The era of thrash has seen an outrageous turn of comebacks this past two years: Megadeth finally brought us the apocalypse it promised for decades with Endgame, Metallica resurfaced with a Guitar Hero volume in their name and the missing link between Justice and Metallica known as Death Magnetic. While Scott Ian’s infamous Anthrax sits on the back-burner for now, another “big four” club member seeks to continue its reign as Slayer presents World Painted Blood via executive producer Rick Rubin and American Recordings.
We won’t bother with a long diatribe about Rubin’s golden touch in the world of rejuvenating production tactics, because there are times when he’s a genius and times when he’s the rock world’s answer to Timbaland (plus actual imagination). In the end, Rubin attempts to be Slayer’s own personal Bob Rock, except Slayer never really needed any re-imagining to begin with. I had an extremely hard time placing World Painted Blood at first or second listen. Upon initial playing, the album felt like an amalgam of everything the band’s done correctly, plus Lombardo’s new drum kit helping to emphasize the tones in the music. On revisiting, the music felt not so much lacking as being stretched too thin — as if Rubin tried to reinvent the wheel and Slayer just rode along, content with the end result. On the whole, World Painted Blood does its job as a damn decent thrash record regardless of the Rubin “gloss or no gloss” treatment (perhaps that can be attributed to Slayer’s no-nonsense approach).
A steady climbing intro builds into World Painted Blood‘s titular track, and our favorite wailer Araya goes into full form. Sadly, his age is starting to show, particularly during the chorus, “World painted blood/No sanctuary”. Lombardo’s crashes shine right before the bridge, while his basses deal out tremendous power; this reconstitutes as he hits full speed into the short Reign backpedaling “Unit 731”. After this, we get the song “Snuff”, which brings Araya’s vocals in a cleaner cut while King and Hanneman do what they do best on some fast tremolo. Beyond the obvious technical side, we see songs like “Beauty Through Order” and “Human Strain” taking a deeper lyrical perspective and doing it rather well; the usual subject matter we see on a Slayer record remains at the forefront, but something here feels more reminiscent of early Mustaine or the like in terms of songwriting.
The subtleties present on each track are not exactly good or bad, but just feel like a natural progression in the world of thrash. It’s a regular pooling of resources and inspiration that do not mutate the order of things, but instead tries to complement an already brutal monster by accenting the motives — fleshing it out appropriately. Slayer has unwittingly shown a vulnerability here also in breaking down the insanity; when you give a back story to the horror film’s central villain, you add a slice of sympathy that can either soften its future blows or make it even more horrifying. Slayer is presented here as it always has been, but the brutality now has a drive unseen prior, and though it adds depth and berth to the ideas this band represents, it also takes some bite away and shows the age outside of vocal capacity.
As promised through the album’s title, however, Slayer ups the ante on violence yet again in songs like the World Painted Blood highlights “Hate Worldwide”, modern rock-glazed “Playing With Dolls”, and promotional single “Psychopathy Red”. “Psychopathy Red”, while unfortunately short, has a steady place in my metal play list, alongside “Playing With Dolls” — the latter feeling like a cut track from the Freddy vs Jason OST fittingly enough. “Public Display Of Dismemberment” feels less bass-heavy and has some punk leanings set to high speed, but another zinger, no doubt, in the violence department. “Americon” is an overtly political insertion with marching beats a la Araya’s bass and Lombardo’s tricked out drums. It forces you to imagine armies treading upon unwelcoming blood-stained soil in brilliant flashes and bangs. This is complemented in turn (and suitably so) by a perfectly paced, drum-heavy, cut-to-the-quick inspection of religion: the “Skeleton Christ” extension titled “Not Of This God”.
As it stands right now, Slayer remains as straight in their game as ever before, despite showing its frays a tad, neither improving beyond the scope of the creature born decades ago nor killing it off. There are changes in presentation (most definitely Rubin’s influence), an essence of a stripped-down carcass that wishes to show its sharpest edges in audio. The bottom line with the songs on World Painted Blood revolves around something Slayer succeeds in delivering (as always): pure, unadulterated anarchy. The biggest differences in this Slayer catalog inclusion rests on production values, tight drum work on the toms, Araya’s clicked back bass notes, and a general sense of sensational panic in the lyrics. Lots of punk and modern metal influence strung about the thrash reign here, and Slayer does so damn well to never forget its roots while welcoming a few new flavors into the fold. It is by far not perfect, but much like Megadeth’s Endgame, were this the final Slayer record, the legendary Californians would be exiting on a high note.
Be that the case, we can only hope Lombardo will resurface on another Fantomas recording — calling, Mike Patton?
World Painted Blood