Razor's edge outlines the dead, incisions in my head
((This is also my first review, so go easy on me if it's not very good or the formatting's a bit off.))
So, 3 years on from 2006's magnificent "Christ Illusion", the most uncompromising thrash band the world has ever known have returned, still raging, still slaying and still metal thrashing mad after nearly 30 years. After their slightly lacklustre performance on their own Unholy Alliance tour a few years ago, and, putting it politely, having their arse handed to them every night by Lamb Of God (as well as by a revitalized Machine Head at Download 2007), Slayer have a lot to prove on this new album-but are the cracks finally beginning to show?
Anyway, bit o' standard
Frankly, if you don't know who Slayer are, get your head out of the ground.
Guitarist Kerry King
Formed in 1981 by guitarists Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman, Slayer were one of the seminal Bay Area "Big Four" of thrash, along with Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax.
Guitarist Jeff Hanneman
They've been the most extreme, sonically and lyrically, of the bunch, ever since, as well as stubbornly sticking to their guns-there's no "Load" or "Risk" equivalent in Slayer's back catalogue (except perhaps the questionable nu-metal flavours of 1998's Diabolus in Musica), and even then, they made up for that with a number of killer songs on each album.
Vocalist/bassist Tom Araya
After recruiting vocalist/bassist Tom Araya and maestro drummer Dave Lombardo, they went on to release what were probably the best extreme albums of the 80's (1986's masterpiece Reign In Blood has been called the heaviest album of all time), the original line-up remained together until the end of the tour supporting 1990's Seasons In The Abyss, before Lombardo quit. The band recruited replacement Paul Bostaph, and Slayer, like many of the other classic metal bands, had a bad 90's, before Lombardo rejoined in 2002 and remains today.
Drummer Dave Lombardo
Anyway, on with the review!
I am a big Slayer fan, and metal fan in general. The ambient noise intro of the magnificent 6-minute opening title track was enough to get my excited, with some tone-setting rolls from Lombardo, before the demonic twin guitars of Hanneman and King kick in, with Araya mumbling...something. This carries on for a while before a slightly generic riff kicks in, with Tom Araya's still-undiluted bark bellowing the usual doom-laden lyrics, sounding slightly strained, but still mighty for a man who's turning 50 next year.
The album does take an immediate and noticable dip in quality (further enforcing my "strong-bookends" rule with Slayer), with the unimaginative stomp of "Unit 731" and mindless guitar-fuckery of "Snuff". "Beauty Through Order" is slightly better, with lyrics about medieval murderess Countess Bathory (Venom did it better 28 years ago, boys...) It does get repetitive about 2 minutes in, showing Slayer really should have stuck to the verse/chorus/verse/finish minute-and-a-half dynamics as employed on Reign in Blood.
Things get a bit better with fantastic stormer "Hate Worldwide" (boasting probably the only good solos on the album), with the as-to-be-expected anti-religious lyrics "That's why it's become my obsession/to treat God like an infection", while coming to a sudden, abrupt end.
"Public Display Of Dismemberment" is again better, speeding along like Silent Scream (despite another awful solo/beatdown), but is saved by a second solo from Hanneman and some hyper-speed riffage and a fantastic performance from Araya. "Human Strain" continues the mid-album high quality, with another great doom-laden riff, let down by a slightly tired sounding vocal, but improved hugely by a magnificently eerie slow section, with some creepily picked guitar and just plain scary ethereal vocals.
"Americon" and "Psychopathy Red" let the album down again, sounding so generic you wonder if they had a machine churning out the songs at some point. However they're soon forgotten by what is in my opinion the album's best song by some stretch, "Playing With Dolls". The picked guitar recalls Jihad from Christ Illusion, and the spoken vocals during the intro are magnificent, before the gradually more intense roars of "You wish you were in hell!" build up to a ferocious cliffhanger, before the final verse (despite including the lines "reign in blood"...seriously, come on, guys) nails it perfectly. Closer "Not Of This God" is almost great, but misses the mark slightly by having a bored-sounding delivery, leaving you feeling slightly disappointed. Still, just go back and listen to "Playing With Dolls" again. Or play it twice and pretend it's the closer.
What can I say? It's Slayer. It's difficult to review a Slayer album, but all I'll say is that if you're a hardcore fan of the band, you'll love it-it's largely consistent and has enough thrashers to keep the fans happy and retains the slight experimentation to please, even somewhat, the critics. So no, it's no Reign In Blood or South Of Heaven, but it's still a good, almost great, but not quite, thrash album.
((Thanks for reading! Critique is appreciated!))