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The limitations of thrash metal as an art form. - 40%

Empyreal, February 19th, 2016

This album really shows the failings and limitations of thrash as an art form. It isn't something that you can just keep doing forever as you get older and older. Slayer on Repentless are touting this as a return to form, in presentation and aesthetics and the music itself, but how is that even possible? All the good things about Slayer came from their youth – the extremity was the kind that all the best thrash bands had, bestowed upon them by that young, angry zeal and desire to go further than the bands before them had. The lyrics were about Satan and serial killers and Nazi war crimes, and they were presented as what they were, shock tactics to go along with the racy, over the top, extreme music. On here, you get the same thrashy beats, the same machine-gun riffing and Tom Araya's bellowing over top, but it all sounds passe and try-hard when coming from a bunch of dudes in their 50s.

Everything about this is just old sounding. The band sounds fine, but they lack the riotous energy of their youth. And the sound itself is not extreme anymore; the lyrics have nothing new to say, so that has also lost its luster, and even then, a 30-year career full of offensive fuck-you lyrics about war, politics and being angry is kind of stretching it. Nobody is really that angry. On Repentless we get a bunch of technically sound, clean songs that are reasonably aggressive for such old metallers. Nothing is entirely unpleasant, and sometimes you get a decent thrashy rollicking instrumental section, but there's really nothing here you can't get better on Reign in Blood for the faster bits and South of Heaven for the slower bits. Tom Araya sounds pretty awful in parts, and hearing him try for the higher notes now is just kind of embarrassing. The production is super sterile and clean and boring. I even liked the way-too-loud World Painted Blood production better than this.

So then we reach the conundrum – what to do about Slayer? Clearly, expecting them to retire and pack it up just because they're old now is a ridiculous thing to expect. They're making money and they probably like what they do, and they have a ton of fans. They won't retire just because we say it sucks. But as I said before, this kind of balls-out, energized thrash doesn't work when the band gets old. Thrash is a brightly burning spark that quickly is snuffed out by age and complacency in one's life – you can't keep that going forever. Its one purpose is to be aggressive and heavy as fuck, and when a band like Slayer's older material clearly out-performs their new stuff on that one tunnel-vision goal, what's the point? Slayer will keep going, but their limited scope and seeming unwillingness to write fresher-sounding music to combat their audibly older age renders them pretty irrelevant. But they won't stop, so any review saying this is basically screaming in space: no one who matters will hear you.

In effect, am I saying Slayer's career is pointless now? Pretty much. There's nothing to say about Repentless, so I suppose that in and of itself is a good enough conclusion here.