Thursday, September 10, 2015

Album Review: Slayer - Repentless

Slayer is at a crossroads, that much cannot be denied. When Jeff Hanneman passed away, there was an existential crisis to endure, questions about whether Slayer would still be Slayer without half of the their creative team. Going out on the touring circuit and pounding out the classics is easy, but to create vital new material without the engine running on full power is something else entirely. I'm not going to beat around the bush here. I'm still not sure if Slayer should have gone on as a recording unit. I'm never going to question whether they [can], but I'm not fully comfortable with the fact that they have. Hanneman was simply too important to be replaced by more of Kerry King. Suffice it to say, my excitement and expectations for this new album were not very high.

The album gets one thing right from the very start. If you complained about the thin guitars on "world Painted Blood" (I didn't - I like natural recordings), that problem is gone. Terry Date's production is huge here, with the guitars still retaining Kerry King's less distorted tone, but sounding as massive as ever. Sonically, despite being brick-walled, the album sounds fantastic.

After a slow, creepy bit of an instrumental, we kick things off with the title track, which we have all heard by now. It's Slayer by-the-numbers, which means it should please Slayer fans. My opinion hasn't changed from when it was released prior to the album, namely that it's a perfectly serviceable song, except for Kerry's awful lyrics. That has been a problem going back for several albums, one that makes me curious how someone can spend thirty years as a songwriter and get worse as a lyricist. His nadir will forever be the god-awful "Payback" (despite it being an amazing, catchy song), but he hasn't bounced back far enough for me to not still shake my head at many of these words.

"Take Control" is a far better track, mainly by virtue of it's relative diversity. The main riff is another of those chugging as fast as possible bits that doesn't really feel like a riff, but then the song drops down into a much heavier muted riff that actually hints back at 'that riff' from "Angel Of Death". The vocal lines still aren't the strongest, but the guitars on this one are more than enough to make me forget about that.

The slower numbers are hit-and-miss. "When The Stillness Comes" is a bland, forgettable number, but "Vices" is a surprisingly solid effort. The slightly slower tempo not only allows the song to sound heavier, but it fits Tom Araya's voice so much better than the frenetic numbers. Without struggling to keep up with the music, Tom's voice actually sounds comfortable, and the whole of the song comes together in a nice package.

It's when we finally get to the first song released from the album, "Implode", that it hits me that this has been a much slower album than I was expecting. The whole of the middle of the record was on the slower (for Slayer) side. What that does is allow the band to find some groove for the first time in ages, which helps the songs differentiate themselves from one another. It also gives Kerry a different foundation to write from, so his vocal lines don't dip into self-plagiarism as much as a few of his recent efforts have.

The highlight of the record for many people will be "Piano Wire", the lone song written by Hanneman. It just feels a bit more like Slayer, and offers up one of those little bits that reminds you of what's missing in the form of a ringing chord in the verse that has the perfect amount of unintentional atonality.

When it's over, there's something I can say about "Repentless" that I didn't expect going in; it's a pretty good modern Slayer record. I had my concerns about Slayer at this point in their career, but I have to admit that "Repentless" is a better record than I would have predicted. You can't compare this to their 80s era, since everything is so different now. But compared to their recent material, it stacks up well. "Christ Illusion" is easily my favorite modern Slayer record, and "Repentless" slots in admirably behind it. I'd say it's a slightly better record than "World Painted Blood", and guarantees that the Slayer train isn't going to be stopping just yet.

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