Thrash metal kings rediscover their aggressive streak.
Greg Moffitt 2009
With original drummer Dave Lombardo returning to the fold, 2006’s Christ Illusion was supposed to be Slayer’s big comeback album. It wasn’t. Although a major improvement on 2001’s pedestrian God Hates Us All, Christ Illusion largely failed to reignite the chemistry between the four original members. Just three years later – fast work by Slayer standards – is World Painted Blood finally the album they’ve been striving to make for the last 20 years?
Having done much to define thrash metal in the 1980s and been responsible for what is arguably the genre’s definitive text – 1986’s Reign in Blood – Slayer have never been let off the hook. Each and every subsequent release has been subject to intense scrutiny from all quarters, and as a result the band has, at times, seemed genuinely uncertain what to do next – witness 1998’s dire Diabolus in Musica.
Such microscopic levels of surveillance were less of a problem during 1987-92, when they enjoyed enormous critical and commercial success. However, come the reign of grunge and then nu-metal, Slayer looked vulnerable as they scrabbled around for scraps of artistic relevance. It’s telling that they spent much of the 90s touring their legendary live show, which has always leaned heavily on their early material.
This, studio album number ten, is their best in years. Many pundits lazily passed similar judgements on the band’s weak later efforts, but you can take this one to the bank. It’s better than Christ Illusion and everything else back to 1994’s Divine Intervention.
Opening with the blistering title track, this is Slayer stripped back, largely free from fat and unnecessary fuss. Few of the songs command the attention with the insistence of old, but quite frankly we were beginning to wonder if they still had an album like this left in them. Although unafraid to experiment with atmosphere (Human Strain) and explore sombre moods (Beauty Through Order, Playing With Dolls), it’s the sound of the band rediscovering their truly aggressive streak. Frontman Tom Araya does his throat untold damage with a performance worthy of a guy half his age, while the dangerously deranged soloing of guitarists Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King trumps any individual track as the album’s clear highlight.
Enter expecting a return to the glory days and you’ll leave disappointed. Open your mind to just how disturbing materially-comfortable 40-somethings with responsibilities can be and you’ll enjoy a deliciously wicked ride.