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.

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12 thoughts on “Slayer Repentless over-analyzed”

  1. vOddy says:

    “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.”

    I don’t know, man. I find metal to be much more romantically stimulating than rock. Rock can be catchy and fun, but to me, rarely if ever touching on a deep level. I think that the “nihilism of existence” is but one thing that the style of metal can express.
    I do, however, also prefer music that is not based on vocals. Vocals are usually better as a supportive instrument, not a leading one.

    1. I think that the “nihilism of existence” is but one thing that the style of metal can express.

      What subject area of any type is untouched by approaching life with a nihilistic outlook?

      Right.

      1. vOddy says:

        When I read that metal minimizes feelings, I was taken aback, since metal can convey a wider range of emotions, including more profound ones than the childish themes that I find rock deal with.
        Yes, I am not a fan of rock. If there is some thing awe inspiring to be found in the genre, then it has eluded me due to ignorance of existing works, or inability to see the value in what I have heard.

        I just didn’t understand what you meant by “minimalizing the human and feelings”. Did you mean not seeing humanity, and emotions, as being somehow intrinsically and fundamentally different from other parts of the universe? the view that they are just parts, with their own characteristics and traits, like every thing else in the world?
        Thinking about it, I realize that I get the impression of that view by metal, whereas rock often sounds like a state of mind in which a subject has never considered the outside world, the one independent of his mind, as he is lost in his own experiences.

        To me, seeing humanity and feelings as no more or less than parts of the universe, like all of its other parts, is the default position, which is why I reacted as I did to your statement about minimalizing feelings. But now i see that you weren’t talking about minimalizing it further than my position, but about minimalizing it to my position, from a different one.
        Contrast the points of view about ethics – the one which holds that they are human nature as part of the mind, like other thoughts, feelings, and ideas, versus the view that ethical value exists intrinsically within actions themselves.
        It is unsurprising that music which expresses / explores topics from my perspective is more moving to me.

        I don’t know if I understood you correctly. I admit that there is a very good chance that I misunderstood you. In any case, I thank you for an interesting read and encourage you to keep writing. Deathmetal.org is quickly becoming a favourite source of mine for interesting views on music and other matters.

        1. Let me expand on this, because I’m not sure where else it was written on this blog:

          I was taken aback, since metal can convey a wider range of emotions, including more profound ones than the childish themes that I find rock deal with.

          Emotions can exist that are entirely within the self, commonly called “subjective” but more accurately referred to as impulses from the self, or as perceived in response to an external situation. The latter, much like the “Aeolian wind” which Romantic poets write about, is a kind of anti-individualism and naturalism: a scene “strikes” the individual, and they find the meaning in it, instead of expressing their own desires|judgments|feelings as a substitute for that.

          Metal deals with these kind of emotions. The scene of a great battle in which balanced forces fought for competing and valid ideals strikes a certain chord within us, but does not originate from us out of concern for ourselves. Similarly, an ancient ruin covered in vegetation brings up a certain range of emotions. This is metal emotion. Rock emotion is bohemianism/victimhood: what am I drinking tonight, what I am eating now, who do I want to have sex with contrasted with loss, failure, self-pity and self-indulgence including self-destruction.

          Did you mean not seeing humanity, and emotions, as being somehow intrinsically and fundamentally different from other parts of the universe?

          That’s a more succinct version of what I wrote above. Most of my writing strives for precision — which is why it’s less “exciting” on the surface than the hipster jive at most blogs — but hopes to give a full range of a topic.

          But now i see that you weren’t talking about minimalizing it further than my position, but about minimalizing it to my position, from a different one.

          Yes, exactly. We’re saying the same thing, but people reading this conversation (who generally outnumber us 100 or more to 1) will benefit from the detail clarification.

          1. AK-47 says:

            “Metal deals with these kind of emotions. The scene of a great battle in which balanced forces fought for competing and valid ideals strikes a certain chord within us, but does not originate from us out of concern for ourselves”.

            You could juxtapose comic book superheroes (rock pantheon) with actual gods (metal pantheon). Real gods are amalgams of natural traits and virtues, personified not so much for us to identify with individually as for enhancing the metaphor. Superman on the other hand is created for us to actually be, because he can fly ‘n shit.

      2. Collector of Cocks says:

        Brett, but how come at Encyclpedia Metallum the consensus is that this album is terrible? The average rating is a spiteful 49 of 100% !!

        1. The average rating is a spiteful 49 of 100% !!

          Crowdsourcing = tyranny of public opinion.

          This is not a bad album; it’s a good heavy metal album. It isn’t enough for me to listen to it with the sparse time I (and most others) are afflicted with. Life is short and it forces us to make choices, a kind of Darwinian natural selection.

  2. Collector of Cocks says:

    Thank you Brett. Now if you have a couple minutes free, please feel free to review the new Malevolent Creation cd.

  3. Daniel Maarat says:

    I wouldn’t even call this a heavy metal album. You pointed out yourself how it fails miserably as metal Brett. It’s a decent hard rock album for the crap in that genre but an F metal album and an F Slayer record. Pretty fucking bad.

  4. alkjsoa says:

    mid 80s Slayer = callow B movie buffoons who accidentally made twisted expressionistic art

    90s-2000s Slayer = bored, tired professional musicians who basically make WWE entrance themes

    2015 Slayer = same as above, minus the two best members

    1. Doug Killjoy says:

      It’s the notion that there was something larger pushing the buttons and using an unwitting bunch of reckless maniacs as a vehicle that makes the glory years so glorious. And more glorious those first 2 albums + EP could not have been, so apparently the more accidental the better. Same deal with all great metal bands before settling into 401K/vh1 mode.

  5. Metal R.I.P. 1993 says:

    Pantera + Slipknot = nu Slayer

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