Slayer not only has something new to say on Repentless, but a new way to say it.
Recently an internet meme has floated around cyberspace (to marginal impact) featuring Slayer bassist-vocalist Tom Araya with his wife and two kids. The caption focuses on the look on the face of his oldest, reading, “You could be in Slayer and your teenage daughter will still think you’re lame.”
This is both hard-hitting and funny considering the fact that all of the members of Thrash Metal’s “big four” (rounded out by Anthrax, Megadeth and some band called Metallica) have aged considerably. This is also incredibly true. Take one look at the video for the title track of Slayer’s Repentless album and you might note that Araya looks a lot more like Santa Claus than heavy metal’s darkest prophet.
That said, while the years may have left their mark on the band, the music itself still sounds like the edgy, screaming, chugging speed metal of the ’80s. After all, who really expected these bands to continue to rock so hard in the year 2015? Araya himself is 54 years old at the time of this writing; founding lead guitarist Kerry King is 51.
Fans of thrash metal will find a lot of joy in Slayer’s eleventh album. This is something of a surprise, considering the album cover appears to be the same old anti-Christian imagery that Slayer has embraced since their inception. Further, the opening track, “Delusions of Saviour” shows that Kerry King somewhere fell deeply in love with eight beautiful notes. This arpeggio sounds great at first, and the intro seems to show the promise of the album until one realizes the entire two minute track is little more than these same eight notes repeated over and over ad nauseum.
As a career critic, I might have been influenced against the rest of this album, considering the simplicity of the initial track. This would be a mistake, because Repentless almost immediately takes off with the screaming voice of Tom Araya on that aforementioned opening track. Slayer’s imagery may be anti-Christian at first glance, but much like punk rock’s Bad Religion, the real target of Slayer’s wrath is society or, at least, the breakdown thereof. Araya repeatedly screams King’s lyrics concerning war, society, anarchy, vanity and “the fuckin’ scene,” which the band professes to hate.
While these lyrics seemed decidedly subversive and dangerous in the ’80s, listening to their evolution from the year 2015 does not show a stagnancy, nor a band desperately attempting to relive and recreate their past, but a band of proficient rock and rollers who are even more fed-up with life in their fifties than they were in the ’80s.
On the surface, Slayer still performs songs of violence, hatred and rage, but the band does not write lyrics or play music for unintelligent people. They did not become one of the biggest metal bands of the ’80s simply on the gimmick of subversive and satanic imagery. Slayer is a politically influenced band and they show this talent even today. It is, in fact, hard to believe that the album’s release date of September 11 is either an accident or a sign of disrespect. Just under the surface is a serious band with a serious message.
On the surface alone, however, the metal is both toxic and brilliant. Returning drummer Paul Bostaph provides a thundering and ever-changing rhythm for Araya’s bass. Meanwhile, new guitarist Gary Holt brings a quality accompaniment to Kerry King’s superb solos and song constructs.
The truth is that it might be easy to dismiss Slayer after almost 35 years as a nostalgic metal act. This would be a travesty and a mistake. Slayer not only has something new to say on Repentless, but a new way to say it. Yes, Slayer still sounds like Slayer (they have lost none of their edge nor their heavy metal sensibilities) but they repeat nothing on their latest release. Stay through the end for this thundering metallic festival of screaming anger and righteous indignation against the true evils of the world. After all, family man Araya is no Satanist, but a strong believer in something on the other side. That said, he still does his job and makes damned sure that the political lyrics are driven home both clearly and loudly.
Repentless is recommended.