slayer: repentless review

Slayer, in their 34+ year career, have never been ones to shy away from being the topic of controversy.  The ratio of rumor-to-truth seems to be on a level all it's own now.  Even if you don't listen to Slayer, you know of them.  Be it their controversial album covers and just as controversial lyrical content at times.  Many groups have protested and sued them for creating the music and art they make.  On the other end of the spectrum, they've been highly praised for being a big influence in the thrash metal genre by many bands that followed.  Many have tried to duplicate, but no one can do what Slayer does.

From their insanely fast guitar playing done in sometimes ridiculous time scales to their notable double bass drumming that will leave any music fan and player wondering "HOW DID THEY DO THAT?!?!"  And i'd be remiss if I didn't mention vocalist Tom Araya's signature yelling and screaming vocals.  Slayer have rightfully earned the fruits of their labor, including five Grammy nominations over the years.  The band would be the first to tell you they don't care about awards like that.  It's always been about the music, and always will be.

Formed in 1981 in Huntington Park, California by guitarist Kerry King and drummer Dave Lombardo, the two found common interest in bands such as Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, to name a few.  Not long after they recruited fellow guitarist Jeff Hannemann and bassist/vocalist Tom Araya, thus solidifying the legendary lineup.  After playing clubs around the Southern California area in the time of glam-rock (a few years before I was even born), they made it clear by their image and sound that Slayer was NOT like anything you've heard before.  

This caught the attention of Metal Blade Records, founded by former music journalist Brian Slagel.  After asking the band to record and original song to include on the label's "Metal Massacre III" compilation, the band agreed and signed to the label.  For their debut studio album "Show No Mercy", Slayer were forced to record the album with their own money.  Upon researching for this review, I found out Araya was a respiratory therapist at the time.  With money saved from Tom's job as well as a contribution from guitarist Kerry King's father, the band began recording their debut record in November 1983.  Three weeks after recording, "Show No Mercy" was released in December.  Quickly Slayer began cultivating an underground following and soon began a nationwide tour followed by an international tour.

As their career continued to flourish in the 1980's, so did the controversy surrounded by their lyrical and visual imagery I mentioned earlier in this review.  That didn't slow down Slayer as they continued to release landmark and influential albums that still hold up to this day, including "Hell Awaits" and "Reign in Blood" to name a few.
As the 1990's brought along grunge rock, Slayer kept their sights on what they did best, but this didn't come without speed bumps along the way.  Longtime drummer Lombardo left the band in 1992 due to conflicts with the band and the desire to be a present father for his newborn child.  Regardless, Slayer pushed on with drummer Paul Bostaph, formerly of the band "Forbidden".  The 90's saw mixed reception from critics and fans alike, accusing the band of forcefully rehashing what they've done before in a decade that was introducing bands like Radiohead and Oasis.  Nonetheless, the band pushed on.  Replacement drummer Bostaph left the band to focus on his own project, in response, the band hired "Testament" drummer John Dette to fill in and Slayer soon headlined 1996's Ozzfest Festival.  After a year of playing with Slayer, Dette was fired from the band due to internal conflicts and Bostaph was back yet again to play drums.

As the new milennium began, so did a resurgance in Slayer's career.  2001's "God Hates Us All" earned the band it's first Grammy nomination ("Tool" ended up winning for their album "Schism").  This same year brought along yet again Paul Bostaph's departure from the band, this time for an elbow injury that made it difficult for him to play while on tour to promote "God Hates Us All".  At guitarist Kerry King's insistence, original drummer Dave Lombardo re-joined the band to complete the tour and later on stayed as a permanent member again.

2006 saw the release of "Christ Illusion", their first release with Lombardo on drums since 1990's "Seasons in the Abyss".  The album debuted at number 5 on the Billboard 200, selling over 62,000 copies in it's first week alone.  To this day it remains one of Slayer's best selling albums.
2009's "World Painted Blood" saw yet another success for Slayer and proved once again that the band is a force to be reckoned with.  As the new decade began, so did the process of writing a new Slayer album.  This time around, the band was hit hard by lineup changes, self doubt, and loss.  In 2013, drummer Dave Lombardo left the band due to contract disputs and was replaced yet again with Paul Bostaph.  That same year, longtime guitarist Jeff Hannemann passed away on May 2nd due to liver failure with the cause of death being attributed to alcohol-related cirrhosis.  Despite doubts of the band's future even before Hannemann's passing, Slayer pushed on.  Recruiting "Exodus" guitarist Gary Holt to take over Hannemann's guitar duties, the band recorded their new album, titled "Repentless". 

When I listen to "Repentless" I hear the Slayer I've known for as long as I can remember.  At the same time, you sense the missing piece in the puzzle that is Jeff Hannemann.  Thankfully, the band included a few of his compositions into "Repentless", most notably "Piano Wire".  While I believe Gary Holt fits in fine in his own right on this record, Slayer won't be the same without Hannemann.  Nonetheless, the musical structure is as tight as it's ever been.  Lyrically, Slayer touches on subjects  they're not afraid to tackle.  Vocalist Tom Araya sounds as great as ever, as does his bass playing.  How the man manages to pull double duty like that dumbfounds me.  Kerry King is top notch as he's always been.  Paul Bostaph's drumming is a welcome return.  

When I listen to this album, I feel a sense of sadness in the loss of Hannemann.  At the same time, I hear a sense of resurgence.  Despite all that Slayer has been through, they won't let death and loss stop them from doing what they do best.  "Repentless" is top notch, classic Slayer that shows despite mortality and what life throws our way, life goes on.

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