So I’ve never heard their debut, only later records, so I don’t know how this compares to that record, but I read that it is significantly better (more ambitious, louder, more professional), etc. Even without hearing the debut, those descriptions make sense, because this is a crazy pummeling record, especially given that it’s 1985.
The music is knotty and loud. There are tons of different riffs, executed well, but also played extremely heavy. Sometimes it’s hard to get the balance right between technical precision and heaviness, and that is not a problem for Slayer on this record. They manage both. And some of these guitar solos are just bonkers, too, with plenty of showy technique without reducing the heaviness of everything surrounding them. (These are the type of guitar solos I think about when I think about “Metal” with a capital M, solos that are searing and difficult and loud.)
And at least a couple of the songs do the odd thing you’re not expecting, such as the break in “Praise of Death” which is definitely not a thrash cliche of a break. It’s certainly not as out there as what Metallica was doing at the same time, but it’s still neat to see the odd little break from pure assault.
So it’s a great record and deserves its place among the best thrash metal albums of the 1980s. I have two quibbles, both of which are pretty minor: the first is that they are just not as ambitious as Metallica and I must say I prefer ambition within metal (unless it goes into cheese territory). But that’s a really minor quibble. Slayer are their own band and arguably do what they do better than anyone else on the planet.
The other quibble is the production: I find the bass is a little low for my liking – imagine that on a metal record! – though that is weirdly not true on “Crypts of Eternity”, which I can hear it perfectly fine. The other problem with the production is that the channel divisions are off, so my left ear gets nearly everything and the right ear gets the solos. (It’s really weird.) But it was the ’80s and they were on a budget. What can you do?