By Alun Thomas
The art of perseverance in the music industry at a consistent level is one few reach an elevated plateau of during the span of a career. In 1983 few would have predicted Slayer would be one such act, a quarter of a century into their lifespan the thrash legends are more important than ever, with their devastating new release 'Christ Illusion' reaching number five on Billboards album charts in its first week, the best debut by a Slayer album in their long and storied history. Where many bands of their nature have regressed and become obslolete in various forms, Slayer continue their path into creating the finest thrash produced in their genres history. It barely matters that they are all in their forties and rallying about the same subjects they did twenty years ago. Their dedication to the themes of war, false religon, serial killing and terrorism are backed by music of the most vicious order. Somehow they keep getting better with age. And more relevant.
As has become a Slayer tradition, 'Christ Illusion' took years to create, coming five years after 2001's seminal 'God Hates Us All'. In between the band toured incessantly. Whether they were short of ideas is unclear, but considering guitarist Kerry King wrote seven of the new albums tracks by himself, it's an even bet. Sometimes at random moments while aging profusely myself, waiting for new music from the band, I wonder what the members of Slayer could be doing in their years of spare time. Playing World War 2 board or strategy games? Watching football or ice hockey while drinking beer and staring blankly at their guitars or bass? Perhaps it's pathetic to yearn for music from any band, but when Slayer do convene, the results are justified.
Kerry King has arguably become the finest lyricist in heavy metal. His writing on 'God Hates Us All' revealed a tortured soul disgusted at the world and the flawed system around him. Old Kerry has always had a distaste for organised religon, christianity mainly and his tirades on it over the years are often savage, always amusing. Furthermore his observations on the USA itself are cleverly worded, 'I hate the shit economy, it might as well be sodomy' is one such line from 'Consfearacy'. During 'Flesh Storm' King all but gives up on life itself, musing 'the world is dead, so save that last bullet for your head'. Of course he is right. His attacks on religon reach a memorable peak on 'Cult' with the line ' the targets fucking Jesus Christ, I would have led the sacrifice and nailed him to the crucifix...I've made my choice, 666!' Incendiary material from a man on the edge and insane like all of us.
Musically the band has never been faster, which is usually the case when King handles the bulk of the writing. The angrier he seems the more speed is produced. Helping matters is the return of Dave Lombardo to the lineup, recording with Slayer for the first time since 1990's 'Seasons In The Abyss'. His drumming is more precise than ever, adding a notch to Slayer's original sound that had been diluted in the Paul Bostaph years, despite Bostaph's brilliance. All era's of Slayer's career are mixed in to the fray, one moment the 'Divine Intervention' sound can be discerned, as can 'Reign In Blood' at various moments, especially in the riffing. Mainly it's similar to 'God Hates Us All', only more varied in the tangents used, going off the thrash precipice countless times.
'Flesh Storm' , 'Black Serenade', 'Consfearacy', 'Cult', 'Jihad', 'Catalyst' and 'Supermist' are all vintage examples of Slayer's thrash onslaught and of the rarer slower tracks 'Eyes Of The Insane' is equally as inspired, detailing the madness of a returning soldier and the nightmarish visions of war unable to be freed from the mind. 'Jihad' is written from the perspective of the terrorists of 9/11 and was expected to generate controversy which hasn't materialised as yet. Why should it? It's jaded and stale anyway, the whole topic, even though as relevant as ever. King knows it. He's as disgusted as you and me.
Another Slayer album for the ages and one that for this era contains as much impact as 'Reign In Blood' did in 1986, only back then such thrash had never been heard. While commonplace in 2006, nobody still holds a candle to Slayer, and their existence remains vital to metal. A few days after receiving my copy of 'Christ Illusion', the new Unearth cd also showed up. The relatively young thrashers have seen a rise in popularity with their own blend of speed and rage, but couldn't stand next to Slayer on their worst day. The melody and brutality isn't there. Slayer still have the market cornered on that. Until the day they split they always will.