The past few years haven’t been easy for Slayer. With the departure of original and longest tenured drummer, Dave “The Godfather of Double Bass” Lombardo, and the death of guitarist Jeff Hanneman, the band’s future was more than a little uncertain. Bassist and frontman, Tom Araya, had said he wasn’t sure if he wanted to keep going as it would feel like starting over. Guitarist Kerry King, on the other hand, was a bit more positive, certain that Slayer would continue. Well, King’s persuasion skills must match up with his talent for demonic wailing, because Slayer is back, and they’re the same as ever. And that’s pretty awesome.
When a new Slayer record is released, you know what you’re going to get. The music will be fast, the lyrics will be offensive and everyone in earshot of your stereo will be pissed. At this point in Slayer’s 30 year career as one of the thrash elite, they know what they do best. They’ve secured the ability make the same record over and over again—which is by and large what they’ve been doing for three decades—through their longevity and notoriety, and despite recent troubles it seems they have no plans of stopping anytime soon.
Repentless is classic Slayer. Slayer fans, you guys already know what I mean. For the rest of you, here’s a little breakdown of what you’re in for should you decide you need sate some rage. “Delusions of Saviour” starts off Repentless in much the same way dozens (hundreds?) of thrash records have begun: A slow, clean, grim riff played through an amp with the treble cranked to 10. It may be skippable, but this trash trope is an inexplicable tried and true method. It works because it’s always worked. And what the hell, why not?
“Repentless” and “Take Control” are the blistering sort of fast Slayer is known for. All tremolo picking and fury, Araya fires off a vocal barrage condemning everything from religion to war, and scene politics to humanity itself. Kerry King’s brand of nearly mindless shredding is featured heavily once again. His solos, devoid of all melody, are perfect in matching the tracks’ belligerent and fitful nature note for note. This is a nasty pair of tunes that could be included on any and all of Slayer’s previous records. It’s what they’re known for, it’s what they do best. If you’re looking for a progression of sonic aesthetic, turn the record off. If you’re looking for Slayer, you’ll get it, and you’ll love it.
Due to Repentless essentially acting as a rehash of everything that’s ever worked on a Slayer record before, the possibility of retreading on material that wasn’t their best is always the risk. Most of the middle of the record consists of mid-tempo stompers that are heavy enough to satisfy that head-banging impulse, but don’t have enough to hold much value on top of that. Again, Slayer has a method to their madness, and these songs still very much fit within their stylistic tendencies. They’re great to listen to with the stereo on full blast, but aren’t nearly as energizing as the opening tracks. “Cast the First Stone,” “Chasing Death” and “Piano Wire” are certainly up to snuff, but the band has written better versions of these songs for other albums.
The final three tracks of Repentless reenergize the record quite nicely. “Atrocity Vendor,” and “You Against You” would fit on Reign in Blood in both structure and execution. While the beats per minute are a bit more restrained, these barn burners have that old fury and speed that made Reign in Blood a classic. The main difference in these songs from that thrashterpiece is the production quality. That’s not to say Repentless is overproduced, though. Producers Greg Fidelman and Terry Date do just enough to make the notes understandable, the palm muting brutal heavy and the solos crisp. They stop where they should, though, in keeping the distortion fuzzy, the drums enormous, and the vocals set in the mix exactly where they should be: Right up front, screaming in your face.
“Pride in Prejudice” is the standout track of the record. With racial tensions in the United States at the highest point they’ve been in decades, Slayer crafted a song that highlights and condemns the social injustices that have plagued the country in recent years. Musically, the song is more of the same. Keep in mind that the lyrics are still very much Slayer lyrics, offering more rage than a call to action, but nevertheless, considering the times we live in, it’s an important entry into their catalog that is given teeth by the urgency in their music.
Look, Repentless is a Slayer album. It’s awesome in all the ways in should be. It’s nothing more than that. It can’t so much be judged according to modern musical standards because it’s more a throwback than anything else. What makes it good is that Slayer never claims to be anything more than what they are. They’re fast, angry and offensive, bent on pissing off anyone who doesn’t like them. That’s all. Considering they’ve been able to do the same thing for 30 years with only minor deviations from their baseline style it’s nothing short of impressive. If you buy Repentless you know exactly what you’re getting into. And what you’re getting into is pretty awesome.
(NOTE: This review was originally intended for publication by Spectrum Culture. Due to some scheduling and assignment confusion, it was not run on the site. The editors, however, were gracious enough to allow me to publish it on this here ode to egotism. Special thanks to them. And special thanks to YOU for reading!)