Monday, November 9, 2015

Slayer - Repentless

Slayer’s music has been highly criticized among both hardcore fans and casual listeners since around the turn of the century. Some say it started with Diabolus in Musica and others say it started with Undisputed Attitude. Personally, I don’t really count the latter simply because it’s a cover album and not a full album of original material. Of course one of the obvious reasons that the past 3 Slayer releases (not including this one) have been shrugged off by so many people is the simple fact that Slayer’s sound has remained very consistent (some might use the word stagnant) over the course of their career, but even more so with recent material. While you had them doing some experimenting with different styles, speeds, and structures in albums like South of Heaven and Divine Intervention, their more recent albums have all stuck to the same formula, boring a LOT of people.

Personally, I am a huge fan of God Hates us All and World Painted Blood, but despite that, I do agree that their material is much more stripped-down and straightforward, more so in Christ Illusion than anything else. But the reason why I am writing a review on Repentless and not any of their other new albums should be obvious to anyone that knows about what the band has gone through over the past what seems like 5 years now. Yes, the death of founding member, lead guitarist, and key songwriter, Jeff Hanneman, led many people (myself included) to basically say “well they put out a good amount of classics, they did good, I guess this is it for Slayer”. But of course with the amount of money the band makes and egomaniac (I’ll try to make this the only time I drop that accurate label on him) Kerry King finally being in the lead guitar and songwriting position, why would they stop?? When they announced that they would move forward with King on lead guitar and that Exodus guitarist Gary Holt would become the new official rhythm guitarist, most of the reactions I saw were somewhere along the lines of “not excited, but okay sure why not”.

One last note before I move on to talking about the album (sorry for my wordiness, it’s been months since I’ve written anything) is that Dave Lombardo is no longer in the band (again). Being a HUGE Lombardo fan, this upset me. But in an attempt to stay optimistic, the guy that they chose to replace him is the most appropriate (and only) drummer to do the job, and that’s Paul Bostaph, the guy that replaced Lombardo the FIRST time he parted with Slayer (1992-2001). So okay, new lineup for this album consists of Tom Araya, Kerry King, Paul Bostaph, and Gary Holt.

Slayer is a pretty predictable band, and that has worked in their favor for the most part in the long-term. What I mentioned before about them basically recycling their sound being unpopular among most people may be SOMEWHAT true, I feel that Jeff Hanneman was the main factor that kept things from going totally 100% stale. That’s what I feel kept Slayer on top; Jeff was a master at creating simple, recognizable, easy-to-digest riffs and songs that would get stuck in your head. Yes, diversity did end up becoming an issue as time went on, but still, even after the quality of their music dwindled, there were still amazing things coming out of Jeff’s head. It’s very easy to write a Slayer-inspired thrash metal riff…why the hell do you think there are more underground Slayer copycats than the world will ever know about? Why do you think that most of the underground thrash bands you here are regarded as “sounds like a boring version of Slayer”? The general public was pretty good at predicting that King would only be able to emulate Jeff’s style and sound and would never be able to continue it.

Moving on to the first three songs (not counting the intro track): Repentless, Take Control, and Vices. What the hell does the opening riff to Repentless sound like? IT SOUNDS LIKE FUCKING HANNEMAN. Who wrote it? Kerry King. This whole song is actually surprisingly good! It has energy, groove, it sounds like Slayer, and I am motivated to replay it almost every time I’ve listened to it! Yes, the structure of the intro for the track is WAY overused and is a common tactic used by Slayer dating back to their first album, but admit it, 90% of the time, no one does it as well as Slayer (Havok and Kreator are the only exceptions in a few cases). And this song is one of the best examples of that. After hearing this song, a good amount of faith and excitement in me was restored and I was ready to hear the rest of the album. Maybe King isn’t so bad after all. Maybe after playing with Hanneman for over 30 years, he’s become so accustomed to his style and writing process that he actually has the ability to write riffs just as good.

Take Control is a bit of a step down, but still very promising and keeps the excitement and energy flowing. Classic Slayer sound, but not really anything too memorable, making it easily forgettable. Vices is probably one of the most unique songs off the album due to its lack in speed but huge increase in groove (mainly in the drums). Great headbanging song, if you loved songs like Exile, Skeletons of Society, and Live Undead, you’ll love Vices just as much. This song is also where I started noticing something a bit off. Although I loved the fuck out of this track, the speed and style changes within the song felt much less dramatic than ever before.

When I noticed this, I went back to the other two tracks and noticed that the changes that took place in the song were either minimal or nonexistent. In previous albums, even though each song had the same sound or mood, there were dramatic changes within most of the songs to keep things interesting. Sometimes it was a breakdown, other times it was a slow song that would suddenly break out into full speed with a guitar solo, or just a new riff and speed altogether taking place halfway through the song, etc. There was always SOMETHING thrown in each song that made it special or interesting. And that key feature is one of the main reason that this album gives me the feeling that something’s missing (I just couldn’t put my finger on it at first).

Is this what always set Slayer apart from the hundreds of mediocre bands that tried to emulate their sound? The song structure? After going through some of the underground bands that just sound like a bunch of Slayer covers (some of them are actually really good) like Invasion, Battery, Thraw, Amok, and Hatchet, and Beast, I can now see much clearer why most of these bands seem so boring and..well…mediocre to me. And the second part of this is going back to all the older Slayer songs that were written by Kerry King himself, and I am hearing the exact same thing that I am hearing on both this album and from all those other bands; monotony.

Kerry King is great at writing riffs and songs that are easily recognizable as Slayer songs, but unfortunately, it’s not enough. Some might say it’s because he half-asses it and doesn’t care, I personally think that he is doing his best, but that his best will never be good enough. What’s another way that you can tell? Listen to Piano Wire and notice how much it DOES change in several parts…guess who wrote that…HANNEMAN. This is the one song that he wrote that they decided to throw in, obviously out of respect and in his memory.

As the album goes on, it starts to drone on. I feel like I’m listening to one of the countless mediocre Slayer imitators when I listen to this album. It’s not a BAD album and should definitely be listened to once by anyone curious, but this is about as average as thrash metal can get; it’s boring. Yes, the musicianship is outstanding…Bostaph is an amazing drummer, Holt does a great job and fits in so well that you don’t even notice that he’s there, Araya’s bass playing is great as always and so are his vocals, and King does a fantastic job at shitting out some fun solos and is never sloppy as far as speed and technique goes. Repentless is a song that, although remains the same throughout, is very fun to listen to and has endless amounts of energy. But this sounds old, tired, and dry. I honestly never thought that Slayer would go from being the band that everybody tries to copy to sounding like all the bands that are trying to copy them. This gets an 8/20 from me.