Since the 1983 release of Slayer's debut album Show No Mercy, guitarists Jeff Hanneman, Kerry King bassist/vocalist Tom Araya and drummer Dave Lombardo have built a long and respectable career by maintaining the number two slot in the Big Four of thrash metal, second only to Metallica. But if the measure was the loyalty of their fan base, one would argue that Slayer would usurp the throne. Their album Reign In Blood is widely considered the Rosetta Stone of the genre.
Throughout all those years, the band released 10 albums of varying quality but this was ultimately irrelevant as their fanbase proved seemingly impervious to criticism. As such, the band has managed to remain relatively drama-free with only two lineup changes to speak of - both involving the exit of Lombardo.
The first time was shortly after the completion of the Reign In Blood tour. It didn't take, and Lombardo was back within a year. The second time was after 1991's Seasons In The Abyss. This time wasn't as easy, but the band rode it out. They enlisted drummer Paul Bostaph, a more than capable replacement but it took a number of years before he was able to win over the fans. Lombardo returned to the fold in 2002 and all seemed right with the world. Then came 2011 and things would really never be the same.
Guitarist Jeff Hanneman was put on the injury list after a spider bite. At first it didn't seem to be that big a deal, but from the bite, Hanneman developed necrotizing fasciitis (flesh-eating disease) in his arm, leaving him unable to play guitar indefinitely. Rather than do open auditions for an unproven and untested talent, Slayer wasted no time and went right to the unofficial number 5 on the Big Four list - Exodus, and recruited founding member Gary Holt as Hanneman's temporary replacement. Holt was the man for the job in very sense, powering through with Slayer full-time while still managing to keep his own Exodus going.
So when Lombardo and Slayer parted company again in February 2013, no one had time to even process the idea before the he said/they said ridiculousness began to unfold in every rock and metal news outlet. Lombardo was again replaced by the band's backdoor-man, Paul Bostaph.
Sadly the temporary solution of Holt became a permanent one when Jeff Hanneman passed away in 2013 of cirrhosis of the liver. Surprisingly, or perhaps not surprisingly, as insurmountable as Hanneman's death would seem, Slayer barely missed a step with Holt already in place, and continued to play shows throughout.
Repentless is the band's first album since 2009's World Painted Blood and the first to feature the band's new lineup and if the album proves anything, it's that regardless of what we've all seen on the surface, the band hasn't exactly come out of the last few years unscathed.
Repentless is more of the same blood-by-numbers songwriting formula the band has employed for over 15 years. Staying true to themselves and their fans has always been a point of pride for Slayer, but I think it's time to admit that with Repentless, after so many years of "staying true" it's starting to look like something else: auto-pilot.
No one in their right mind would ever ask Slayer to change things up and re-invent the wheel, but after many listens, it's sadly apparent that there's little to remember about this album. The riffs are uninspired, Araya's vocals are there to maintain the status quo and Holt is very clearly shackled to the Slayer paradigm which is ultimately a wasted opportunity.
For a number of years, long before we lost Hanneman, the band has become the Kerry King road show and now, more than ever, with King writing almost the entire album on his own, that new ideas should be entertained. I understand there's a legacy to protect, but what's harder to grasp is why ANY band would enlist the services of such a huge talent as Gary Holt and not use the shit out of him in the songwriting process.
King has stated in interviews that it was because he felt that the fans weren't ready for that yet, but I think that's insulting and more than a little condescending to such a loyal fanbase. Protect the brand but don't choke the life out of it. Growth doesn't have to mean compromise.