You have to feel for Slayer. Having released what many consider to be the ultimate thrash album with Reign In Blood, everything they’ve done since has apparently disappointed their critics – “good but it’s no Reign In Blood” is a frequent refrain in Slayer reviews.
The truth is that Slayer hit a rich vein of form between Hell Awaits (1985) and Seasons in The Abyss (1990), a four album blitzkrieg of speeding riffs, thundering drums, tortured screams, horrific imagery and blindingly awesome Thrash Metal. Their position as one of the most influential metal bands of all time is not simply down to a single album, but a solid, consistent body of work.
When drummer Dave Lombardo left Slayer after Seasons In The Abyss (he returned to the fold for 2006’s Christ Illusion) and the band experimented with drop tuning, things weren’t quite clicking, but there were always moments that ensured that Slayer were a force to be reckoned with.
Probably the single most important factor in Slayer’s continued success is their steadfast refusal to move from their blueprint of brutality. They may have experimented with drop-tuning and slowed things down occasionally, but such things were mere dalliances. Speed and horror always sat on the throne in Slayer’s temple.
As such, it’s pretty much business as usual for World Painted Blood with the album taking all the best aspects of that clutch of four classic Slayer albums and creating something pretty phenomenal.
As with Hell Awaits, the intro to World Painted Blood smoulders with spoken word, feedback and curiously cautious drums. Any suspicions that the band have mellowed are quickly exploded; they waste no time in unleashing a trademark panzer division riff that rumbles along as the tale of a world disintegrating begins to unfold. Switching between gears easily, World Painted Blood unleashes flurries of punches, shuffles its feet and showboats a bit, and then goes back to working the body with no quarter given.
Unit 731 picks up where Angel Of Death left off with Josef Mengle being replaced with the Second World War Japanese Chemical and Biowarfare Unit named in the title- both favoured human experimentation. A truly disturbing parade of imagery married to speeding riffs pushes the limits and takes the band back into terrifying territory – and unleashes one of the finer moments of the album.
Clearly at home in such surrounds, they then bang out Snuff, a lightening exploration of torture, murder and home movies. It’s safe to say, you’d not want to watch Kerry King’s You’ve Been Framed.
Musically, Beauty Through Order recalls the more melodic moments of Seasons In The Abyss with Tom Araya singing rather than screaming for the most part. A sense of menace pervades however, with guitars squealing and calling like malevolent spirits as they exchange ideas with the ghosts of early Sabbath. It closes in typically frenzied fashion with Araya yelling “Birthright – Murder” – Slayer is clearly energized again. They’ve not had such a pleasing opening salvo for many years.
Things inevitably go off the boil at this point with Hate Worldwide (a fairly typical stab at organised religion) and Public Display Of Dismemberment (a pleasingly brutal attack on Government and the banking system) being essentially Slayer by numbers. Of course, Slayer by numbers is still pretty amazing, but in comparison to what’s come before these two just don’t quite cut it.
But they quickly rediscover their muse as the grinding inevitability of Human Strain is relentless. By the time they hit the thoroughly creepy mid-section, order has been restored.
After the well-meaning but frankly terrible Americon, they wrap the album up in the manner that they began – with a quick-fire blast of oppressive intensity.
Fans will already be familiar with Psychopathy Red, as it’s been knocking around for some time now. As ferocious as anything off of Reign In Blood, this is Slayer at their most extreme – speed and horror combine to provide the most visceral of thrills.
Playing With Dolls is another slower paced track, but that doesn’t stop it being another unsettling blood soaked romp through the thought processes of a serial killer. “You’ll wish you were in Hell” bellows Araya – he might have a point, as long as the tunes all sound like this.
Not Of This God slams the door shut on World Painted Blood. Tearing through riffs and bezerk guitar solos, this is heads-down Slayer at their best with Lombardo’s drumming jaw-dropping as always. It’s a fitting end for the most brutal album they’ve made in a long while. World Painted Blood may not be Reign In Blood, but it finds Slayer close to their best.