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I have to admit, when this album came out I initially took no notice. For the first time in many years, I wasn’t at the store on release day to pick up the new SLAYER album. Boy, did I pick the wrong album to blow off. “Diabolus In Musica” marks a magnificent return to form for the band. For me, the two things that push a SLAYER album from the “pretty damn good” category to world class metal are Jeff Hanneman’s song writing and Rick Rubin’s production. My favorite SLAYER albums–-“South of Heaven”, “Seasons in the Abyss” and now “DIM” all have those commonalities. “Reign in Blood,”no doubt as classic as SLAYER gets, also was produced by Rubin, but the song writing duties were more evenly split. Although Hanneman and Kerry King both always have writing credits on each album, over the years they have begun alternating being the main contributors on albums.
Between 1990's “Seasons in the Abyss” and “DIM”SLAYER released “Divine Intervention” in 1994 and 1996's album of punk covers, the ill fated “Undisputed Attitude.” After those two albums I lost interest a little. King’s songs on “Divine Intervention” have definite punk element added to the band's thrash sound, and the album of punk covers just two years later left me thinking the band had taken a turn in direction away from their more classic sound. On this album, improved writing, production and a reformed style add what was missing.
The band makes their intention clear with the first song. “Bitter Peace” begins with a muted slow riff intro before the full band and volume kick into the track (a la “Ghosts of War”). Not only do they kick in, they double the pace and the song starts to really fly. The sound is thick, the band is tight, and the song is brutal. And just like that you know: SLAYER is back. They pull the same trick with the second track, a rhythmic intro straight into a heavier and quicker verse. The intro is short and the effect is that the listener has a couple seconds to catch a breath before plunging right back into the ferocious pace. Don’t think its all a rehash of the past, though. The band tries a few new tricks, most notably the slower, groove heavy verse of “Love to Hate,”which also finds Tom Araya using a modified vocal approach to his usual gruff bark. This is one the fans will either love or hate–-it works for me.
Poor Paul Bostaph. As well as he drums, the fans always say the same thing: “I wish Dave Lombardo was back.” No doubt Lombardo is a legend, but Bostaph plays incredibly well on this album, and like Lombardo his contribution is a major factor in the band’s appeal. He is a force throughout the album and his rolling double bass on the intro and outro of “Stain of Mind” is just one example of how he makes a great song even better.
Fans always gripe when people compare albums to older favorites. You may or may not think this album is as good as “Seasons in the Abyss” or “South of Heaven.” However, I do believe that if you favor the style and sound of those recordings then you will dig “Diabolus in Musica.”