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Diabolus In Musica

American Recordings (1998)
Rating: 4/10

Ever since the murky days of their Show No Mercy debut in 1983, I’d been a loyal Slayer fan. Through the gloomy glory of Hell Awaits (1985) to the ferocity of Reign In Blood (1986), and from the slower, more ominous dark clouds of South Of Heaven (1988) to the blood-soaked glory of Seasons In The Abyss (1990), Slayer have pretty much owned the extreme metal genre for decades.

Sadly, after the departure of drum king Dave Lombardo in 1992, things took a turn for the worse. Mind you, in his place came ex-Forbidden sticksman Paul Bostaph, who did a pretty mean job, so it wasn’t his fault that from then on Slayer released what are without doubt their poorest records. The back catalogue was always gonna be hard to match, though.

1994’s Divine Intervention was still very much a thrash record, but the terribly titled Diabolus In Musica proved to me that the once mighty thrash titans were fallible.

Hardcore Slayer fans (which I saw myself as one) will no doubt disagree, but this opus is probably the band’s weakest offering, despite a brace of similarly tepid affairs after.

I’m guessing that the late 90s were a troubling time for the four-piece, mainly due to the fact that despite a couple of good releases from the likes of Machine Head and Fear Factory, metal was pretty much dying on its feet. Slayer seemed to be caught in limbo, unsure whether to imitate all that had gone before in the 80s, or take a risk and bow down to the nu-metal false gods.

Tragically, Slayer opted for the latter, with Kerry King writing some his worst ever songs which seemed more suited to accompanying a beefy wrestler’s entrance down to the ring. And the guitars, usually so piercing and vile, were merely supped up acts of dissonance.

Of all the Slayer records, Diabolus In Musica has the worst sound too, somewhere between that nu-metal groove and modern, so-called extreme metal. It’s somehow polished and yet at the same time grating from the off, with the jarring ‘Bitter Peace’, the almost groove-based ‘Stain Of Mind’ – with Tom Araya’s choppy raps – and the reputedly “updated” structures and dynamics just leaving me cold.

Neil Arnold

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