By Nathan DeCorte
The release of Repentless last Friday marked an important day for Slayer. The album was their first original work in six years, their first since the departure of longtime drummer Dave Lombardo in 2013, and their first since the death of founding guitarist and songwriter Jeff Hanneman that same year. With a new album already in the early stages of production at the time of Hanneman’s passing, the bulk of the songwriting duties fell to fellow guitarist Kerry King. It was a tumultuous time for the band, exacerbated by the fact that their coming release would usher in a new era in the group’s history, whether they were ready or not.
Fortunately for fans of all things vicious and heavy, Slayer managed to channel the turmoil, strife and grief that marked their last several years into a hard-hitting, yet very precisely considered, album. Repentless does not reinvent the wheel. Rather, it reinforces many of the aspects that have been key to Slayer’s success at various points throughout their career. The most concise description possible is right there in the title: Repentless. The message is loud and clear. While some groups might feel the need to continually reinvent themselves as time goes on, Slayer knows exactly who they are, and they embrace it.
Repentless has all the elements of a great thrash album: the music is aggressive and unrelenting, and rarely is the listener afforded a moment to catch their breath. The lyrical content covers the whole spectrum of thrash metal ideology. The last 10 years have seen Slayer take on more and more sociopolitical topics in their writing, and Repentless continues that trend. The song “Vices” attacks the boldfaced corruption and hypocrisy endemic in all facets of culture, government and religion, while “Pride in Prejudice” examines a violent, power drunk police-state that takes pride in murdering innocents.
Other tracks like “Cast the First Stone” and “Take Control” are the standard exercises in nihilism and misanthropy. The song “When the Stillness Comes” stands out, however. While its content is written along those same lines, the actual composition is downtempo and gloomy, and accented by vocals that are often halfway between a whisper and a sob. Rather than going for the throat, it’s a song that goes for atmosphere, casting a shade of bleak dread upon the listener.
But it’s not all gloom or fury. The second track, bearing the same name as the album, is intended as a tribute to the late Hanneman. In a statement King released in mid-June via Slayer’s official YouTube page, he said “‘Repentless’ is my Jeff tribute. I call it the ‘HannemAnthem’. It’s my perspective of Jeff’s perspective… if Jeff wrote a song for himself, ‘Repentless’ would be it.” This track is markedly more lighthearted than most of the album, with lyrics that very bluntly chastise the modern metal scene as well as the wider music industry.
Another standout track is “Chasing Death.” Here, King vents his own frustrations over having lost several friends over the years to substance abuse. In another YouTube interview in July, King explained: “I’m losing friends to addiction. I’m losing friends to a lot of things you don’t expect, and then when it starts happening, it pisses you off. It was kind of me venting about it. I’m sure people are in my shoes that have that same kind of thing. Some of your friends, you know they need help. Some of them you don’t. Some of them you try to give them help, some of them don’t want it. And that’s just part of life and I think that song just summed it up.”
All told, Repentless is a superb album that brings a lot of energy, a lot of fury and, at times, a lot of heart to the table. And it proves that whatever trials and tribulations may come, Slayer still reigns in blood.
Rating: ⅘ stars, Check it out.