No metal band has stayed good as long as Slayer. Maybe Motörhead, but that's all. Christ Illusion improves on its predecessor, 2001's clunky God Hates Us All, the low point of Slayer's 24-year run. The band's ninth studio album is comparable to its earlier standouts, but its relentless frenzy lacks the subtleties that made Reign in Blood and Seasons in the Abyss high-water marks. Even with original drummer Dave Lombardo's return to the fold, the disc feels like the transitional phase of an upswing. Writing together, guitarist Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman are thrash metal's finest lyrical tag team, capable of creating lyrics so striking that Tori Amos covered a song. King wrote most of this album himself, dipping his quill in blood. Saving complexity for blinding guitar leads, he's content with middle-finger missives like "You'll never see the Second Coming/It's all a fuckin' mockery" ("Skeleton Christ"). Sixteen years after Seasons, the shredders' dizzying fretwork in "Eyes of the Insane" is a killer soundtrack for the latest Gulf war the times haven't changed much, and neither has the music. Thankfully.