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I bought "Divine Intervention" when it came out and still feel the same way about it today as I did back then. It sounds a bit too dry, too forced, and just a little uninspired. I'd say "Season's in the Abyss" is when Slayer finally started to repeat themselves and were beginning to run out of new ideas and sounds. That's not to say "Seasons" isn't great, because it's a fucking masterpiece, especially the title track! But by "Divine Intervention" it was modernizing an old formula with a new drummer who was trying to fit in and be himself at the same time. For me, that album never quite clicked, as obvious as it should have. So when "Diabolus in Musica" came along, I was not sure what to make of it.
I was a big fan of Pantera as well as my share of grunge. But "Nu Metal" was never something I bought into. Was not into Biohazard, Fear Factory, Korn, etc...I didn't even care for Machine Head's first album. But as the years have gone by and nu metal has sort of died down and bands have again embraced the popular stereo types allocated to their respective genres, I popped in "Diabolus" to see how it holds up. To my surprise, it is a great album. Probably Slayer's only great album post "Seasons."
First off, the sound is heavy ass all hell. Great care was taken to create a sound here that is at once organic, crushingly heavy, interesting, and somewhat varying. The bass, for example, is easily Araya's best tone on any Slayer album. It's obvious the band (or Rick Rubin) were really scrutinizing themselves and asking what they have NOT done previously. "Well hey, why not have a killer fat ass bass tone on this one?" Now let's talk about the drums - now I am a Lombardo freak. But I decided the main difference between him and Bostaph is that Bostaph is just simply much more stiff and solid. I do not mean this as a criticism. Bostaph, in a way, carries this thing. I mean god, the guy just crushes and shines from start to finish. It must be his finest recorded moment. It's so brutal hearing him just crush those drums and lay it down like a giant steel tractor going 200 miles an hour. What this is, is Slayer performing AS A BAND together. Not trying to "sound like old Slayer." And that is the difference between this and "Divine Intervention." This is what a great band that has had time to work on the songs sounds like. Not trying to recapture an old sound, but to feed off each other and what they are listening to and just let it come together. This is what Metallica always SAYS they do, but end up coming up with complete shit instead. Hats off to Slayer for accomplishing this.
Now, this album is not without its flaws, and that is why it didn't get 100% from me. Araya's vocals are so monotonous and fake sounding at times. They are basically, his best attempt at hardcore vocals. But it's just too hard to take them seriously, with all the effort he puts into it. I hate to say it, but his vocals really are the weakest part of the album. The other flaw would be he leads. While not "bad," they are just so forgettable. But both of these elements are somewhat lost in the production, which takes on a very conceptual sound in my opinion. And I really think the leads in particular, are used more as aesthetic shades of sound here, rather than "I'm a rock star" sort of moments. Again, I applaud them for trying something new. It took balls and it did not involve a ballad. Think about it.
I think it was Jeff Hanneman who once said he didn't really care if Slayer was the "fastest," he just wanted it to be the "heaviest." And I have to say, "Diabolus" has got to be one of the heaviest sounding albums ever. Sure, it is strange to hear Pantera, overt hardcore, or other 90s influences in Slayer, a band who only is supposed to show how it is done, not copy! But I must say, when Slayer tried to modernize here, it was done masterfully. The effort here paid off, and the artistic risk taken was worth it. The result is what I would call Slayer's very last revolutionary album creatively speaking.
Oh yeah, and the "industrial sound" people keep speaking of? All I hear is a very loud master volume which sounds to be just beyond the peak range where distortion occurs. I'm almost certain this was done on purpose to add a level of extremity to the sound. Usually this would be some "arty farty" fake attempt - but I think Slayer and Rick Rubin succeeded 100% here in reinventing Slayer in an interesting, heavy as fuck way. And it reminds me way more of Black Sabbath, CroMags, or COC than it does Pantera or Slipknot, but that's just me. Yeah, it's got lots of groove. But does it really spoil the killer riifs and freaky dual guitar passages? Fuck no, relax and quit tripping off the fact it ain't "satanic" anymore. Just take it at face value and it will crush your fucking skull.