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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)