit in “Stain of Mind” (off “Diabolus in Musica”), but the rest of the material had been aged at least 10 years (maybe this had to do with Lombardo re-entering the fold). It’s nice to know the band can still bust out old favorites like “Chemical Warfare” or “At Dawn They Sleep” (featuring a kick-ass mini drum solo) and not miss a beat while “Seasons in the Abyss” and “Raining Blood” still sound as strong as ever.
The limited edition of “Soundtrack to the Apocalypse” includes a wall banner and a replica backstage laminate. Both versions of the box set come with a booklet featuring tons of pictures spanning the band’s career, along with interviews with each band member and producer Rick Rubin. The booklet is pretty big in the deluxe version of the box, so I’m not sure how it is packaged in the regular version (from what I saw on the shelf, the regular version seemed to be packaged in what was, essentially, a double CD case).
Well, the set kicks off with “Angel of Death,” and it’s such a great thrash-based song and a perfect way to kick off things. Slayer has just always been such a strong, riff-based metal band, and all of these tracks are great reminders. The “Decade of Aggression” live tracks are still phenomenal — the live version of “Hell Awaits” is full of fury with great King riffs throughout. In between you’ve got gems like “Raining Blood” (with a great opening of rain and drums before the riffs and double-bass kick in) and “Seasons in the Abyss” (another one of my Slayer favorites). Also nice to hear the great Araya scream on songs like “Aggressive Perfector.”
I’m particular happy with the inclusion of “Bitter Peace” on disc two, just because it has one of the coolest openings of any Slayer song — the slow, plodding drumming and down-tuned guitar slowly picking up steam before plowing into the opening riff (great opening track for “Diabolus” too). And the guitar riffs mid-way through the track are particularly venomous. It’s great to have “Death’s Head” following because you expect the heavy bass and guitars of this tracks opening right after the abrupt ending of “Peace.” Drummer Paul Bostaph shines on the “Intervention” tracks but instead of having such a heavy focus on this release I would’ve preferred a cover or two off “Undisputed Attitude,” or maybe something else off of “Diabolus” or “God Hates Us All.” The Ice T track is pretty interesting too, as it’s substantially different from T’s Body Count stuff, and he adds a weird element to the band that almost makes them sound slowed-down. Plus, it’s weird hearing Araya moved down to background vocals.
The sound quality on disc three is questionable, but that’s what you expect given the source material. The vocals on “Seasons in the Abyss” threw me off at first, and the rawness of the garage recordings is fun, but overall this is a hit-or-miss collection of rarities. The Atari Teenage Riot track really caught me off guard, but was pretty good.
As for the DVD, I was pretty disappointed with it. What was there was fine. The club shows sounded raw but I “get it” and still enjoy watching those clips (I had the same problem with the old clips off Fear Factory’s “Digital Connectivity”). Still, I was dying for the band’s actual videos. And maybe a couple of interview clips or something. Even something off a Headbangers Ball, or some festival stuffÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½ ANYTHING. As it stands, the whole thing clocked in a little over an hour, so there was obviously room for more.
The setlist for the live disc is strong. The sound quality is great and it stands unedited (with Araya comments throughout the set including a nice rant against the bouncers at the front of the stage). Plus, it’s a nice capture of the energy the band has live (better than the other live clips sprinkled throughout the set apart from the “Decade of Aggression” tracks). In short: a strong live disc.
I loved the booklet that accompanied the set, but was mixed with the rest of it. I guess collectors would be into the banner and laminate, but I’ll just keep those things in the box. I never understood the point of the laminate anyway, it’s just a replica. (Now if you could keep it for potential fan meet-and-greets down the road, it would be a different story.) I just look at these things like prizes in a Cracker Jack Box: they kind of fun to get but useless overall.
Well, first off, the Metal Blade stuff is largely ignored except for live tracks or the DVD (although the studio version of “Aggressive Perfector” was a nice addition). The set could have been a lot stronger even if there was just an EP as the sixth disc with five or six tracks on it.
As for an anthology of sorts, the first 2 discs do a great job of spotlighting the band’s career. Slayer’s music hardly sounds dated, and the energy from the earlier tracks is comparable to anything being released today (there’s a reason Slayer’s considered one of the greatest metal bands of a ALL TIME).
The rare stuff is probably something only diehard fans would really be into, although there’s nothing wrong with any of it. The DVD fell below expectations which is the biggest problem with the set overall. As for the bonus disc: there’s nothing quite like seeing (or in this case hearing) Slayer live, and the set list is a great mix of old and new tracks.
You get the sense there could’ve been more included here. The band supposedly had done a rumored 50 or so tracks during the sessions for “Undisputed Attitude.” There were also rumors of older tracks getting re-recorded at some point. I suspect there were a couple other unreleased tracks that could’ve been dug up.
There’s some nice touches here. The CD’s themselves are black (on the underside — instead of shiny and reflective like most retail CDs). The box itself is what it is, the booklet is great to look through, and while I question the value of the extras, they were nice inclusions.