Slayer and heavy metal go hand in hand. Enter any gig venue or festival in the world that plays heavy music and somewhere there will be someone wearing a Slayer t-shirt, probably screaming into the air while chugging a bottle of whiskey. Yet, recent years haven’t been kind to the band. The sad passing of Jeff Hanneman and the departure of Dave Lombardo sees 2015’s Slayer looking a bit different.
When ‘Repentless’ hits though, you would be mistaken for not realising that. A screech of a guitar and it charges off, sounding for all the world like classic Slayer. It’s only when you listen closer that you notice the differences. Araya’s vocals aren’t as strong as they once were and the truth is Slayer can’t play at the speed they once did.
The speed issue is one that was always going to be addressed and Repentless does that. ‘Vices’ is the first hint that Slayer have become aware of their own weaknesses. It’s more of a chugger than a thrasher and as Araya declares ‘let’s all get high’, it almost feels like a stoner metal track. It’s an idea that is continued on ‘When the Stillness Comes’, a brooding track with a lurking air of menace. It’s Slayer slowed down to a crawl and at this point in their career it sounds better than they do when it’s turned up to full speed.
Not that they can’t still occasionally do that and Gary Holt has stepped ably into Hanneman’s rather large shoes. The band haven’t stopped him making his mark and his guitar sound is all over this album. It’s a credit to him that your casual fans might not even notice the difference. This is a Kerry King album though and with the slowing of the pace his rhythm guitar becomes even more important. Tracks like ‘Cast the First Stone’ are built around him and it’s hard to call that anything but a good thing.
Sadly, not everything succeeds and Slayer do occasionally feel their age. ‘Chasing Death’ is a bit of a clunker, never really rising above its average roots and struggling to be anything more than a stunted thrash metal track. It sounds like someone trying to be Slayer without having the passion or the talent to back it up. It’s even more frustrating to hear when they follow it up with ‘Implode’, which comes about as close to classic Slayer as we are likely to hear in 2015.
To expect Slayer to rip up the rulebook once again is unfair. They’ve done it before and now they are perfectly content to be the band that they are. However, Repentless does begin to show a changing of the guard. Kerry King’s elevation to chief songwriter sees Slayer starting to accept their age and tweak their sound in accordance with it. While it’s sad to see the thrash tsunami being pulled back a bit, this new more measured Slayer could easily see them gaining a new lease of life yet.