Slayer’s Repentless: A Goddamned Shame
On September 11th, 2001, Slayer released God Hates Us All, a record that would go on to significantly reboot their widespread popularity. A follow-up to the band’s much-derided 1999 album Diabolus In Musica, the album was a return to form via evil-worshipping crushers like “New Faith” and “Seven Faces,” brooding horror stories like “Deviance” and “Bloodline,” and unforgiving thrash tracks like “Disciple” and “Payback.” It was the first time Kerry King wrote the way he actually spoke, and the lyrics contain the word “fuck” constantly; that along with burly hardcore songs like “Threshhold” and “Here Comes The Pain” helped bring fans of newer metal acts like Hatebreed into the Slaytanic Wehrmacht. The album’s tragic release date only seemed to more swiftly thrust the world back into a place where Slayer made sense.
Unlike Slayer’s many efforts to reconnect with the ethos behind their first five albums, Repentless feels like a tribute to God Hates Us All, an attempt to get back in touch with what that album meant. But God Hates Us All was fueled by a sense of urgency in a band who were suspected to be obsolete; today, Slayer are back to being one of the biggest bands on earth, and are without one of their founding members and strongest creative forces, the late Jeff Hanneman. As such, Relentless is a tiresome and uninteresting record, a self-parody that accurately displays why one should listen to Slayer Then and not Slayer Now.
The most noticeable problem with Repentless is the lyrics. Besides the chorus of the title track, there is no line on this record that fans can scream with any true power. Quite the opposite — singing along to many of these tracks will only have metalheads cringing with embarrassment. On “Vices,” Tom Araya screams “A little violence is the ultimate drug—let’s get high!” The opening lyric of “Atrocity Vendor” is “You’re staring at the atrocity vendor/A fucking equal-opportunity offender.” Like Marilyn Manson, Kerry King is trying too hard to work in clever phrases and glib expressions of topical anger (the words arrogance, irony, and society are overused). There are one or two impressive moments — “Implode” actually references God Hates Us All in kind of a cool way, and “Chasing Death” is seemingly about Jeff Hanneman’s alcoholism — but they’re too few and far between. There isn’t a single song about the Devil.
Another wart on the record is the pace throughout. Too many songs on Repentless stomp when you want them to sprint. While this makes the few moments of true speed especially delicious — “Relentless” quickly becomes the best track on the album once the listener is thrash-starved by its remainder — it also means much of the record is spent nodding along, waiting for something good that never shows up. “Cast The First Stone” and “Pride In Prejudice” lumber forward exhaustingly. “Piano Wire” is an example of the lack of speed working to Slayer’s benefit in a creepy sort of way, but the vocal melody is kind of wonky, and there isn’t the murderous payoff at the end that the listener truly wants.
The thing is, Slayer have always had solidly creepy mid-paced material, “Dead Skin Mask”, “Skeletons of Society”, and “Bloodline” being prime examples. But those rely on original and dynamic riffs, which are sorely lacking on Repentless. From beginning to end, it’s all aggros riffs, reused hardcore guitar parts dotted with the occasional Kerry King horse whinny solo. There’s no atmosphere on the album; it feels like an all-purpose metal record (I’m imagining a power-up in a video game: You got METAL RECORD!). Nothing burrows into the listener; one does not find one’s self humming a single track on Repentless without meaning to. What’s worse is that there are snippets of brilliance, of classic Slayer or even classic new Slayer tunes like “Unit 731” or “Cult”, that shine through, making one hope for the album’s big blast of raw power. It never comes. There’s no “Payback,” just tough-guy plodding all the way to the end.
Writing this review gives me no pleasure. To be honest, it breaks my fucking heart. Slayer will always be my favorite band; I have great things to say about pretty much every Slayer album, even albums like Divine Intervention and Christ Illusion, which plenty of blasé listeners are quick to ignore. But this album lacks most of the things that make me love Slayer and packs on plenty of the things I reluctantly admit about them. God Hates Us All is a great album, but just barely and through brutal honesty and freak timing within metal; a boiled-down nod to that isn’t enough, no matter what day you release it on. I’ve spun Repentless over and over, waiting for the listen that makes me love it, but I can’t lie, I’m not feeling it, and I probably won’t listen to it again. Just as the title is a fictional word, this feels like fake Slayer. And if Slayer can’t be real with you, who can?