American thrash metal legends Slayer are back in the game with a new album, ‘Repentless’, silencing critics who doubted they’d release more material after founding member/guitarist Jeff Hanneman’s death and Dave Lombardo’s departure from the band in 2013. It’s obvious that Hanneman’s influence to Slayer was quintessential to their success, and after enduring a couple of years where his death certainly spelled bad luck for the band, ‘Repentless’ is here to prove that Slayer can still kick ass.
Lombardo’s signature drumming style is sorely missed, and so are Hanneman’s memorable riffs and solos, but their replacements Paul Bostaph and Gary Holt (Exodus), metal veterans themselves, do a great job adding a new feel to Slayer’s music. In this sense, ‘Repentless’ is not a great Slayer album, but it’s a darn good one in itself. It cannot match up to Slayer’s 1986 masterpiece ‘Reign in Blood’ or their 1990 milestone release ‘Seasons in the Abyss’, but it can distance itself from these and sound good in its own right.
Two tracks, “Implode” and “When the Stillness Comes”, were debuted by the band prior to the release of ‘Repentless’, and these embody the vibe that the rest of the songs, and the album as a whole, carry. Heavy, open-stringed riffing over quick drumming: trademark Slayer, but not quite the same. However, it’s worth noting that the screaming banshee that was Tom Araya in the 80’s hasn’t disappeared into middle age, and instead, delivers some high-pitched and powerful vocals on the album. “Implode” carries such vocals, and these astonishingly well-intonated vocals are found on other songs like “Piano Wire” and the title track “Repentless” too.
Listening to the full album – at 12 songs and 41 minutes in length – is a challenge, since the drumming gets monotonous after about 8-10 songs. It’s evident that Bostaph, a guy who can nail all of Lombardo’s parts (this is no walk in the park, by any stretch of imagination), hasn’t been given enough creative freedom to come up with a belter of a performance on the album. Still, having to fill in such big shoes is difficult, but Bostaph conjures up some remarkable drumming on songs like “Vices” and “Take Control”, where he fits the shifting vibes of the songs quite smartly. His drums sound natural and are well-mixed, so that’s a big plus. The mix is produced very well, and the guitars and vocals are heard perfectly over one another.
Quite obviously, these guitars, courtesy of the infamous Kerry King, are the driving force behind the new music. It was reported that Gary Holt wasn’t a part of the song-writing, so that’s surprising considering the fact that tracks like “Chasing Death” and “Pride in Prejudice” work extremely work with dual guitar work. Either way, Holt will perform them on stage with Slayer, so these riff-laden tracks won’t have their potentials wasted by the lack of a second guitar.
‘Repentless’ will be a revelation to anyone that has just discovered the world of metal, and Slayer deserve credit for that. The album definitely falls short of “legendary” status, a benchmark set by Slayer itself, but it succeeds in being, simply, a great thrash record. If one can look past the logo that stands for a band that helped pioneer a whole genre of death metal music, the new music is sublime and well-composed. It takes time to do this and grow into the new music Slayer has offered, but it’s worth the effort.