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Sometimes a fair bit of pleasure can be gained from seeking leftovers, though it will often pale in comparison to the full meal that was enjoyed earlier. That is basically how Slayer's final studio release of sorts with Hanneman still in the fold came out, leftovers following a reasonably solid, albeit less than spectacular LP outing that carries the same name as this single's A-side. It features a band trying to rekindle an old fire that hand largely been lacking for about 15 years, and succeeding to the extent that a band with a decline of good ideas and energy could possibly muster. Say what one may about the continued intensity of the live offerings, as a studio beast, Slayer has been feeling their age for a while, and it shows forth on the contents of this final testament to the now departed Jeff Hanneman.
For better or worse, "World Painted Blood" can be seen as an older, yet slightly less wiser cousin to one of Hanneman's signature songs "Raining Blood", only minus the creepy aesthetic of the band's 80s production sound and a lot of the intricacy that existed in spite of the band's simplistic punk tendencies. The intro riff, while reasonably memorable, comes off a just a tad bit lazy and contrived, though once things finally kick into full speed it finds itself in reasonably solid territory, though most of the guitar work survives by remembering the past than actually trying to expand upon it. Araya's vocals sound pretty haggard, but manage to get the job done without sabotaging the moderately meaty guitar and drum sound that dominates the mix.
The only real reason to both with this offering follows in B-side and World Painted Blood reject "Atrocity Vendor", which finds the band in a slightly better way. This is largely due to the lack of dithering around with slow build ups and breakdowns, hence what emerges is a concise, sub-3 minute speeder that is largely interchangeable with a number of shorter middle songs on Reign In Blood stylistically, and due to its rougher mix, also a bit more organic and old school in character. The riff work is fairly animated at the onset, though it does descend into a cliche mix of tremolo picked notes and 2 chord extended bangs that are just a little too simplistic for their own good, though this largely endures during the noisy lead guitar breaks and obligatory shouted lyrics that pass for verse and chorus. Overall, it's a good song, though it isn't quite up to snuff with where this band was 20 years prior.
Some bands go out with a bang, others with a whimper, but when judging the Hanneman era of Slayer's closing offerings in this and the LP the preceded it, the result finds itself in an obscure sort of middle ground between the two. The songs found on here are likewise an exercise in getting the job done without managing to either mesmerize or revolt, something that is arguably uncharacteristic for a band that was at one time deemed the most dangerous band to come out of the San Francisco Bay Area. If this panted the world in blood, it definitely missed some spots, and if this was hoping to be some grand atrocity, it is unlikely that the history books will pay it much mind. Not bad, but definitely a small footnote in a career of astounding peaks and desolate valleys.
Just over a year after Slayer’s tenth album World Painted Blood was released, its titular single was rereleased in order to present a final unreleased cut from the album sessions. Similar to how “The Final Six” had not been completed in time to make the original release of Christ Illusion (indeed, it was the album’s original title track), “Atrocity Vendor” is otherwise unavailable except as a B-Side on this here vinyl single. Have you generally enjoyed what Slayer has released in the last ten years or so? Then you may proceed without caution.
“World Painted Blood” is one of the slow cookers off the album named for it, composed by Jeff Hanneman with Tom Araya assisting in the lyrical department. There’s nearly a minute of slow buildup and harmonies as prelude, probably intended to evoke sweet memories of “Hell Awaits” but falling flat of this aim. But just as anxiety starts setting in, the first real riff (and what a riff!) kicks in and we’re off, folks, on the hate train to Thrashland. The tempo here, even during the fast bits, is intentionally restrained to maximize the chugging clarity of the main riff set. This makes for a rather curious opener for a Slayer release and one that I did not come to appreciate on the first several listens. But the track hops around between all sorts of tempos (Dave Lombardo showing off, as usual, and doing so quite impressively, also as usual) over its run time and though it’s a bit weak lyrically (there’s a spoken bit incorporated that doesn’t quite sound as sinister as was probably intended), has good dynamics and enough memorable chunks to constitute playability. I’d rather have had a rerelease of the vicious “Psychopathy Red” or the evocative “Beauty Through Order, but this will do; after all, it’s not the point here.
“Atrocity Vendor” is the point of this package, a glimmer of which you may have gotten to hear if you, like I, managed to suffer through that whole “Playing with Dolls film” abomination off the World Painted Blood special edition. It’s Kerry King’s final composition for the album and remarkably, the first thirty seconds or so are pure old-school fan service: I’d have crapped my pants had he written the rest of the song in this vein. But no, afterwards it kicks into a minimalistic modern Slayer affair, similar in tempo to “World Painted Blood” and just as rife with Dave Lombardo’s constant beat alterations. Blazing speed one second, repressed chugging the next, bouncy mid-paced the next, then oh shit, back to the speed again…it’s hard to headbang when the beat changes every couple of bars, eh? If we’re talking steak, the piece as a whole is rather gristly, but once again, there’s enough juicy bits to keep it palatable and hey, some of us enjoy the gristle anyway. Lyrics for this one are impossibly, horribly cheesy, but I’m willing to admit that they’re so awful they’re hilariously brilliant again, much like the enjoyably ridiculous “Payback” from God Hates Us All, one of but precious few bright spots there. Just like with the A-side, Tom Araya shrieking his head off can sell just about any Kerry King lyrical buffoonery any day of the week.
But considering that most metalheads don’t give a shit about new Slayer recordings anymore, buying them just to bitch about throwing their money away, this is hardly recommendable for everybody. But for those that have been on the level since Lombardo’s triumphant return, “Atrocity Vendor” is a worthy addition to the latter day Slayer discography. And at the very least, it’s probably the last time you’ll get to hear Jeff Hanneman wring concentrated hellfire out of an electric guitar: as of yesterday morning, he’s no longer among us. I wouldn’t have picked up a guitar, nor would I be wasting countless hours of my life on the internet writing stupid paragraphs littered with parenthetical asides had Jeff not written the greatest goddamn riffs, songs, and albums I’ve heard in my brief, unworthy life. This single, while not the ideal requiem for an astounding, exceptional career, is nonetheless conclusive evidence that, a quarter of a century after hitting the scene, the man still had it going for him. That alone justifies a listen here.
“What I am, what I want, I’m only after death.”
I hope so, brother. Rest in peace. (5/2/2013)