From 1983 to 1985, the new wave of American thrash kicked off with an explosion of albums. Leading the way were four singular pieces that would dictate the pace for years to come. Metallica's "Kill 'em All," Megadeth's "Killing is My Business...and Business is Good!" Anthrax's "Fistful of Metal," and Slayer's "Show No Mercy."
Now it's 2009, and after twenty-six years, all four of those bands continue to exist, though now as legends and not necessarily as trendsetters. However, the last twelve months have seen a rejuvenation of sorts for all involved, as Metallica revived their career with "Death Magnetic," and Megadeth produced their first sure-fire effort in more than fifteen years with "Endgame." So, it was with cautious optimism that I regarded Slayer's new release, "World Painted Blood."
Slayer, for all of their legacy and reputation among the metal community, has only two uncompromisingly amazing studio albums, "Reign in Blood," and "Seasons of the Abyss." Granted, those two albums combined form much of the foundation upon which modern metal was constructed. I hoped that "World Painted Blood" would be a more complete and impacting work than either of the prior two studio albums, which had seen the band devolve into guitar players who played exhibitions over blast beats during some blood-curdling screaming.
In the fashion of their contemporaries, Slayer has dug deep into their roots for "World Painted Blood," and created an album that channels their former demon.
"World Painted Blood" is more complete and more artistic than "God Hates Us All" or "Christ Illusion," if a Slayer album can be said to be artistic. Rather than a relentless sensory battering of continuous noise, the album is better paced, the screaming guitar solos better orchestrated, and the overall feel better polished. Slayer is content to look within for inspiration, and not try to appeal to something they can’t pretend to be.
One of the keys to "World Painted Blood" is that it recognizes that less can be more, something that Slayer used to perfection in "Seasons in the Abyss," and has practically forgotten since. The new album is without a doubt a ceaseless thrash fest, with shredding guitar solos featuring Slayer's signature sound from one end to the other, but it also knows when to set the pace. Plodding mosh pit melodies grant rhythm and sculpt the kind of organized chaos that Slayer so masterfully represents. The nonstop gallop riffs and easy to assimilate cadences of the title track serve as a great launching off point for everything that is to follow. Immediately in contrast to the first track is “Unit 731,” which is a “Piece by Piece” style whiplash inducer. “Snuff” never lets off the gas, but still maintains recognizable form, which is critical for Slayer. Part of the success of “World Painted Blood” is that most of the songs are contained within four minutes, which prevents needless or wandering or stretching of a musical idea.
Each band member is still in top form. Hanneman and King can rip at a moments notice, and wild, arcing solos flash out of nowhere at all points of the album. "Hate Worldwide" is a showcase for the godfathers of thrash to let loose and pile notes on top of each other at a blistering pace. Tom Araya has scaled back his screaming from the last two efforts to a more manageable and distinguishable level. When he needs to he can be as loud and brash as he ever has been, but his fury has been better tempered for a more complete and focused sound.
Dave Lombardo is forty-four years old, but still plays like someone twenty years his junior. Recently in an interview, Kerry King said that if Slayer were to end tomorrow, he would still play with Dave Lombardo, who has a lot left in him. The artful, destructive percussion on "Americon" alone proves that Lombardo is still perhaps the best single percussive force in metal. That song is not the album’s fastest by a long stretch, but it is the best showcase of Lombardo’s perfect timing. He is the legend that ties the entire effort together.
This feels a lot like “Seasons in the Abyss” era Slayer. None of it is earth-shatteringly new, but it doesn’t have to be. After all, so much of what come after is based on this simple mastery of thrash metal’s savagery. “World Painted Blood” is proof that Slayer can still contend, even if they have to lean on the crutch of their legend a little bit, and channel that same energy again.
That’s three for three so far. The onus is on Anthrax to produce such a worthy effort.