The New Classics

What’s this column about?

There’s little more than a handful of living legends toiling in the metal scene. If you want to push it, maybe Megadeth (though most say the band is past its prime) … Anthrax is still out there (though the bands always skirted on the edge of notoriety) … an aged Metallica is set to record its next album (though the band has moved away from its speed metal roots).

Then there’s those bands that need no explanation. Off the top of my head, only two spring immediately to mind: Black Sabbath and Slayer.

Well, Black Sabbath still tours on occasion, but it’s been a great while since any new studio material surfaced. Slayer on the other hand …

Slayer is one of those bands with nothing left to prove. For over 20 years the band has been cranking out a steady stream of metal mayhem. The group’s speed metal roots laid the foundation for one of the most ominous and instantly recognizable “sounds” in the genre. The band has already created its share of classics: “Reign in Blood,” “Hell Awaits,” “Seasons in the Abyss” … the group has nothing short of a stellar record when it comes to fresh, metal styling and rarely takes a wrong step (I’m looking at you, “Undisputed Attitude”).

The band’s career path is perfect in terms of this column. After a string of classics, the band took a couple of years off (around the point marked by the release of the “Decade of Aggression” double-disc.) Fans could also choose to mark this period by the departure of original drummer Dave Lombardo. The band resurfaced four years later with “Divine Intervention,” a solid outing if not a little hollow. Then there was the ill-received punk cover album (the aforementioned “Attitude”). The band closed out the ’90s with one of it strongest albums, the Rick Rubin-produced “Diabolus in Musica.” Released in 1998, the album was an instant Slayer classic … and ends up one of my new classics, through and through.

A New Classic

Slayer
Diabolus in Musica
American Recording

 
Few can string together a metal album like Slayer. A streamlined power-punch of rhythm and a crushing wall of drums, intermingling with intense sociopolitical influenced vocals. Tom Arraya in still album to string together a violent string of choked vocals as good as the foreboding bass riffs he supplies to the band. Add to the proceedings one of the best guitar duos in metal (six-string god Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman) and the vastly underrated drumming skills of Paul Bostaph and what do you expect? Nothing short of “the devil’s music.”

King’s minor key riffs seethe with a sense of foreboding and fans wouldn’t want it any other way. The one-two attack opening of “Bitter Peace” and “Death’s Head” is one of the best openings of a metal album (ever!). “Bitter Peace” begins with slow, plodding drumming and down-tuned guitar that slowly pick up steam before plowing into the opening riff. King’s guitar riffs mid-way through the track are particularly venomous. The track abruptly comes to an end, giving way to the “Death’s Head” rumble of heavy bass and guitars opening.

The rest of the album is no slouch either: from the bludgeoning force of “In the Name of God” to the incendiary cry of “Stain of Mind,” if it weren’t for Slayer classics like “Reign in Blood” and “Seasons in the Abyss,” this would be the focal point of the band’s storied career. Instead, as it stands, “Diabolus” is simply another reason Slayer is one of the most noteworthy and influential metal bands of all time.

The Test of Time

It’s rare that I can sit back and remember album releases with much clarity, especially when it was almost a decade ago. Yet I still remember the anticipation I had in the summer of ’98 after I picked up the album. “Bitter Peace” immediately grabbed my attention, and I remember thinking how Slayer was so good at crafting the perfect album closer (think “Raining Blood” or “Seasons in the Abyss”) and had finally done it with an opener.

Slayer followed up “Diabolus” with “God Hates Us All.” I didn’t find the album nearly as mind-blowing as its predecessor, and it was all but ignored by fans and the general public (released on Sept. 11, 2001). I really like “God…” but I find it a little unfocused through the middle.

Now Lombardo has rejoined the fold, and the band is stationed to release “Christ Illusion” next month (billed as a return of the original lineup). The few songs I’ve heard sound like vintage Slayer, so we’ll just have to see if the band can still string together the fill run of solid tracks needed for any future classics.

Until Next Time

With June 6 of this year billed as the National Day of Slayer (6.06.06), there’s a little more attention on the band than usual. I know the quartet can deliver and have never had doubts with the writing capabilities of King and Arraya. Obviously people refer to the older material when pointing people toward Slayer. If you aren’t already a fan, you really won’t be swayed at this point. But I haven’t met too many metal fans not a fan of Slayer to some degree. I really think “Diabolus” is one of the band’s most-overlooked albums — something I’d rank up there in the top 3 or 4. If you’ve never heard this album, or haven’t listened to it in a while, go out and pick up a copy.

And that’s that. Until next time, take it easy. Stay tuned and enjoy the ride …

The Vault.

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