Thursday, November 12, 2009

ALBUM: Slayer "World Painted Blood"

It doesn't matter what gig; who the band is, whether they are international, or local, brutal death metal or twiddly power metal, there is always some simian soul in the crowd shouting out 'SLAAAAYYYYYEEEER!!!'
Without fail. I've yet to be able to prove whether this cry is that of one man, or different die-hards, and if they are unique from one another is there some sort of covenant, a Slayer fan-base united in their cause to proliferate the name of their favourite band at every gig they attend.
It's a mystery...

Beyond all of that curious uncertainty I can assure of one thing though, this is a great record.

The previous album 'Christ Illusion' was a huge disappointment. Not much argument to be counter that stance. Slayer's black magic was well and truly absent. A couple of good songs barely lifted the album above being little more than a bland lap of the track for a band that have always managed to inject that little extra diabolism into each release. Regardless of the reams of rhetoric representing this new release, my hopes weren't high. Picking this up spur of the moment, and spinning it for it for the first without any real excitement or expectation I felt a sense of disappointment at my lack of enthusiasm. This is Slayer; one of the oldest, hardest, heaviest bands in existence. I shouldn't be this apathetic. The last time I felt that empty, almost disdainful, was when I put on the second album that Blaze Bayley recorded with Iron Maiden. ( and do you blame me?). Obviously it's hard not have some expectation, there is that itching impulse to want to demand: 'Don't fuck it up...or I'll have to write you off.' No-one wants to have to do that to a band that they have loved for years, since their days of nascent thrashing, but I was prepared to make a stand. If Kerry and Co. delivered another piece of poo I was done.
Ooh, harsh...I know.
Life is short, and my love is limited. ( Though I'll always love Tom Araya. Wait till you hear RiVeN and my feeble attempt to channel him. )
"So?" you ask, "Is it over? Have you made the call?"
The answer is simple, the sort of simplicity that Kerry King would respond with, "No."

'World Painted Blood' is a great album. Really great.
First thing first: the production. I really, really dig the way this album sounds. Produced and mixed by Greg Fidelman who did his best for Metallica, this album saw Slayer write in-studio and Fidelman has managed to capture a strong sense of what I refer to as 'Live in Studio A'. It may sound odd using the word 'relaxed' in relation to Slayer, but that's how they sound this time 'round. They certainly aren't relaxed in their playing and song writing because this album has some of the fastest, most aggressive songs they've played in years, what I'm talking abous is an 'ease'; a comfort to the song writing. Perhaps the difference sits with Lombardo on the kit, as opposed to Bostaph, leading to a loosening up, a lack of rigidity, while regaining some ferocity. ( Which is not to impugn Bostaph at all, he's an amazing drummer and one of my faves. )
'Christ Illusion' felt largely stilted and insincere, whereas here Slayer sound live, and livid, in your lounge; the sound is roomy, warm, humming. Fidelman's mix offers plenty of surprises, Araya's bass pops thoughout, while Hanneman and King trade axe blows from their respective corners left and right, allowing the listener to savour the shredding and soloing, as much as the re-united riffing, harmonised solos and twiddly cascades.

The weakest part of the album is easily with the opening, title track. Mounting harmonies and a backward-wound litany build to a fairly standard Slayer riff, that kicks into a mid-tempo thrasher that feels as if it trying to hard, and not amounting to much. Then King and Hanneman start rocking duelling harmonies and suddenly there is a definite feeling that something 'different' is taking place. A chunky riff stamps along as Hanneman lets rips with an utterly outrageous solo, a restrained exuberance; a discordant distress, the cries of kittens being killed. Here it is, finally, a sign that Slayer are pushing themselves.
'Unit 731' and the following tune 'Snuff' are both flat-to-the-floor; with Hanneman and King swapping quicksilver solos, as if they are blooded pit bulls in a drained-out pool ripping strips off one another. Check 'Snuff's' simultaneous solo; a hurricane helix of harmonised hegemonic hammering. Corker. The sheer joy of the verse-riffing in 'Snuff' as Lombardo octopoidally spans his kit with frantic fills, each seeming unique, is enough to thrust even the most arthritic and misaligned into a flurry of air guitar.
'Beauty through order' progresses from a moody chunker, exploding into frenzied solos, fluctuating from rage to restraint, as harmonic utterances float back and forth. The climax to this song is the perfect distillation of the quartet's rage.
'Hate Worldwide' is Slayer at their punkiest. In fact there's a very punky vibe across these songs. The riffing that escapes from the King's feral solo is raw, engorged, exhilarating. One of my favourite moments on the disc.
'Public display of dismemberment' is a fairly lousy title for what proves to be two and a half minutes of political polemic. That was a relief for I expected some-semblance to a Cannibal Corpse tune. It seems that while Jeff Hanneman is still reading books on serial killers, Kerry King is reading the paper gripped in clenched fists as he grinds his teeth.
'Human Strain' is one of my favourite songs on the album. The eerie see-sawing riff supported by Lomardo's unremitting kick, a catchy chorus, gives the tune a dark rocky feel to it. Something destined to want to make you want to churn windmills. Creepy, pinging, harmonies, crescendo around Araya's coarse whisper, and a swell of his always welcome singing voice, helping to keep this scary, and still slashing Slayer in spite of the initial sense of levity.
'Americon' is another King call-to-arms crunch, a pounding, almost (early) Rammstein, with seriously stout rocking riff under the verses. 'It's all about the motherfucking oil, regardless of the flag upon it's soil' is a lacerating lyric that Araya delivers with utter conviction. This is another example of Slayer working to expand themselves, without straying into jazz fusion.
'Psychopathy red' reminds me of 'Aggressive Perfector' from way back at the birth of the band. Another two and a half minutes of punked-out thrash, tight as a nun's nasty, with a some surprise changes, a ring out before sprinting to finish, all of which is more than enough to remind you why so many people love this band. Guaranteed to inspire apoplectic fits of air guitar and neck-wrecking.
'Playing with dolls' is a mid-tempo chiller, trimmed with a jarring jangly line that hypnotically raises hackles. Behold that bass-note behemoth that Araya enters with; warm, and formidable before slipping into the mix to rumble away. Araya's howls 'You'll wish you were in hell'! and 'Die in front of me!' will no doubt prove popular live, though the latter may needed be precarious considering the ebullience of most Slayer moshpits.
'Not of this God' offers the best surprise of the album. Starting out a standard thrasher, with white-knuckle riffing into the chorus, and Lombardo flourishing fills, the song to yields to a lumbering sludgy doom riff that is likely to make you want to clench your clacka and cup your knackers to make sure nothing erupts or falls off. My one niggle is that this isn't sustained enough. It's as if they jammed a cool idea, chucked it in, rocked it for a measure, and didn't know where to go with it. Still, it's seriously cool. Having said that though, this is consistent with the rest of the record; tight yet loose, clenched yet relaxed. The best kind of contradictions.

This album is like an old friend you haven't seen in ages; the one who used to be twenty kilos overweight who has had a health scare, kicked the take-away, the booze and the fags, hit the gym, ripped themselves out and now stands before you looking like Rollins bare-chested with corpse paint and nail-studded wristbands. Athletic, assertive, authoritative, intimidating.

( Slayer made it to number 9 on the ARIA charts in the first week of release. )
The hyperbole was bang on, this is not only one of the best Slayer records in a long time, it is definitely one of their better titles. Better for brevity 'World Painted Blood' lacks the density, and over-length that marred 'God Hates Us All' and 'Diabolos in Musica' (both top records mind you) clocking in just shy of fourty minutes, proving that less-is-more indeed. For those of us who remember vinyls, this means it would have fit on one side of a TDK C45 with room to spare.
It seems trite to state, and I'm hesitant to, but 'World painted blood' sounds like a natural successor to 'Season in the Abyss'. An older, more experienced band, annealed, not merely the same-old-Slayer, this time offering a perfect summation of their career, atmosphere and aggression, with clear evidence that the fires still burn in their own special Hell.

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