The future of each band lies hovering in an unknown abyss of life’s dooming clock. Bearing the weight of time, even the deepest of roots weaken and succumb to the earth. Surely, these are not the roots that reach South of Heaven. That have Reigned in Blood or Show No Mercy. That have coined a single, indisputable word to found the laws of Thrash and reveal society for all of its antipathies: Slayer. Beginning the newest chapter of an incomparable legacy, Slayer releases their eleventh studio album, Repentless, on September 11, 2015.
Maintaining a steady guile of shock-value antics, satirical prowess, and lawsuits-of-the-offended to fill a room, thirty-four years of Slayer have passed all too quickly. Founding members Kerry King (guitar), Jeff Hanneman (guitar), Dave Lombardo (drums), and Tom Araya (bass/vocals), have allowed nothing to crumble their impenetrable throne. While 1981 has long come and gone for these California natives, their songs remain immortal, and are no match for a few grey beards or lined faces.
Spending just over two decades with longtime label American Recordings, the band parted amicable ways for Repentless and scooped up a new producer along the way. Signing with respected Metal label Nuclear Blast, Terry Date (Pantera, Soundgarden) is the newest successor to Rick Rubin, who had previously produced or executively produced all Slayer albums through American Recordings. After recording Repentless at Henson Studios in Los Angeles in the Fall of 2014, Slayer set out to headline the nationwide Rockstar Mayhem Tour 2015 with King Diamond.
Yet, business details were the least of the band’s future hurdles when it came to finding replacement musicians for Hanneman and Lombardo. Hanneman’s battle with necrotizing fasciitis (flesh-eating disease due to a spider bite) rendered him unable to play guitar in 2011 and ultimately, liver failure claimed the life of the great Slayer guitarist at age 49. Former Exodus guitarist Gary Holt was brought in to replace Hanneman for the then-current tour, and continued touring with Slayer until Hanneman’s death in 2013. It was decided that Holt would be a permanent member of the band, due in part to Hanneman’s own approval of Holt’s skill and dedication. Sparing readers the re-hashed theatrics of Lombardo’s third and final exit, former Slayer and Exodus drummer Paul Bostaph picked up right where he left off. Performing with Slayer from 1992-2001, Bostaph reclaimed his position behind the infamous kit with normalcy and expertise. While the latest additions had band members reeling in excitement, the new factor was bearing a heavy fate with fans. New label, new producers, “new” members, it was all adding up to the assumption: new sound. How could Slayer remain the riotous Thrash kings of all that is Metal with such changes taking place?
Easy: Live Repentless. Deriving the album name from the title track, guitarist and founding member King attributed the new word to a hybrid of “relentless” and “repent.” Inspired by the band’s late guitarist, King wrote “Repentless” to honor the ideas, outlook, and vision which Hanneman lived by. Preluded by the dark instrumental “Delusions of Saviour,” “Repentless” is the answer to all speculation. Detonated with classic Slayer-pummeling speed, the exemplary track grinds between the riffs of King and Holt. On razors’ edge, the two guitarists seal their symmetry, colliding the worlds of classic and current in absolute certitude. Araya’s screeches brand the song in pinnacle form, sounding just a bit higher-pitched than 2009’s World Painted Blood. With enunciating clarity, Araya spits the wrath of King’s heavy lyrical content, honoring Hanneman with lines such as “feeding on my tolerance is all you fuckin’ do/no looking back/no regrets/no apologies.” Ending with abrupt force, “Repentless” demonstrates belonging among pillars such as “Angel of Death,” “South of Heaven,” and “Raining Blood.”
Splintering above King and Holt’s shred-infused intro, “Take Control” highlights Bostaph’s constant command. The reinstated drummer seems to have never left the band, flaunting intense speed and superior Thrash fills. As the song falls into slight breakdown, Bostaph adds his own version of control before blistering into the final shards of concrete blows. Keeping the velocity in stride, “Cast The First Stone” creeps along the thick wall of Araya’s bass, shivering with the crash of intermittent cymbals. Spearing the deep timbre further, King’s rich lead-in sidles up to Bostaph, profoundly leveling the foundation for such a cementing track.
Paying homage to their main songwriter, Slayer included the Hanneman-written “Piano Wire” among the twelve track album. Only one Hanneman-penned song was included this time around, but the band has hinted towards using more of his songs on future releases. The words “more Hanneman” and “future releases” are much to be grateful for. Beginning with a fist-inducing melody, “Piano Wire” is a slow burning wick to the dynamite awaiting liberation. Araya’s greasy vocals do every form of justice to Hanneman’s gem, keeping the focus on words to live by. If it were grammatically correct to quote an entire song’s lyrics, “Piano Wire” would fill the following paragraph. Both “Piano Wire” and “Repentless” are a close tie for stand-out album tracks.
Channeling early ’80s Slayer, “You Against You” is a shredded tapestry of King’s best screeches. Skewering each fret (or perhaps his own fingers), King maniacally drives his guitar into solo-oblivion. Could the massacred sound not be King at all, but Holt debuting some of those sweet skills? The band has suggested Holt has taken on a few solos for the album…however, “You Against You” seems to scream Kerry King. In all the right ways.
In just over forty minutes, Repentless gives fans the brusque reminder of what continues to hide beneath the surface. In case it has not been said enough: the album is a paragon of lyrical brilliance. By keeping old-school Thrash, trenchant lyrics, and nonconformist outlooks at the helm of their career, Slayer remains an indestructible beacon for all. CrypticRock gives this album 5 out of 5 stars.