I fucking worship Slayer!
I am afraid that I don’t think you’re a metalhead if you don’t adore Slayer and own every record they’ve released. In fact, no – I am not afraid and I make no apologies for that opinion! It is extreme, but hey metal is a way of life.
Now we have that established, let’s look at the eagerly awaited (like every Slayer release) new album “Repentless”. As if you didn’t know, this time around there are extra special circumstances surrounding the band and their latest offering. The death of guitarist Jeff Hanneman is the big one obviously, as half the songwriting team tragically left us a couple of years ago, leaving a big hole. Drummer Dave Lombardo has fallen out with Tom (Araya – bass/vocals) and Kerry (King – guitar) again, therefore Paul Bostaph is back behind the kit, and although Lombardo is my preferred of the two, Bostaph is an awe-inspiring drummer and a great fit. We knew that this time around, Gary Holt of Exodus was not going to be writing for Slayer but would be playing some leads, which sounded very tasty. Also, a big one for many people, including myself, was the involvement of Terry Date in the production and mixing chair. I haven’t heard a bad record either in song or sound quality that he has been involved with over the years – have you? Didn’t think so.
Let’s get up to speed here and look back at the last couple of releases. 2006 saw what was seen as a real return to form on “Christ Illusion”. More King than Hanneman in the writing stakes BUT it was a very balanced sounding collection of songs. Lombardo made his return after a long absence, and Araya was on fine form. It was one of those records where you could easily spin it again, straight away, after it had ended. I saw it as a cross between “Seasons in the Abyss” and “Reign In Blood” and the first classic Slayer album in 16 years.
Three years later, all seemed well; Lombardo still in tow, reports from the studio were exciting and positive and we get another album, “World Painted Blood”. Not a bad record at all; in fact, I wish they would play more from it live and also Hanneman wrote more this time. The songs just didnt quite click for me, in general. They didnt zing and fizz and stay in your brain, like those from “Christ Illusion”. The mix is also a really low point. Executive producer Rick Rubin brought in Greg Fidelman, as he did for Metallica‘s “Death Magentic”, and he seemed to suck the life out of these tracks and Slayer‘s usually bright but heavy-as-fuck sound.
So, we arrive at the present point. Let there be no shred of doubt, Hanneman‘s spectre was always going to loom large over the album, no matter what Kerry KIng says about the fact they hardly saw him in his final years and that he wasn’t talking to pretty much anyone, returning any calls, etc, etc. The fact remains that “Repentless” is the first Slayer output that has no Hanneman-penned tracks (except ‘Piano Wire’) and the first album he doesn’t play a single note on. What do you think a stubborn, set in his ways, pigheaded, arrogant and sometimes seemingly over-macho and insensitive asshole like Kerry King did? He remembered that this is Slayer and he is a big part of that name, wrote the best songs he could and treated it like any other Slayer record, that’s what he did! Oh, and he did a good fucking job, make no mistake!
Is it as good as “Reign in Blood”, “South of Heaven” and “Seasons in the Abyss”. No, but did you really expect that, like really? It is better than “World Painted Blood”, I will tell you that for nothing. I’d even say it’s better than “Divine Intervention”.
Araya is still commanding the second wind he found with his voice in the last 10 years that is smile-inducing. Bostaph is still fantastic and has actually stopped the overplaying that sometimes spoiled his playing in Slayer that he never did in Testament. Here he is doing what is right for the song rather than feeling he has to prove himself to Lombardo die-hards. Holt plays no rhythm guitar, only a few solos, and it fits like a glove to be honest. King‘s songwriting is not in dispute as it is in fine fettle, as is his tightly layered rhythm playing. He has one of the last talked-about right hands in metal, which is pretty shocking when you witness and hear how on the money he is live. Terry Date is a real welcome shot in the arm for the band as well, as a natural, warm and allowed-to-breathe mix is welcome. Levels are spot-on and nothing is fighting or jostling for the spotlight like “World Painted Blood” and “Death Magentic” before it, where all the life was strangled from the mix and it sounded just plain nasty. It seems like once Date found all the tones and correct mics, etc, he just let them go; it is as natural sounding as that. Wonderful.
Highlights? Erm, jeez, OK, well… ‘You Against You’, ‘Piano Wire’, ‘Repentless’ and ‘Cast the First Stone’ are first to come to mind after living with the record for a few weeks.
It isn’t perfect and at full strength all of the time but it is definitely awesome. It is Slayer firing on all cylinders but perhaps needing a bit of a tune up, if you’ll allow me to use a motoring metaphor. I am excited that they are talking about playing five songs from the record in the live setting, which is more than they have from the last two records at any time.
What I think we should all be really stoked for, though, is that the next record is going to not be the first since Jeff‘s passing. It is not going to have crossed arms waiting for a train wreck. It will probably have more input from Gary Holt on it also which, let’s be honest, mixed with King‘s stuff, could be totally fucking devastating!