Up until this point, Slayer had built an incredible back-catalog of albums that sat well with just about everybody. There may have been a few naysayers towards South Of Heaven in regards to dialing back the momentum, but for the most part, the fans were all in. Divine Intervention is where the great divide (divine?) began, and some people looked at their albums more negatively. What’s special about this one is that it’s before Slayer hit what we call the “modern” era; it still has the same base sound as Seasons In The Abyss, but the song construction itself is different. Today we’re going to do something a little bit different. My colleague Chris Latta and I are taking it upon ourselves to discuss Divine Intervention for its twenty-fifth birthday, as we have different perspectives on the album.
– Nichalas Edward
Nick: I’ll admit that this one did take me longer to get into than the classic run of albums because the hooks are far less apparent. Even though Undisputed Attitude was their punk covers disc, I could pick up a slight interest in doing something punkier with Divine Intervention. Case in point, the short “Sex. Murder. Art.” and a classic known as “Dittohead.” Both are sped up to extreme speeds, and the delivery fits well with the crossover acts; plus, the former ends on a slower slam-ish note. Not every song hits with the same punches, but those two were the first standout numbers to me.
Chris: Divine Intervention honestly isn’t that far removed from South of Heaven or Seasons in the Abyss, marrying the former’s ominous overcast with the latter’s varied song styles, but it is a lot trickier to get a feel for. The songwriting method certainly plays into it, but I think the production is what truly sets it apart. It’s quite raw as the guitars are grainier, the drums seem more in your face, and the vocals are more privy to experimenting with different effects. It’s a very ‘nineties’ sounding album with an almost urban flavor that suits the more realistic takes on violence and brutality. It is rather off-putting at times, especially when compared to the immaculate mixes on the band’s classic trilogy, but it fits the vibe that they were going for.
Nick: The production does make a difference here, and I can see how it more or less flattened some of the potential. But the title track is boosted by it because of how horrific Tom Araya’s drawn-out vocals sound in that. It does, of course, add a bit of an echo to the quieter passages, but that doesn’t soil it. What you said about the drums being more in your face is definitely true, though. This shows immediately on the intro to “Killing Fields.” As a matter of fact, I thought that song yielded a pretty strong start, especially considering they’d dropped Dave Lombardo for Paul Bostaph.
Chris: Starting the album off with that drum intro was definitely a ballsy move on Slayer’s part. It reminds me of how Judas Priest opened Painkiller in a similar fashion; “Killing Fields” obviously isn’t that flashy, but the rather ugly drum approach lets you know the band won’t be going about things the same way they had before. The rest of the song doesn’t really stand out all that much to me, but it is serviceable enough.
Nick: I love the entire song. The progression of going from a slow-burner to a ripper that fits in with “Dittohead” a bit more is my favorite part. Especially when it gets to “the choice is made at free-will just like the choice to kill” line; Tom’s delivery with that is unstoppable! Admittedly, I’ll say the record’s biggest flaw is how awkward some of the slower songs get. The aforementioned title track approached this correctly because of how much horror Slayer laced it with. But take “Serenity Of Murder,” the cleaner sections of this one sound a bit phoned in and dreary.
Chris: In all honesty, the faster songs all feel rather nondescript to me, but the slower songs on this album had so much potential. “213” is easily my favorite song on here with how creepy its Dahmer-theming gets and “SS-3” almost achieves a similar atmosphere, but the execution just gets too stiff for my taste. The title track is another potential highlight with its effective opening riff, but the vocal distortion effect always turns me off.
That plays into what I think is the biggest issue with this album: The vocals. While I respect the decision for Tom Araya to adopt a cleaner approach after Reign in Blood, his limited abilities resulted in often stiff, monotonous performances. It wasn’t as much of an issue on South of Heaven or Seasons in the Abyss due to the vibrant musicianship and engaging songs, but it doesn’t work as well here. He’s not as screechy as he would get on subsequent albums, but the angry vocals sound forced and the more melodic segments come off awkward. I don’t think it’s an issue of vocal decline but rather that he just didn’t have as much to work with.
Nick: Seeing that this is the largest gap between records, you’d think that there would actually be more to work with. In any case, while many see Seasons as the final album of the “classic” run, this is where that style was finished off. It certainly does have some awkward sections for sure, but overall I at least think they exited this approach on an interesting note. That being said, I wouldn’t call Divine Intervention essential, but certainly one worth hearing at least once for all fans of the genre.
Chris: Even if Divine Intervention leaves me cold at times, I can’t deny its unique place in Slayer’s discography. It’s a very noticeable step down from the classic quality of the band’s first five efforts but doesn’t go off the deep end seen on the following Diabolus in Musica. It is rather dated, but this results in an endearingly flawed presentation that could only happen in the mid-90s. The musicianship was slipping, but Paul Bostaph does a pretty good job of working with the style at hand and keeping the dynamic together.
I may not be able to get much of a feel for this album’s mixed bag approach, but I certainly see why it has its fans. Feel free to give it a refresher if you haven’t listened to it in a while. Who knows how time will change one’s perception.
Divine Intervention came out on September 27th, 1994 through American Recordings. It is available in CD and cassette, as well as a few rare vinyl pressings (including a red disc). This has been remastered on CD and pressed to newer vinyl pressings, all available at Discogs.