Sunday, 5 October 2014

Speculation On The Next Slayer Album + Why My Expectations For It Are So Low

Well, it cannot have escaped the attention of anyone that Slayer had a rather controversial 2013. Not only did they lost Jeff Hanneman (the writer of some of their best songs) due to his death from liver failure, but they also fired Dave Lombardo (their iconic drummer) under circumstances that are still more than a bit controversial: depending on who you ask, Lombardo was fired either due to a pay dispute or due to asking about suspicious circumstances related to the band's finances.

Some people might be wondering why I never bothered to comment on the news from the Slayer camp. Well, there's three reasons:
  1. I was never a big Slayer fan to start with, so most of the news, while noticed by me, didn't mean a lot to me because I didn't feel any real emotional connection to the band. While I did mourn Hanneman's death, I was more sad that a great musician had died than anything else, as he had no impact upon me as a music fan.
  2. I was more concerned with taking out my anger at the metal scene in general in 2013 than actually trying to provide any meaningful commentary on news related to band stuff, so the Slayer news never struck me as anything that I needed to talk about.
  3. I never felt that I needed to talk about it when I DID finally start to talk about band related stuff, as it had been news for a good while and I didn't think there was anything I could say that needed to be said.
However, something that I have noticed recently, aside from the change in the way the band are perceived by the metal scene (you can criticise Slayer more easily now without fear of getting torn apart by angry Slayer fans), is that news about the upcoming Slayer album has been pretty much non-existant since the release of "Implode" in April this year, despite the fact that the album is due to come out in early 2015. Since Slayer are one of the Big 4 of thrash metal and an album by them is usually highly anticipated as a result, this is more than a than concerning to notice!

Yet, at the same time, I cannot help thinking that, even if the album was being hyped through the roof and I was a big fan of Slayer, I'd still not be interested in picking it up, as I'd be more than a bit concerned about the quality of the material due to a few factors. Let me try to explain my concerns for everyone so that you can see my concerns.

First of all, I have to question the decision to continue Slayer at all after the firing of Lombardo and death of Hanneman. Both of them were rather important to the band (Hanneman wrote a lot of the band's best known songs, and, even at his worst (he wrote just about all of Diabolus in Musica, which is hardly one of Slayer's best loved albums), his songwriting was still stronger than Kerry King's songwriting overall, while Lombardo is noted as one of the best drummers in the whole metal scene due to his less clinical style that showcases a looser, more chaotic style of drumming that very few drummers can replicate and fewer still can match), so I find it tough to accept that King and Tom Araya feel that they are more important than those two members and, as such, can continue the band. King's songwriting, while never bad per se, has mostly been known for being very predictable: a Slayer song written by King is nearly always very fast, technically simple (if rather quickly played) and has a small range of potential topics related to it. King isn't exactly the kind of songwriter who is known for being varied, which makes him probably the weakest regular songwriter from the original Bay Area thrash metal scene, since every other songwriter connected to that scene has managed to shake up their songwriting at least once and been able to tackle topics which aren't their typical topics. Araya MIGHT have a valid reason for saying that he is a somewhat important member of the band, as very few vocalists can replicate his vocal style or match his vocal range properly, but his only contribution to the band's songwriting, to my knowledge, has only been lyrics, so it is tough to say whether he could continue Slayer on his own (it's most likely that he couldn't even if he wanted to, but I will be fair and not give any definitive statement on that). Because of this, part of me has to wonder whether leaving the band in the hands of King and Araya is even enough to constitute calling the band Slayer. While Lombardo hasn't constantly been part of the band (he's actually left the band three times in total), it is hard to deny how important he was to the band and Hanneman's contributions to the band have resulted in their best loved songs (even on the band's weakest albums, you'll nearly always see the best songs on the album being listed as having been at least co-written by him), so their absence makes it hard for me to really accept that Slayer are still Slayer. No disrespect is intended towards Paul Bostaph (who I have huge respect for, as not only is he a fantastic drummer (if not quite up to the level of Lombardo), but he is the only other long time drummer Slayer have had, so him replacing Lombardo again is actually a move that I feel is acceptable) and Gary Holt (who has played with Slayer since 2011 while Hanneman was trying to recover from his illness prior to his death and actually has worked with Bostaph in the past in his own band, Exodus) by saying this, but, at the end of the day, they are trying to fill some of the largest shoes in the thrash metal scene and they do themselves no favours by being seen as replacing Hanneman and Lombardo.

Secondly, I have to examine the material that has come out both in connection to the upcoming album (which, at the moment, is just "Implode") and the material by King from the previous Slayer album, World Painted Blood. And I have to be honest, doing this doesn't paint a pretty picture for the next album, especially considering that it has been confirmed that Gary Holt will have no involvement in the songwriting for the album (which strikes me as a very dumb decision: Exodus' albums since their reunion, in my honest opinion, have all outstripped World Painted Blood in terms of sheer quality, so denying Holt the opportunity to write any material for the album is somewhat like getting Mike Patton to join your band as a triangle player: a waste of a talent that can no doubt be used far better by letting him do what he does best!). With King being behind the driving seat of the next Slayer album, I have to look at "Snuff", "Hate Worldwide", "Public Display Of Dismemberment", "Americon" and "Not Of This God" to get a vague idea of what the next Slayer album will sound like (I COULD look at the lyrics of "Playing With Dolls", but he co-wrote the lyrics on that song with Hanneman and Araya, so I can't really say that's a song he had much involvement with). Which might sound like a daft statement (Slayer sound like Slayer, do I really need to look deeper than that?), but a very unpleasant trend that I see affecting the next Slayer album is that all of the songs will basically feel like they're lacking solid choruses, lyrics that are just angry at everything without anything else to shake things up (since I rarely see a song which King has written which is NOT written only by him, from my quick glance through the band's songwriting credits) and all of them will be played very quickly without any consideration of the fact that speed doesn't make stuff automatically better.

So, basically a less varied version of Christ Illusion. Which I've not actually listened to, at the time of writing this, but I've been informed by my friend and proofreader that I'm actually not too far from the mark with that comment, so that's either a lucky guess or an astonishing bit of logical deduction, considering I based that comment purely on the songwriting credits for that album. Take your pick, Slayer fans!

Anyway, moving back to my suspicions on how the album will sound, "Implode", to me, only surprised me in one way: it did not start out quickly, but had a somewhat sinister part to it for about the first 50 seconds of it. However, when it kicked into the fast sounded pretty much how I expected it to, and was mostly how I just summed it up. It was not a bad song by any measure, but to call it unimpressive compared to Slayer at their best would be an understatement. And, bear in mind, this is the song that the band released with the intent to hype this album up, so it's not unlikely that the band felt that "Implode" was either the song that best represented what the album sounded like or that it was one of the best songs they had from the album. If it's the former, then it only confirmed my suspicions and didn't do anything to get me more excited for the album (since it basically just said "We still sound like Slayer"...which is hardly a sign of quality, when you think about it hard enough!) and, if it's the latter, then it has me actually MORE concerned for the next album, as "Implode" simply wasn't good enough to get me interested in the album.

Incidentally, now I think on it, the production of World Painted Blood and that of "Implode" have me concerned about the upcoming album as well, as they are very much victims of the loudness war. However, while Nuclear Blast can be disputed for arguably overproducing their releases (I don't think the right word is "overproduced", as I find most of the albums they release are mostly well produced and my complaints that I regularly bring up about their releases (limited bass volume and overly loud mastering) are the same flaws that I notice most metal labels fall to, but "overproduced" is a term that has lost its real meaning due to how many times it gets used as a subjective term in spit of having a perfectly valid objective meaning, so my definition of it might well be very different from what someone else would use), they rarely let albums get released that are as brickwalled as World Painted Blood was, so I am hopeful that this will not be an issue with the final album.

Anyway, my third issue is the lack of promotion for the album by the band. Now, bear in mind, Machine Head have a new album coming out in November, yet they mentioned the album quite a lot on their Facebook page and built up hype for it over the course of the year, thanks to Robb Flynn's blog posts going into a lot of detail about stuff connected to the album. So I couldn't possibly have forgotten the album was coming out: every time I glanced at their Facebook page, I saw it being mentioned! By contrast, Slayer have only posted pictures from the recording sessions of the album...and said absolutely nothing connected to them, from what I've noticed. Now, one could argue that Slayer don't want to say anything for definite about the album until they've finished recording it, but when the person who has talked the most about the album is Dave Lombardo, who is no longer in the band (although, admittedly, he is not really a good source of information on the album when you remember that he's no longer in the band), you have to question how good the material actually is. This silence has lasted for long enough that "Implode" has stopped tiding over the fans and everyone is now getting more than a bit impatient with the lack of solid news about it. It's now been nearly six months since "Implode" came out and all we've had to go on is a lot of comments from Lombardo (most of which has basically gone "It's more of the same"...and I also have to wonder whether Lombardo would have even said anything had he still been in Slayer!) and photos from the studio, which is fine if you want proof that recording is being done, but is not enough to tide over people for nearly six months, especially since talk about the album writing process has been going on for nearly three years now and World Painted Blood came out in November 2009! With no title announced yet, the recording process (probably) still going on, only two song titles confirmed, not even a hint about a potential bit of album artwork and little to no discussion by the band about the album, you'd be forgiven for forgetting that they were even working on one! Also, another little thing to bear in mind: Nuclear Blast is one of the largest independent metal labels, so they could promote the album very well. Yet, aside from "Implode", I've seen nothing from them related to Slayer's upcoming album. So that indicates to me that Slayer haven't even given the label something to work with. Now, I could be being very unfair, but part of me suspects that the early 2015 release for this album could end up being optimistic...again.

So yeah...all of those factors have come together in my head to convince me that the next Slayer album might well be the worst one they've released to date. It will be yet another Slayer-by-the-numbers album, only with more diminishing returns than World Painted Blood provided, less memorable choruses, less variety in the songs and will almost certainly lack a really great song, even if material that was previously written by Hanneman is included on the album (because most of them were songs he hadn't wanted to hand over in life, so it's likely he didn't think they were up to scratch...and that's rather likely to show in that material). Now, I will admit that I could be very wrong, but, unless I get proven to be wrong, I will be approaching this one with a lot of caution...

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