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Relentful. - 45%

Napalm_Satan, September 17th, 2015
Written based on this version: 2015, CD, Nuclear Blast

I really thought that Slayer had got their shit back together after the very good World Painted Blood. They had their maximum anger style pretty much worked out after '09... but clearly Hanneman had a very large part to play in their continued ascent from their slump towards the turn of the century. Not to say he was perfect as a songwriter (Diabolus In Musica, anyone?), but he got his act together sooner than the others, because this is a worrying regression.

I have said this before, but here goes: Slayer have done 3 things very well. They can either up the tempo and write many short songs with almost no let-up in the intensity (Reign In Blood, Undisputed Attitude), slow down and focus more on a sinister and/or doom-like atmosphere (Hell Awaits, South Of Heaven), or mix the two together in varying degrees (1990-1994, and 2006-2009). What they suck at is essentially a 90's version of the latter - slow, pseudo-sinister groove that aims for superficial heaviness rather than letting the atmosphere produced do the talking. And here in lies the main issue: Repentless focuses far too much on the groove nonsense that dominated their worst album, the abominable Diabolus in Musica. Stuff like 'When the Stillness Comes' and 'Cast the First Stone' are bad attempts at recapturing the essence of past atmospheric tracks like 'Divine Intervention' or 'Dead Skin Mask'. This slow, plodding rubbish pretty much dominates the mid-section of the album, leading to the ever annoying 'blur in the middle' that so many albums seem to have.

And of course, another issue that arises from this is that the more slow tracks there are, the less fast ones there are, obviously. They are too few and far between, and though these tend not to work as well for reasons I shall get on to, 'Repentless', 'Atrocity Vendor' and the 3/4 paced 'Implode' are a massive step up from the annoying grooves that form this album's bulk. They essentially amount to b-side World Painted Blood songs, and are just below the same level of quality as GHUA era thrashers like 'Disciple' or 'Exile'.

The reason that even better tracks on this album are below the quality of their former second worst album is because the two members you notice the most, the guitarist and the vocalist, sound goddamn tired. Araya is really starting to sound old now. He pretty much curbed back that horrid strained sound on World Painted Blood, but his performance here is sub-par. The problem is that his aging voice does not convey the sinister atmosphere so much, despite his best efforts to do so. Though he is listenable, he hardly does the slow tracks any favours. His performance on faster tracks sounds worse, for some reason. He is using the same style as before, but it just comes across as less driven and passionate than on their 2009 effort.

However, I can't blame Tom entirely for this, because the riffs underneath him sound more tired in execution and composition than him. Though King's early contributions to the band are often ignored (for instance, he wrote the music for 'Evil Has No Boundaries', 'Show No Mercy', 'Black Magic' AND 'Piece By Piece'), his songwriting capabilities have degraded somewhat, as it turns out. As stated, his work on the slow tracks leaves much to be desired, and even the faster ones have issues. They never go anywhere. They start well, but just kind of aimlessly thrash (or groove) about before ending arbitrarily. His riffs are mostly rehashes of previous work, either hearkening back to the boring grooves of 2001 or the mediocre rehashing of their faster 80's songs. They are kind of boring to be honest, which is not something you would expect from any Slayer album.

The rest of the instrumentation isn't too bad, though. Tom Araya was never a notable bassist (because you can never fucking hear it), though the album doesn't sound thin or light, so clearly he is doing his job. Paul Bostaph has once again filled the shoes of Dave Lombardo, and performs admirably in the face of boring groove. He is constantly trying to jazz up the music with several fills thrown all over the place. It is not wankery by any stretch, but no amount of good drumming can cover up unsuitable vocals and mediocre riffs. Gary Holt steps in to replace Hanneman and King on the leads. This finally brings to an end the self-parody of stupid whammy bar noise that plagues even their best recent songs. In their place are more melodically accomplished, yet aggressive, conventional soloing that is not too far removed from his work with Exodus. However, once again, good riffs, tolerable vocals and decent songwriting make the album, with suitable production helping considerably.

That is another thing to address - the production. It is a step up from the exceptionally dry and loud Death Magnetic styled production found on their 2009 album, and is one of the few improvements they make. However, they kept the loud part of the equation, and essentially go back to the artificially loud GHUA production job. Loud mixes doesn't make any sort of dull tripe more aggressive, because the music has to be aggressive before the job can accentuate the fury behind the music. There are no dynamics in sound or mood to speak of. Slow moments are just as loud as fast ones, because that is the modern production job.

This is not Slayer's worst, but it is Slayer's second worst. Even God Hates Us All is a more driven and passionate sounding album than this. Despite its moments, there are no 'Payback's or 'Disciple's here. That album even managed slow songs better, because 'Bloodline' and 'Scarstruck' are some of my favourite modern Slayer songs. Another issue this album has is a massive sinking feeling surrounding it - because as the past has proven, Slayer albums with only one guitarist writing on them always prove to be flops. Unless King stops hogging the songwriting and lets Holt contribute; things can only get worse for Slayer from here. If it does happen, then great! We will see a more traditional Bay Area sound from them, what with Holt's roots in Exodus. If not... then just don't bother with Slayer anymore. As a fan, saying that really hurts. It would seem that Hanneman was Slayer after all.

R.I.P. Jeff Hanneman (31/01/1964 - 02/05/2013).