Slayer – Repentless
Release Date: September 11, 2015
The heaviest of the Big 4 returned this month with their eleventh studio effort, and Slayer has vaulted to its highest career chart success to date, sitting at #2 on the charts. This is all great news for a band who parted ways with their longtime drummer, Dave Lombardo, and endured the tragic loss of guitarist Jeff Hanneman. Still, fans would argue that half of Slayer is still better than most of the bands out there churning out wannabe drivel.
Bassist and vocalist Tom Araya and guitarist Kerry King continue to carry the Slayer banner into battle, enlisting former Exodus guitarist Gary Holt, and re-enlisting former drummer Paul Bostaph. While Holt has toured with the band for several years, this marks his first turn in the studio with Slayer. He plays on five of the albums 11 tracks. For Bostaph, Repentless marks his first record with the band since 2001’s God Hates Us All. Of course, if you are a Slayer faithful you already know this.
It has been six long years since the band’s previous effort, World Painted Blood. They tapped Terry Date (Slipknot, Pantera, Soulfly) to produce, and he did a fantastic job of keeping the balance between raw brutality and chiseled heaviness. With the exception of one track, King is credited with writing the entire record. Even Araya lends his lyrics to only a single track. The latter may explain why, as powerful as Repentless is in places, it often comes across as a poor imitation of Slayer. In fact, one might argue that much of the record sounds like King is simply dragging Araya and Slayer along to fulfill his ego. The record just doesn’t pump with the passion of a band that has its head and heart in it.
It is clear that Hanneman’s absence has not only cleaved the balance of the songwriting, but sucked the drive out of the band. The album opens with the weighty instrumental “Delusions of Saviour”, and segues into the title track, which is textbook Slayer. Both are solid efforts, and a decent way to get warmed up. Bostaph does a fine job of powering the band’s engine, and in any other band he would be a high point on the record, but he does not quite bring the same mythic intangibles that Lombardo does, and there are moments throughout the record that you can truly feel his absence.
The intro to the plodding “When the Stillness Comes” sounds tired and repetitive, which is a feeling that surfaces a bit too frequently on this record. Likewise, the lyrics often feel forced and hackneyed. Yet, the news is not all bad on Repentless. Tracks like “Implode”, “Chasing Death” and “Pride in Prejudice” are reminders of Slayer‘s authenticity and authority. “Piano Wire”, which is a holdover Hanneman track, is a tasty bit of brutish savagery, and “Atrocity Vendor” reverberates with the deceased guitarist’s punk-wise spirit.
In all, Repentless has shining moments, but lacks punch. The aggression feels forced and King seems like he is bullying his way through the record. The band does not bring anything new to the table and the record lacks the visceral undercurrent of classic Slayer. Many other bands might have gotten away with making this underwhelming tome, but the band set its own high bar, and with Repentless, they do not quite meet that standard. If you are a diehard Slayer fan, you will eat this record up, but more discerning fans will likely be disappointed with its lack of commitment.