Don't you just hate spoilers? I do, too. That's why I always try to include warnings. However, I sometimes ramble a bit too much here or there and maybe a few (or many) key plot points slip without me giving proper notice. So I'd like to include a blanket spoiler warning for the weary internet travelers of the world: Here There Be Spoilers. You've been warned.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Slayer - Repentless (2015)

This is the third album from 2015 I actually bought in 2015. So I can't throw around superlatives like "this is the year's best album" since I can't really tell you if it is or not. I've heard tell that Symphony X's Underworld album was pretty good, but I haven't heard it. The same with Disturbed's newest one. I know, I'm horrible with keeping up with the music world. 

But I made a rather important promise to myself to pick up Slayer's newest album no matter what. After the passing of Jeff Hanneman, the departure of Dave Lombardo, and the switch to the label Nuclear Blast, I admit I was curious as to just what Slayer could bring around this time. Would Slayer still be Slayer? 

Hindsight being what it is, I realize how stupid the question was to even ask. The choice to soldier on after Hanneman's passing was Slayer enough. Their choice frustrated me somewhat, but I suppose that is a typical fan's passion more so than a logical analyzes. Like AC/DC, Slayer have a formula for success that reminds me of Tom Landry's approach to coaching. The system of Slayer is perhaps bigger than the individuals involved in Slayer so Slayer, like AC/DC, will survive in some form. But will they thrive? AC/DC released an amazing comeback album, but could Slayer release a similarly great album in the midst of their chaos?

It's a miracle they put out an album at all considering the circumstances. And no, this isn't the next Reign in Blood or anything like that, but this album is a tremendous success. It's their best album since 1990's Seasons in the Abyss. Considering that I really enjoyed World Painted Blood (2009), have a newfound respect for Divine Intervention (1994), and enjoyed God Hates Us All (2001) to some extent I can't think of praise that could be more fitting for this album.

Repentless is modern Slayer, but it's modern Slayer with a classic thrash edge. Gary Holt brings something to this band. He didn't write any of the songs as far as I can tell, but there's some serious riffage here and Holt's solos are a breath of fresh air when paired with them. This album is fast, but the riffs have time to breathe. Only one of these songs were taken from Hanneman's vault (writing only, not playing) so it's obvious that Kerry King wrote all of the other songs. Normally, King's songs are hit or miss with me. King has certainly written some kickass recent songs like Cult and Hate Worldwide, but the best songs on the last two albums were undoubtedly penned by Hanneman and Araya. Certainly on Christ Illusion (2006) where he wrote all but three of the songs, King's writing was subpar. World Painted Blood had a few more Hanneman tunes so it's no surprised I enjoyed that one more.

But with Hanneman being gone that means Araya isn't in the songwriting circuit anymore and that Repentless rested solely on King's shoulders.

I think King did quite admirably, too. Some songs I could have sworn to have been penned by Hanneman, but not so. Tom Araya is also in top form. He can't wail like he used to, but his vocal delivery is the strongest it has been in a long time.

This album easily could have been a forgotten or even a maligned release. Slayer fans can be a cruel bunch sometimes. Downright dicks, even. Like a drunk Satanic frat house, they're the kind of fans you just don't want to piss off. But Repentless is a resounding success, silly title and all. It's not without some annoyances held over from other recent Slayer releases, but it's still insanely good.

I've listened to this album at least five or six times since it I bought it on its release date, September 11, 2015. It was released fourteen years to the day after God Hates Us All. That's also the same span between releases that featured Paul Bostaph on the kit. Fourteen years away, but Bostaph hasn't missed a beat in the studio with this band.

Atrocity Vendor, although it is a holdover from the last album's sessions, is a great addition to this album. It sounds so much better despite the lyrics being tamed somewhat. Repentless is a surging title cut about Hanneman himself. It's an angry tune with a fittingly disturbing music video to match. When the Stillness Comes provides a slow dark atmosphere that builds and builds, but it feels like a good song that was cut in half. Whatever the finale was building to isn't there. So, if there is a point off this album, it's because of that song. Piano Wire, the song written by Hanneman, is a solid song. Not great, but it fits the vibe of this album and I really wouldn't have known that was his song if I hadn't Googled.

This album is incredibly even in terms of how good the songs are. There aren't any all-time greats, but there's nothing average, either. Except for When the Stillness Comes which is average.

If I had to choose a favorite from this one it would be either Chasing Death or You Against You, both from the latter half of the album. Unlike Christ Illusion where I had to skip a few songs to make it to the penultimate song Cult (my favorite from that album), I didn't really consider any song on Repentless an obstacle that I had to endure just to get to my favorite tunes. Everything flowed pretty well.

I won't say this is good just because "It's fuckin' SLAYYYEEEERRRR!!!!!" like a lot of people say on the internet, but it is good because a group of people got together and worked on something under intense pressure and came out with an album that stayed true to everything that most fans consider to be "SLAYYYEEERRRR!!!"

Granted, if you choose not to listen to anything Slayer beyond 1990, I guess you won't be missing out on a ton. Those early albums are tough to top. Going back to AC/DC... In a certain mindset it might seem silly to listen to anything after Highway to Hell and Back in Black knowing nothing could ever top them. But I don't think that's the right mindset to have with either AC/DC or Slayer.

I don't think Slayer deserves to be shoved in a vault as something that might as well have quit after 1990. Anyone that says so is sorely missing out. Repentless isn't perfect, but it's a great representation of the human condition. Repentless is, cheesy as it may sound, a repentless release and it's tough to listen to this with anything else other than a sense of respect for those involved.

Slayer is back and all is right with the world. I don't know how much longer they can keep it up, but for now they are back and that is a good thing.

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