The return of original Slayer skinsman Dave Lombardo was heralded by the metal community as a sign of the band’s potential return to the greatness of their inassailable 1980s output. While their 1990s releases were not without merit (I still think Diabolus In Musica is a pretty underrated album), hardly anyone could deny that the heyday of Reign In Blood appeared to be long behind them. So, 2006’s Christ Illusion came along, and it was… well… It was alright. It ended up being disappointing not by dint of being a poor album, but by not being the trailblazing return to form that people were hoping for. Well, three years have passed now, and Slayer Mk. I have returned once more with their tenth full-length album. So, is this one the comeback the thrash faithful have been waiting for?
Well, let’s look at the elements that make up this record. The first thing you’ll notice is the Greg Fidelman (Metallica’s Death Magnetic) production – raw, dry, and immediate. Not for World Painted Blood the ultra-high-gain tones of past 90s Slayer albums – this record is far more in-your-face, benefiting from the back-to-basics Fidelman production without the botched mastering job that butchered Death Magnetic’s sound. This stripped-down production aesthetic lends itself perfectly to Dave Lombardo’s hyperactively punkish skin-bashings on ‘Psychopathy Red’ and ‘Hate Worldwide’, as well as his blisteringly rapid clattering on frighteningly velocitous ‘Public Display Of Dismemberment’. Tom Araya’s bass has more presence than we are accustomed to, providing a pulsing low-end and even a couple of solo bass breaks through the course of the album, and his vocal performance stretches from the typical, throat-rending screams of old to some of his most melodic, clean-sung vocals yet (see ‘Human Strain’ for a perfect example of this). King and Hanneman provide their typical chromatic, breakneck riffage and trade-off solos throughout – see the blistering pair of fret-workouts that open ‘Snuff’, or the frantic tremolo-picked barrage that closes out the initially slow-paced, moody track ‘Beauty Through Order’.
All in all, this album feels like both an amalgamation of the best moments of Slayer’s past – the runaway pace and breathless aggression of ‘Psychopathy Red’ could easily have slipped onto Reign In Blood, while ‘Playing With Dolls’ recalls Christ Illusion highlight ‘Jihad’) – whilst also incorporating some new tweaks to the formula. Some of these tweaks are more successful than others – ‘Snuff’ shows some unusually technical riffage in its closing moments, which works particularly well, but the godawful track ‘Americon’ sounds like Slayer aping Slipknot’s more unimaginative, detuned groove metal moments. The overall impression one gets from World Painted Blood, however, is of a re-energised band operating near the top of their abilities once more.