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Ruminations on Slayer's Lack of Repentance; - 64%

SlayerRob, September 18th, 2015
Written based on this version: 2015, CD + blu-ray, Nuclear Blast (Digipak, Limited Edition)

Often times when I'm watching my favorite sports team stink it up, I sometimes feel the cognitive dissonance of wishing they'd finally hit rock bottom, letting the game fall out of reach so I can quit having my hopes dashed. I've felt the same way about Slayer in the 21st century.

While 2001's one-note, nu-metal tinged God Hates Us All managed to keep things tonally consistent (for better or worse), 2006's average-at-best Christ Illusion felt like a band pulling in two different directions. Yet 2009's World Painted Blood was an inspired return to form, featuring immediate, catchy thrash nuggets. It wasn't a classic, but it was a startling late-career comeback.

Then Lombardo was fired, and Jeff Hanneman tragically died.

Hanneman's death was a stunning loss for the metal community, after which many hoped and expected that the band would call it quits, having lost two core members. Slayer, however, decided to soldier on. Much grousing ensued over the prospect over a completely King-penned album,. After six years, Repentless finally arrived...but is it any good?

Sort of. To its detriment, Repentless often sounds like a band running on fumes. In addition to it's awful title (what is it? a Satanic LLC?), riff-shapes we've heard countless times before reappear...and reappear again later on the album. Detuned groove riffs have also resurfaced despite being all but completely eschewed on the prior album. While these are not inherently a bad thing in capable hands, Slayer's attempts to groove have generally sounded like strained mimicry of acts much better at that sound. Hearing them resurface here is an unfortunate byproduct of King's near-monopoly on the songwriting.

It's also a relatively slow album by Slayer's standards, though this isn't the problem. Rather, it's the lazy approach to songwriting that King employs. King is guilty of thrash-by-numbers at numerous points, to where one could easily hum a riff before hearing it.

Yet once loses hope, the band tends to find its sweet spot and dig themselves out of a hole. The awkwardly titled "Delusions of Saviour" is an instrumental opening that is pleasant enough but largely goes nowhere, but then immediately gives way to "Repentless", an energetic, scorching track that will likely become a new staple in live sets; Araya's voice sounds livelier than it has in decades here. Bostaph offers some great drum fills on "Take Control", and throughout the album as a whole. "Cast the First Stone" bears more of a resemblance to latter-era Testament than Slayer, but packs a severe punch. "Piano Wire", the sole song to have a Hanneman co-writing credit, is a quality timewarp to the Slayer of old, with dissonant riffs and a looming sense of despair. "You Against You" resembles the raw, unbridled tenacity of Divine Intervention's "Mind Control" (in fact, the second half of the album is significantly better than the first).

But too many of these songs are lifeless and lacking identity for this effort to be deemed an overwhelming success. "When the Stillness Comes" has a chilling intro, but squanders that goodwill when the verse begins (at Rockstar Mayhem Fest, this song went over like a dull thud). "Take Control" features Araya in half-assed Diabolus vocal form, and he sounds positively bored on the otherwise decent "Implode". "Chasing Death" resembles a demo track from an up and coming band, hardly worthy of the Slayer brand.

If this album is guilty of one thing, it's how mundane it is - a band that was once revolutionary and exciting should not be committing such crimes. While there are enjoyable songs throughout the album, particularly the second half, the highs aren't particularly high. When Repentless is good, it's rarely if ever great. At its worst, it's more forgettable than bad. That Slayer is still writing good material 34 years after their inception could be considered a victory of sorts, especially after the loss of two critical members. But it's rather deflating to see the band playing it so safe and by the book, especially when there are moments on this album, such as the aforementioned "Piano Wire" that recall the greatness of the past.

Repentless, I suppose, could be considered an occasionally inspired mess, often light on ideas but solid in execution. For an up and coming band, it might be an encouraging start. For Slayer, it's inexcusable. But I suppose for now, it will have to do.