Few bands embody the metal spirit as much as Slayer do. Slayer never gave a fuck. Never did, never will (as ‘repentless’ so ably articulates) and if you don’t dig Slayer’s uniquely recognisable brand of heavy then you can fuck yourself for all they care. You’ll never hear an apology from Slayer, you’ll never see an ounce of remorse as they trample, roughshod over anyone and anything that gets in their way and, truth be told, most of us would not have it any other way. Even so, there was no question that the death of guitarist Jeff Hanneman severely dented the band, even if Kerry King’s typically forthright way of discussing such matters appeared to show business as usual, and the shows that followed ‘world painted blood’ were muted affairs which pointed to an ominous cloud over the band’s future. Could Slayer continue? All the answer you ever needed is right here on ‘repentless’, the band’s eleventh studio album (featuring returning drummer Paul Bostaph and Exodus guitarist Gary Holt in the place of the dismissed Dave Lombardo and the deceased Hanneman respectively) which highlights just how little repentance Slayer have about the way in which they have conducted career, and which underscores just how potent these metal veterans truly are.
Opening with the instrumental ‘delusions of saviour’, Slayer set an unsettling tone, building from a vaguely eastern riff into a chugging, hulking nightmare that reminds the listener that Slayer remain the very heaviest of the so-called ‘big four’ of thrash. It’s a confident, atmospheric opener that crashes headlong into the none-more-brutal title track, a searing and savage blast of pure Slayer-esque mayhem that is one of the best out-and-out thrash tracks the band have written in years. With Kerry and Gary swapping solos like men possessed and Tom’s ravaged voice raging over the top, it’s a blistering piece of music that sounds like a riot has broken out in your bedroom and, once again, Slayer have effectively made everything else sound tame. ‘Take control’, if anything, takes the pace up a notch, with Paul’s epic drumming impressing at every turn. Meanwhile Terry Date’s production is surprisingly clean, rendering the band’s maelstrom of sonic violence with an enviable clarity that just begs to be turned up loud. It’s another monster of a track and it’s hard to escape the conclusion that Slayer have internalised the turmoil of the last few years to spit out one of their finest albums in years. ‘Vices’ is a tempestuous blast that pitches Paul’s unholy percussive rumble against Tom’s spite-fuelled vocal, although the band can’t resist mixing things up a bit and, just as the relentless grind starts to blur into one, the band tear into a mid-tempo riff that carries, if anything, even more weight. Similarly ‘cast the first stone’ dips into ‘seasons in the abyss’ territory with its brutal trudge designed to utterly quell any dissent whilst ‘when the stillness comes’ shows some sign of diversity as the band draw parallels to Rollins Band at their heaviest with a track that builds a remarkably moody and malevolent atmosphere, with Paul exploring his kit with customary innovation. It’s a demonically powerful track and a sign that Slayer are utilising their full range of sonic tricks on this album.
Having explored the darker recesses of thrash, ‘chasing death’ sees Slayer unleashing a livid beast of a track, building a taut groove that as irresistible as it is powerful. ‘Implode’, in contrast, is a mid-paced workout that initially chugs and sways with simplistic fervour before exploding into one of the album’s fastest, nastiest tracks. A mid-paced track that navigates its way through some interesting changes, ‘Piano wire’ is the one song on the album credited to Hanneman and the feel is closer to that of the more recent Slayer albums than the other tracks on offer here. Far more vicious is the scything thrash attack of ‘Atrocity vendor’ which offers little respite and a couple of truly stunning riffs to boot. Another modern sounding Slayer track, ‘you against you’ could easily fit on ‘world painted blood’ with its staccato delivery and dizzying changes. It only remains for ‘pride in Prejudice’ to close the album and this it does with expert brutality, Paul’s crashing cymbals raining fire over a churning, doom-laden riff that threatens to crumble the very foundations of whatever building in which you are listening. It is an immensely satisfying conclusion to the album and it leaves yu in no doubt as to the devastating strength of Slayer.
As an added bonus, ‘repentless’ comes as a special edition with either DVD or Blu Ray offering up a making of the album and an impressive, pro-shot set from Wacken 2014. With a set list that moves from ‘hell awaits’ to ‘hate worldwide’ via a couple of left-field (and excellent) choices like ‘disciple’ (YES!), it’s a stunning concert, well filmed and with strong (if not amazing) audio. It’s a generous bonus that will undoubtedly appeal to fans and when you factor in the upside down cross-shaped digi-pack, you definitely have a special edition set that’s worth the few extra pence.
Slayer have remained remarkably consistent over the years, never deviating from the razor-sharp thrash with which they made their name. That Slayer are here at all after the emotional pummelling the band have taken of late is something of a minor miracle, but it’s possibly more to the point that Slayer have found strength in adversity and delivered the most consistently enjoyable album since ‘god hates us all’. Paul Bostaph remains a stunning drummer and whilst there are those who will undoubtedly lament the departure of Dave Lombardo, I’ve always found Paul to be a remarkable player whose skills play a major part in making ‘repentless’ such a sonically engaging experience. Kerry King, always an outspoken advocate of the band, also deserves credit for having knuckled down to deliver a truly devastating set of songs that move from toxic sludge to hyper-active thrash on a heartbeat, always keeping the listener hooked. Slayer remain the sound of metal and few would dare to challenge the place, but that the band are still making records as potent and relevant as this is something to celebrate. ‘Repentless’ is a monster of an album and whilst it might not soar to the heights of ‘reign in blood’ (how could it?) it still stands proud amidst a back catalogue that should be considered essential in any true metal fan’s collection.