RSS Feed


Nuclear Blast (2015)
Rating: 7/10

I seem to be one of the few people who enjoyed Slayer’s last outing World Painted Blood (2009). I was certainly under no illusion that it would be a classic; after all, the last Slayer album to be considered truly great came in 1990 with Seasons In The Abyss, and that is a hell of a long time ago.

Since then, Slayer have gone from the very good (1994’s Divine Intervention) to the diabolical (1998’s Diabolus In Musica).

There’s no denying that Slayer has a brutally loyal fan-base; one which will rip your head off should you say a bad word about anything they have churned out. But the cold, harsh facts are that the last batch of albums – from God Hates Us All (2001), through to Christ Illusion (2006) and then the aforementioned World Painted Blood – have been standard fare where the lows have been very low and the highs not very high. We know what’s coming with Slayer; whether it is laughably fast and overly aggressive or slow, brooding and all too keen to recreate 1988’s South Of Heaven.

For me, the boys have always been stuck in a quandary; somehow unable to move with the times they’ve given the loyal worshippers exactly what they want, but it’s never really been good enough. But surely that’s understandable. After all, Tom Araya, Kerry King, Jeff Hanneman and Dave Lombardo were responsible for releasing some of the greatest, and most extreme metal albums of the 80s / early 90s; albums it should be said that can’t be matched. Of course, this applies to most bands, and so over time when they either try to move with the times or simply run out of ideas we criticise. Although deep down we sympathise and hope for those halcyon days to return.

But those times have gone, and this album offers a harsh reminder of that simply due to the fact that it’s only Araya and King left from that classic line-up. With Lombardo gone again – replaced once more by Paul Bostaph – we might just be able to cope, but with the passing of Jeff Hanneman in 2013 it seemed only right that Slayer should hang up its studded wristbands and pentagrams. But no, they march on again propelled by Kerry King’s belligerent (stubborn?) attitude which again is expressed through a set of lyrics which try so hard to be aggressive and hateful, but fall on deaf ears.

Personally, I don’t think Slayer can win – if they play fast they are accused of trying to mimic Reign In Blood (1986), but if they slow down then they are trying to replicate South Of Heaven. And if they attempt to mix both then it’s clearly a Seasons In The Abyss rip-off.

With Repentless, the 12th Slayer instalment, the lads have enlisted the talents of Gary Holt – the man responsible for leading San Francisco Bay Area thrashers Exodus into battle! It seems a perfect fit, and in a sense it is – Holt giving Slayer a much needed jab in the ribs and freshening up the sound. Us fans just have to look beyond the absence of Jeff Hanneman and move on.

So, what we get is another Slayer album that is workmanlike, consistent, hinting at the past, and full of the usual familiar chords and variations of pace. That’s not to say it’s always predictable, but do we really want Slayer to do anything different anyway? Of course not, but the issue is, as always, could King and company get those hooks into our brain and give us something more than “routine”?

Well, as soon as ‘Delusions Of Saviour’ kicks in I’m reminded of South Of Heaven; slow, dark, ominous, and yet sadly it’s a two-minute instrument that’s just over too quickly in my opinion. But when the title track hits we know it’s time for another Slayer whirlwind; the quartet raging hard and fast amidst the frothy yelps of Araya and King’s usual wailing licks. It’s a decent track that hints at a mid-80s thrash assault given extra whiplash by Gary Holt’s fury. Yes, it’s still the sort of track one could have imagined on God Hates Us All or Christ Illusion, but there’s an added vim which takes it beyond that sort of mediocrity.

Paul Bostaph will always be considered a top sticksman. Yes, he lacks that mercurial Lombardo thunder, but he’s still that ideal boot-filler; hammering like a maniac.

The deeper we become embroiled within the opus we realise that King will continue to come up with those dodgy song titles, Araya’s vocals will always be of that same blood-soaked standard, and I’ll always be left scratching my head at some of those lyrics.

With the blandly titled ‘Take Control’ we get an interesting mix of classic metal and fatal fury; it’s an infectious slap to the face bolstered by the swirling leads and mix of deep chugging, frenzied spirals and typical war-torn lyrics. ‘Vices’ begins as one would expect as a contemporary thrash track as the riffs sort of roll to accompany the bruising bass and drum tandem. It’s Slayer throwing in the usual mid-tempo chuggernaut. It’s also typical of a band soldiering on and refusing to deviate from its chosen path, and I guess that’s something that will please most. But for me, the track appears tepid, only firing with an all too brief fizzing solo at the two-minute mark.

‘Cast The First Stone’ begins in ominous fashion. Again it’s routine Slayer – the cascading drums of blackness, the tumbling bass and then eventual passage into groove metal. It’s pretty basic to be honest; a no frills exercise that could have easily sat comfortably on the last album.

And this is the moment where Slayer gets patchy, because ‘When The Stillness Comes’ is just flat – a tired, formulaic trudge severely lacking Lombardo’s pummelling. Araya becomes narrator; his snarling tones accompanied by an almost plodding spectre of sound. But ‘Chasing Death’ ups the pace, although it’s still as dull as dishwater. Such a tune is mere filler in my opinion, taking us back to the middle of the road – and it’s a tune that boasts a sound that appears empty, faceless and cold.

Maybe the dreadfully titled ‘Implode’ can offer something? But no, it meanders in retro fashion until the usual injection of pace. There are hints of the Reign In Blood album, if only for its orchestration and eventual pace accompanied by Araya’s ghastly screams, but again it’s a track you expect from Slayer.

With ‘Piano Wire’ we find Slayer dropping the pace initially, before reverting to thrash mode giving us something a tad different – the chords are a progression from the usual as once again the pace lowers. It’s still Slayer – of course it is – but there’s a coating of menace before we’re bombarded by those scorching solos. Indeed, ‘Piano Wire’ is one of the best tracks on the album, bringing that healthy mix but also catchiness – almost grating at times while lapping at the shores of South Of Heaven.

And then we come to the tail end of the record. ‘Atrocity Vendor’ hits with a catchy punk edge and then becomes another volatile expression; Araya is on the verge of bursting a blood vessel as he spits the obscenities, and there’s no let up with pace at all. The saturated solos rip and tear the flesh and Bostaph must have been on a caffeine trip to have come up with such furious hammerings, and yet it just doesn’t convince in all its attempted fury.

‘You Against You’ offers up some masterful Holt shredding; another tale of ultra-violence backed up by a typically modern promo video. It still reeks of angry Slayer, but what it also does it showcase how the band should naturally sound in the present rather than confusing itself with the past. But however much you delve into the dynamics of Slayer you know what you are getting, and whatever they continue to churn out will no doubt sound similar to this or the last handful of records, and that’s a fact. So, as the moodier ‘Pride In Prejudice’ closes the record with some aplomb I’m left neither disappointed or excited. The track, for all of its gloomy quality sums up Slayer in the last decade or so.

For me, speaking as a fan whose life was changed by 1985’s Hell Awaits, Slayer now exists like a famous football team that was glorious in the 80s and early 90s. Although not quite living in the past, they wander like a unit made legendary by its history; a history so wondrous that its fan-base still believes in a similar present and future. But it never happens, because the world it was once part of has drastically changed. While not quite a mere nostalgia act as yet, Slayer needs to take a step back and decide how to go on. Whether that’s as a heavy metal version to the Rolling Stones or as a band unable to produce anything new above the standard remains to be seen.

Neil Arnold

<< Back to Album & EP Reviews

Related Posts via Categories