In 1986, Slayer, a band from Huntington, California, released the album Reign in Blood to universal acclaim. The record was a non-stop, no nonsense thrash masterpiece, tackling themes of human experimentation and nazi practices. In fact, Kerrang! Magazine have called it the ‘Heaviest album of all’. This cemented Slayer in their place as one of the true founding fathers of the metal we listen to today, an integreal component of The Big Four (Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth & Anthrax).Ask any metalhead today to name a Slayer track, and you’re gonna get one from RIB.
But what I’m really getting to here, is that that album was a true, iron clad classic. Nothing will ever touch it, and it’ll be forever perfect. However, whilst most bands have grown and developed their sound, if you pick up any other Slayer album today (bar Diablos in Musica) you’re more than likely to realise: this sounds exactly the same as it did nearly 30 years ago. But is that nessesarily a bad thing?
I’m sure you’re asking yourself what point I’m trying to make, and you’re very right to do so. Why should a band be allowed to release what is essentially the same album over and over, and not develop in any sense? Well, let’s go back to something I said earlier. When Slayer released Diablos in Musica in 1998, they experimented with pushing more sounds into their work. Longer songs and groove metal elements working their way into the proceedings, this was a big departure for the band. On release, the album was critically panned. Slayer had failed at broadening their creative horizons. While I personally like the sound proposed on the album, I would be lying if I said I listened to it often. Or ever.
No, nothing gets as much as play as RIB, and I’m not the only one. Whilst bands like Pantera were pioneering groove metal, Slayer were going back to the drawing board, only to settle back down on that old, thrash sound. Why? Diablos in Musica felt forced. Whilst musically they had shown diversity, the fit was wrong. But why don’t the band give it another try? Incorporate some dubstep? Maybe some clean female vocals or sweeping orchestral choruses? It worked for bands like Korn and Bring Me The Horizon, why not one of the most influential metal bands of all time?
To answer this question, I’m forced to ask another. How many bands can you name that do anything that Slayer do, and manage to do it better? Slayer may have fit into a comfortable, predictable groove, but they do it with such finésse and brutality that no other group dare touch it. While Metallica are busy writing The Unforgiven Part IV, Slayer are re-writing their best material. One of those will go down easier than the other, and we all remember how Unforgiven III turned out. Slayer are the band you want Slayer to be. Return to form isn’t even nessesary for the band, because they’ve never really lost it. Sure, albums haven’t quite been as strong as that seminal release in ’86, but do they really need to be? While we all pray for another Reign In Blood, we’ve already got one and it’s perfectly good. When you go to a Slayer show, what do you want to hear? Raining Blood or Overt Enemy? Sometimes, safe and reliable is all a band needs to do. The boys may make the claim that each album is ‘their best since Reign In Blood’, but we all know what we’re getting.
It’s true, Slayer may be struggling in the innovation department, but when was the last time you said “Wow, this album is crap”? Would you rather have more of a good thing, than have something of much lesser quality in a different style? Sometimes, routine is the best thing a band can be.