Seasons in the Abyss: 25 Facts About Slayer’s 1990 Thrashterpiece

Strap on your “Dead Skin Mask;” here comes the “War Ensemble,” stripping the “Skeletons of Society”….

Slayer first unleashed Seasons in the Abyss on October 9, 1990. Metal was never the same again—just as it hadn’t been after each previous Slayer release.

Seasons in the Abyss freshly scorched the earth as the culmination of the group’s unprecedented, unparalleled redefining of heavy metal’s parameters and possibilities through a world-changing run of albums: Show No Mercy (1983), Haunting the Chapel (1984), Hell Awaits (1985), Reign in Blood (1986), and South of Heaven (1988).

Metal’s most relentless and intrepid extremists had somehow managed to lunge through to a new extreme (relentlessly and intrepidly, of course).

In honor of the 25th anniversary of Seasons in the Abyss, here are 25 facts about the landmark LP. Just remember the sage warning of essentially metal philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche: “When you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.” Same goes for when you listen to it.

1. Seasons in the Abyss was the first Slayer release to crack the U.S. Top 40 Albums chart. Specifically, it hit #40. In the UK, the LP topped out at #18.

2. SITA was Slayer’s third consecutive gold album. It reached that status quicker than its two predecessors, Reign in Blood and South of Heaven.

3. Def American label honcho Rick Rubin produced SITA, as he had Slayer’s previous two releases. For Divine Intervention (1994) and Undisputed Attitude (1996), Rubin took on the mantle of “Executive Producer.”

4. Rick Rubin’s career-long association with the Beastie Boys resulted in Slayer guitarist Kerry King playing guitar on “No Sleep Till Brooklyn.” He also appears in the music video, hip-checking a goof in a gorilla costume.

5. “Seasons in the Abyss,” the album’s title track, served as Slayer’s first-ever music video. It rotated heavily on MTV’s Headbangers Ball.

6. Covers of “Seasons in the Abyss” include versions by Polish thrashters Acid Drinkers and classical metal revamp experts, the String Tribute Players.

7. Punk-metal crossover monsters S.O.D. unleashed their own unique take (on red vinyl) in 1999 titled “Seasoning the Obese.”

8. The music video for “War Ensemble,” the second single from Seasons in the Abyss, also fast became a Headbangers Ball favorite.

9. Among the artists who cover “War Ensemble” are metalcore mega-stars As I Lay Dying, thrashy death dealers Battlecross, pop punks Bigwig, and lounge jazz goofball Richard Cheese.

10. “Dead Skin Mask” is Slayer’s chilling exploration of the mangled mind of Ed Gein. The Wisconsin serial murderer remains notorious for mutilating his victims, keeping various body parts in his farmhouse, and even fashioning suits out of human flesh.

11. Ed Gein’s evil exploits also inspired numerous horror films, including some all-time classics on the order of Psycho (1960), The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), and The Silence of the Lambs (1991).

12. Other songs about Ed Gein include “Addicted to Vaginal Skin” by Cannibal Corpse, “Nothing to Gein” by Mudvayne, “Nipple Belt” by Tad, “Plainfield” by Church of Misery, “Ed Gein” by Macabre, “Skin” by Siouxsie and the Banshees and—this is supremely weird—“Skinned” by Blind Melon.

13. In 2010, Slayer toured to celebrate 20 years of Seasons in the Abyss. When asked if he’d discovered anything new about the songs, Kerry King told SF Weekly: “You know what my funny revelation was? That I was playing the solo to ‘Dead Skin Mask’ wrong for, like, eight years. I went back and checked … Because when that came out, I’d just gotten done working with my original guitar teacher again. So for him to make some extra money, I said ‘Dude, you should do the songbook for this and I can give you the riffs just how I wrote them.’ And most of the leads are pretty much in the ballpark. So I just glanced at one for amusement and I’m like ‘F–k!’ I was playing it a fret wrong one way or the other. I was like, ‘You dick!’ [laughs].”

14. “Born of Fire” was written as an instrumental. Kerry King came up with lyrics at the last minute that everyone liked, so it’s had words ever since.

15. As with “Angel of Death,” the Reign in Blood song about true-life Nazi atrocity perpetrator Dr. Josef Mengele, Seasons in the Abyss certainly explores Slayer’s interest in cosmic horrors such as eternal damnation, but it also focuses on real-life nightmares and even pressing social issues.

16. On the topic of the song “Hallowed Point,” Slayer frontman Tom Araya told Cleveland Scene: “That’s a kind of bullet—hollow points. It’s about a gun and what guns do to a body. It can turn flesh into confetti. It’s about the motivations to use a gun. People ask, ‘Is it an anti-gun song?’ No. ‘Is it a pro-gun song?’ No. Guns are dangerous. But I’m not anti-gun. I’m a gun owner.”

17. “Blood Red” is Slayer’s gore-sopped cry for freedom in support of citizens rising to stand against totalitarian regimes. “The papers and magazines were writing about Tiananmen Square and what was going on in China,” Araya said. “The picture of the guy standing in front of the tank is what [sparked] the idea for that song. And there were other things going on: They were killing people for voting in South America. I put those ideas together.”

18. “Expendable Youth” directly addresses inner city gang violence. “I grew up in a gang neighborhood,” Tom Araya has pointed out, “so I had an idea of the mentality.”

19. The vocal track on “Temptation” is actually an overdub of Tom Araya singing with himself. The frontman and guitarist Kerry King had two entirely different thoughts on how the song should be sung. Araya performed both, and Rick Rubin just layered them on top of one another.

20. Kerry King remembers the “Temptation” recording process vividly, saying: “If I could sing and play, I could have attempted back-up, but I can’t do that. That’s pretty much why we never played that this entire time. ‘Temptation’ was never played until [the 2010] tour.”

21. Slayer promoted Seasons in the Abyss by headlining the legendary 1991 Clash of the Titans Tour.

22. Supporting Slayer on the Clash of the Titans trek, in various combinations, were Megadeth, Anthrax, Testament, Suicidal Tendencies, and young upstarts Alice in Chains.

23. Henkka T. Blacksmith, bassist for Finnish extreme metal maestros Children of Bodom, has declared Seasons in the Abyss to be “the best heavy metal album ever.” And who’s going to challenge Henkka T. Blacksmith on that topic?

24. The Showtime series Californication chronicles David Duchovny as author Hank Moody. The titles of his first two novels on the show are South of Heaven and Seasons in the Abyss. His third effort is named God Hates Us All, which Simon and Schuster actually published as a real book. It’s not dedicated to Slayer, but it should be.

25. In 2014, Slayer released an official Christmas card that reworked SITA’s cover art with a Santa Claus motif and declared: “Seasons Greetings… In the Abyss.”

Mike McPadden is the author of the book "HEAVY METAL MOVIES: Guitar Barbarians, Mutant Bimbos, and Cult Zombies Amok in the 666 Most Ear- and Eye-Ripping Big Scream Films Ever!" (Bazillion Points, 2014).