With the possible exception of Iron Maiden and Faith No More, no album has been more debated by fans and the critics before a note had been heard in 2015, than Slayer’s new album Repentless (Nuclear Blast). Their historical position as a leader and a lightning rod for all of heavy music has had varying consequences to their reputation over time. Nearly oblivious to change with the exception of a couple of albums, Slayer does what Slayer wants to do. Similar to AC/DC or Motörhead, if every fan everywhere and every critic bashed this album to death sight unseen, the band might hardly notice anyway.
However, listening to Repentless in full, there is an undeniable void heard on the album, one the band makes no apology or concession to, the loss of Jeff Hanneman, Jeff is not replaceable, nor have they tried to do that honestly. Recall there were entire albums where Jeff barely had any songs or solos, but he is so clearly part of the soul of this band, his licks and style coded into the very DNA of their songcraft. At the same time, this album belongs to Kerry King and Tom Araya to the fullest, and they totally own it like their life depends on it. The future of Slayer’s career surely does.
Opening with the sinister intro track ‘Delusions of Saviour,’ I look forward to hearing many a future concert begin with this gem. The title track comes next and it is fiery in tempo and anger. It is definitely off to an inspiring start. ‘Take Control,’ another recent single is a little more straight-ahead thrash, though it has all the familiar bells and whistles you want from them. Araya sounds as frightening and strong as ever vocally. His delivery makes up a lot of the strength of this album.
‘Vices’ is a terrific, groovy track and reminds me a lot of Paul Bostaph’s work on Divine Intervention (American). Paul’s return is a solid one. He has a few highlights and the outro of the track is one of them. The dueling harmonized guitars and solo parts bear the proper Slayer mark. ‘Cast the First Stone’ and ‘When The Stillness Comes’ also makes up some of the meat of familiar part of the album. ‘…Stillness’ has the Seasons In The Abyss (Def American) vibe that will drive some purists away, while others will love it. I fall into the latter category.
‘Chasing Death’ has them treading on some Exodus or even Pantera territory jamming out on the power grooves they pioneered. Another killer delivery from Tom sells this badass tune. ‘Implode’ was to my ears, the least impressive track and repeat listens didn’t make it grow on me. ‘Implode’ is one of the few tracks where it does seem to lack some of the old (Black) magic of the band. ‘Piano Wire’ is lone Hanneman composition on the album and it is definitely one of the best. I’d like to think Jeff would approve. ‘Atrocity Vendor’, at least in its first few measures sounds like it could have come off of ‘Haunting The Chapel’. That intro is so old-school, it might shock you. Kudos for doing something more akin to something Overkillor Anthrax would try. More great lyrics on this track and some more killer lead work as well.
‘You Against You’ is a nod to more recent albums from the band. The mid-tempo seems to be where this album lives mostly, so when it kicks into overdrive it definitely perks your ears up. It is the most “Jeff” sounding track on the album. ‘Pride And Prejudice’ ends the album on a heavy note with a screed on the current state of the world and a dim view for the future.
Armed with 12 new ditties toasting humanity’s self-destruction, the new Slayer album is a complex one. That they have made a complete album in 2015, should surprise none. Whether it lands in the pantheon of their greatest works, I’m not so sure about that one. Things that hold the album back from greatness are the differing styles of producers Greg Fieldman and Terry Date, the choppy mixing, and perhaps a lack of the uniqueness where a lot of the songs just sound like tributes to their past. Perhaps next time Gary Holt can chime in and co-write some tracks too. Overall Repentless is an enjoyable, fierce album that sounds essentially like a Slayer album should.
8 / 10