Slayer Still Shreds on ‘Repentless’: Album Review

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There was a time when it seemed Slayer could do no wrong. While 1980s thrash compatriots Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax shifted musical direction or floundered commercially, the quartet persistently churned out some of the most extreme and thrilling speed-metal around.

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And yet Repentless, the group’s 11th studio effort, arrives with a fair amount of fan skepticism, a rarity for this revered band. Much of it is due to the fact that the record is the first without co-founding guitarist Jeff Hanneman, who died of liver failure in 2013. Hanneman was the pen behind grisly monoliths like “Angel of Death,” and while nothing on Repentless reaches similar heights of mayhem, overall the album is more focused and fierce than its predecessor, 2009’s Hanneman-assisted World Painted Blood.

The best cuts -- the punky “Atrocity Vendor,” the Hanneman tribute title track -- effortlessly show that classic Slayer attitude: Guitars, played mostly by stalwart leader Kerry King, are sawtoothed and designed to cut rather than pummel, and the drums (by Paul Bostaph, replacing original Slayer member Dave Lombardo for the second time in the act’s history) pound, tumble and constantly reshuffle the beat.

Singer-bassist Tom Araya’s vocals, on the other hand, are delightfully dry and straightforward. Whereas most modern metal frontmen employ cartoonish shrieks and growls to evoke an over-the-top feeling of dread, Araya’s tuneless shout positions him as something more authentic -- an enraged Everyman.

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Repentless does falter, however, when Slayer sounds like it’s overthinking. “Vices” and end-of-the-world diatribe “Implode” are clearly built for speed but instead wind up stuck in a sort of stasis -- rather than heavy, they just feel leaden. But at its best, Repentless reaffirms that Slayer, even shorn of half its original lineup, is still capable of hanging with modern metal’s ever more extreme-leaning factions, all while remaining loyal to a sound they helped to create more than 30 years ago.

This review originally appeared in the Sept. 19 issue of Billboard.

Slayer - Replentless Album Review