Slayer Repentless over-analyzed

Slayer - Repentless (2015)

Only one can lead: guitars, voice, bass or drums. Whatever takes the lead will compel others to follow because lead means sketching out the structure of the song. The classic metal albums all lead with guitars and vocals catch up while drums provide accents and bass does whatever it feels necessary.

Repentless reverses this formula. It is built around Tom Araya’s mostly fast-spoken or chanted vocals, and guitar keeps up and drums frame the whole thing. The bass doubles the low notes and does little else, but Slayer has always used that technique. The problem is that in a desire to make catchy choruses and compelling verses, Slayer has relegated its most powerful aspect — the lead rhythm guitar — to a supporting role.

Despite a number of good riffs that call to mind material from the Seasons in the Abyss era, on this album Slayer has had to contort itself to fit around the vocals like a rock song, which de-emphasizes guitar and consequently cramps it and, in its reduced role, forces it to show off and simultaneously keep itself restrained. This keeps the worst of metal guitar and throws out the best. In addition, this reduces songs to minimal song structure based more around a lyrical narrative (or topic of a video) than development of melodies or patterns in the riffs.

This is far from a bad album. The problem is that it is the wrong sort of album. Metal escaped from rock by minimizing the human, especially vocals and feelings, to create a gritty realistic confrontation with the nihilism of existence — the knowledge that events do not depend on feelings or mythological beings, but cause and effect. Slayer expanded its audience in the 1990s to the present by being more centered on vocal hooks and foot-tapping rhythms, and does well at this, but at the expense of what made this band great.

12 Comments

Tags: , , , , ,

Slayer – Repentless (2015)

Slayer - Repentless (2015)

It probably bears mentioning that I consider Hell Awaits to be Slayer’s peak. While it could’ve used a larger recording budget, it showcased some of the band’s most elaborate and well-written compositions. The band didn’t generally follow up on this approach on later albums, but you can hear the lessons applied on the rest of Slayer’s classic ’80s material, and therein lies a lesson. At their peak, Slayer had obvious songwriting formulas, but were able to go build more elaborate and memorable works due to their solid understanding of song structure.

Repentless is Slayer’s 3rd attempt to recapture something else of that era. The production standards are admittedly better (although Slayer generally had good producers working for them in the past as well), but everything else is the stereotypical speed/death assault that the band helped pioneer. Paul Bostaph and Gary Holt serve as adequate substitutes for the departed Dave Lombardo and the deceased Jeff Hanneman (R.I.P), carrying on general stylistic trends without rocking the boat too much. That this is a commercially viable endgame for popular metal bands is something I expect to be one of the major themes of my tenure here at DMU. Even now, though, cracks are showing in the war ensemble – Tom Araya’s vocals are a major stylistic weak point on Repentless. His shouts have become more “extreme” and insistent in recent years, but his ability to vary his vocal techniques has all but collapsed. This album’s prosody is the worst casualty yet, as he delivers these monotonous shouts in unvarying rhythms; the effect is essentially the same as shouting nursery rhymes into a megaphone from your neighborhood rooftops.

Araya’s weaknesses are particularly damning on an album that relies so heavily on vocals to retain the listener’s attention, especially when everyone else on the recording is so competently unremarkable. We live in the age of self-referential Slayer, a long darkness that our learned scholars perhaps debate the duration of in their moments of distraction. Repentless is essentially a more formulaic version of previous Slayer albums that themselves were a simplification of their own predecessors. It’s very likely that the songs here sound marginally more like classic Slayer than those on Christ Illusion or World Painted Blood, but their unwillingness (or inability) to expand on basics renders them ultimately pointless. I can’t fault the band for continuing, though; previous recordings, while underwhelming, more than satiate an omnivorous fanbase who will probably go back to Reign in Blood after a while.

18 Comments

Tags: , , , , ,

Gary Holt Prepared to Write Slayer Music

Current Slayer guitarist Gary Holt (Exodus), who replaced former primary songwriter Jeff Hanneman after Hanneman contracted necrotising fasciitis from a spider bite and drank himself to death, told Ultimate-Guitar that he is prepared to write new music for Slayer. This can only be an improvement as Kerry King wrote all of the godawful Repentless.

(more…)

22 Comments

Tags: , , , , ,

Kerry King Endorses Hillary Clinton, Calls Trump “Sideshow” Attraction

kerry king now

Article by Lance Viggiano.

Kerry King told Rolling Stone this week:

“I’m certainly not a political analyst, but I think that Hillary Clinton is the safe, correct choice. Trump is just a sideshow; I’m not even going to apologize to all the Trump followers. I think the reason he’s so popular is because he’s like the politics version of WWE. He’s sensational like wrestling and that’s why middle America loves him.

This gem of an opinion is brought to you by the same fan of snakes and tribal tats who was delusional enough to believe that God Hates Us All and Diabolus En Musica were well received albums; so much so that he decided to resurrect the “successful” style immediately after the only person in the band who would have told him no died. His lyrical contributions to Slayer and now public statements flaunt Repentless and irredeemably stupid opinions on human social organization.

61 Comments

Tags: , , ,

Tom Araya (Slayer) interviewed by Loudwire

Tom-Araya

The folks at Loudwire recently conducted an interview with Tom Araya. In it, Araya talks about a great swathe of topics relating to his career with Slayer; what particularly stood out to me was his discussion of what went into Repentless. While we’ve probably reiterated more than enough that Repentless wasn’t very good, it’s still interesting reading about the differences Araya perceives between it and previous albums. There’s also some bits of interesting trivia in there that I personally wasn’t aware of before; such as Araya’s affinity for ’70s rock and the Beach Boys, and the varying work ethics and styles of various bandmembers past and present.

No Comments

Tags: , , , ,

Toyota to dissolve Scion brand

scion-13-years

Scion was rare amongst car brands for being explicitly youth focused, and furthermore for the Scion Audio Visual project, which released a great deal of metal music related content in its heyday, including a couple of freebie singles and promotional EPs. Sure, most of it was trash we at DMU would dismiss immediately, ranging from the products of Immolation (Providence) and Enslaved’s (The Sleeping Gods) decay to a digital single from Repentless, but if these releases meant that a youth would purchase a car from Scion/Toyota instead of one of their competitors, then the entire scheme was an effective loss leader.

Despite this, Scion recently announced on their official website that Toyota was going to end the Scion brand and transition its products back into the main Toyota lines. Dissecting the corporate marketspeak is difficult, but apparently mainline Toyota products are now doing better with young buyers than they were back in 2003, when the Scion brand was first created. At the moment, it’s unclear whether Toyota will keep Scion A/V going in any form, but I’d say its outlook is dim, since without the Scion brand, Scion A/V would have to work overtime to point its customers towards Toyota products without being criticized for corporate shillery. Rarely do these developments in the automotive industries significantly affect metal fans, but Toyota’s personnel, at the very least, claim they learned useful lessons from operating the Scion brand.

2 Comments

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Megadeth – Dystopia (2016)

megadeth_dystopia

Megadeth has cycled between obvious mainstream rock pandering and careful imitation of their best appreciated works at an ever accelerating rate since their reformation in 2004. If this trend keeps up, they’ll be changing styles with every strum of their guitars in a few years. Dystopia isn’t quite as quick to alter its own sounds as that rather implausible hypothetical peak, but it’s still obviously colored by two colliding trends; Dave Mustaine’s desire to outsell Metallica, and the fact that even relatively extreme metal can sell enormous volumes in 2016. This makes what would be yet another comeback album into a surprisingly disjointed experience at times.

In general, Dystopia provides its potential listeners with several varieties of vintage Megadeth to peruse at their leisure, ranging from the technical wizardry of the ’80s and Rust in Peace (arguably the musical peak of this band) to the streamlined pop metal that immediately followed such, and even hints of recent albums through conceptual and musical continuity. Beyond the vocals of Dave Mustaine and the frequent guitar leads, though, there’s little that distinguishes this from other poppy speed metal of the mid 2010s, especially since this is one of those dime-a-dozen studio perfect recordings with perfectly appropriate production and instrumentation. One definite problem, however is that Dave Mustaine’s vocal and lyrical contributions have decayed in quality in recent years. Megadeth’s always been political at the best of times, but more often than not the lyrics devolve into political sloganeering that might be appropriate if he actually ran for president of the USA. In song format, though, all they do is annoy, irritate, and pander. Mustaine also relies increasingly on digital processing to mask the age-related decay of his voice, most notably on “Fatal Illusion“. This isn’t an innately bad thing, and you could theoretically make a case for the chorusing and harmonies opening new ideas for Megadeth to explore, but it pushes unneeded emphasis on the vocals, so even the average listener that decides that the technique sounds kind of cool might find it grating regardless. Perhaps I shouldn’t be focusing on the vox too much, but when the rest of the album is competent and yet unremarkable, it’s sometimes the only option.

In short, Dystopia is kind of disposable; most metal albums that try to approximate known classics are. It’s still better than Repentless, but the “Big Four” have all since run out of momentum, which makes Dystopia‘s slick technical competence marred by excessive streamlining even more unremarkable than it would otherwise be. The last time Megadeth tried their hands at this, they cranked out Endgame, which was well received at the time of its release and generally similar in approach, but has since faded from the public eye. Do you still have space in your listening rotation for Endgame? If you don’t, you won’t have time for Dystopia either.

17 Comments

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Malevolent Creation – Dead Man’s Path (2015)

Malevolent Creation - Dead Man's Path (2015)

Malevolent Creation has been in my listening backlog for many, many years on the strength of a few tracks from Retribution. I never got to them, because I was constantly distracted by trendier bands (brands). When I first acquired Dead Man’s Path, I theorized that since the band’s been around for nearly 30 years and retains some of its original members, this was not going to be a major stylistic departure from those past works lest long-time fans abandon them in droves. The flipside of this, as evidenced by my experience with similar types of recent releases such as Repentless, is that I expected that regardless of the final quality, I expected a streamlined version of MC’s past style.

My listening throws this into question. Malevolent Creation’s early works tended towards the ancestral end of death metal, with obvious speed/thrash metal roots poking out of an otherwise standard monophonic, dissonant approach. Dead Man’s Path recalls something of this, but as predicted, it turned out more conventionally musical, with more consonant melody and a denser production (out with Scott Burns and in with Dan Swanö). Add in a somber march of an intro, and a renewed emphasis on vocal patterns, and you have a release that has definitely streamlined itself. It doesn’t rock the boat much, and it does still pass the aesthetic litmus tests that define death metal, but the production and packaging isn’t particularly interesting to write about beyond its most basic qualities.

Unlike most of the bands that take this approach, however, Malevolent Creation does a good job of applying their musical practice to write better songs. To my understanding, they were never a particularly complex act, and most of these songs rely at least in part on obvious verses and choruses. However, good use of tempo and rhythm shifts in particular keep things from getting too skull-crushingly obvious and predictable. The band members also showcase enough compositional awareness to move integral song elements around between tracks to obfuscate the formulas a bit. I would personally have liked to hear more variation in riff styles, as some of the songs here (“Corporate Weaponry” in particular) suggest that such could be successfully incorporated while retaining the strong points of the band’s approach. That, however, is a small flaw in an otherwise very solid package.

To be fair, I was not expecting the strengths of Dead Man’s Path to be so covert, but they are the sort of elements that take some time to properly dissect and understand. However, this makes it a more valuable and perhaps integral work than most of what passes through the review queue here.

8 Comments

Tags: , , , ,