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Slayer Repentless Nuclear Blast

It may not seem clear to ears not tuned into Slayer’s particular brand of ferocity, but the thrash icons have been extremely adept in the art of subtle reinvention over the years.

But Slayer’s recent output has often borne the brunt of a tension. Their status as elder statesmen plunges them between a rock and a hard place: attempts to modernise have been greeted with cynicism, while sticking to their genre-establishing template leaves them seeming stagnant. Factor in the 2013 death of guitarist/songwriter Jeff Hannemann and the recent departure of drummer Dave Lombardo, and it’s not an easy time to be Slayer.

The real challenge of Repentless, then, is in Kerry King shouldering the crushing mantle of sole songwriter without playing it safe. And while King may be a pioneer, he’s no miracle worker: there’s a linearity to this album, the songs revolve around a brutalist structural integrity – a bruising bluntness. Repentless can be roughly divided into two categories: chugging half-time slammers and rollocking thrash gallops. On Vices, King’s knack for cataclysmic grooves pays off in huge and unholy spades; the uptempo Atrocity Vendor, meanwhile, is insatiably confrontational. It’s intriguing how obvious Hanneman’s composition is: his superb Piano Wire’s fluttering, palm-muted verse recalls the downtuned, post-metal atmospherics of Isis.

Lyrically is where Hanneman’s absence is hardest felt. Robbed of his partner’s wild creativity and narrative flair, King’s declarations can seem clunky: “A little violence is the ultimate drug – let’s get high!”

At its core, Repentless has achieved what it set out to. It’s defined by defiance; a document of a personal and creative situation that could have caused the band’s extant half to wither, but instead served to galvanise. It’s
a more than worthy preface to a new chapter for the greatest metal band of them all.