Released: 2009, Sony Music
So Slayer is back with a new one. Metallica with DEATH MAGNETIC last year, Megadeth with ENDGAME this year, the much-hyped Sonisphere festival 2010 bringing together Le Grande Quatre for the first time since whenever. Any of these bands’ new releases will be greeted with intense scrutiny, and, unless an album is universally agreed to be utter shite (see: ST ANGER), will be immensely divisive, with objective criticism by any fan virtually impossible.
With that in mind, I have to say WORLD PAINTED BLOOD was disappointing upon immediate and repeated listens. The first thing that strikes the listener’s ear is the frankly terrible production. Both guitars sound flat and lifeless in the rhythm sections and are too far back in the mix – dominated by the drums, probably thanks to Mr Greg Fidelman, the guy who screwed up the production job on Metallica’s DEATH MAGNETIC by boosting and compressing everything to the point of audio clipping. Dynamics: zero. Atmosphere: zero. Presence: zero. This is one of the most sterile production jobs I’ve ever heard, and the guitars are so weak that poor Araya is left yelping and screaming into…nothingness: he’s not getting any help in the “upping-aggression” department from the guitars, that's for sure.
Once you get past the guitar sound, you run smack into the cold hard fact that Slayer haven’t written a decent riff since the early 90s. The riffs on WORLD PAINTED BLOOD, at best sound derivative, at worst sound as if the band couldn’t be arsed to write a proper skull-crushing riff. Of course, there are some great songs like “Unit 731”, “Psychopathy Red” and “Public Display of Dismemberment”, but you also have unimaginative clunkers like “Americon”, “Human Strain”, the putrid “Playing With Dolls” and the godawful title track, “World Painted Blood”. The leads are predictably awful with King especially indulging in his usual whammy bar rape, while the lyrics are also no better than previous efforts. However, I'm not going to sit here and bitch about Slayer leads and Slayer lyrics, because frankly, that's not where their strengths lie. They are no better and no worse than on previous outings.
The most disappointing thing about WORLD PAINTED BLOOD is that the much-maligned CHRIST ILLUSION had given Slayer fans something to hope for in terms of the direction of the band. And yet, they seem to have gone backward from 2006. I don’t think a single sane Slayer fan is asking for a return to REIGN IN BLOOD or SEASONS IN THE ABYSS – SOUTH OF HEAVEN showed that the band could write mid-paced longer songs and still be devastatingly heavy. We want the old atmosphere that Slayer used to have: the evil, the menace, and most of all, the balls. They could start by hiring a proper producer instead of one whose CV reads “Metallica, Slayer and other pop/rock bands”. On a promising note, the band seems to have a renewed commitment to speed, and Dave Lombardo is truly confirmed as one of the all-time gods of heavy metal drumming, with a flawless, imaginative and stellar performance on WORLD PAINTED BLOOD.