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"World Painted Blood" is the 11th studio album by American thrash metal band, Slayer. It was released in 2009 on American Recordings and produced by Greg Fidelman. The line-up for the album was Tom Araya (vocals/bass), Jeff Hanneman (guitar), Kerry King (guitar) and Dave Lombardo (drums).
As one of the Big 4 of thrash metal, Slayer hasn't changed style much over the years and remains the most aggressive out of the four. Megadeth goes for a more straight-edged thrash and speed approach, Anthrax is a groovier style and Metallica are really not thrash any more. This was an issue which hit No.41 in the UK album charts and while some people thought Slayer was done because of Tom Araya's neck problems due to aggressive headbanging on-stage over the years (he had an operation the following year to repair his spinal cord) the band proved that they could still cut the mustard. Is it any good? Let's find out!
World Painted Blood
The album opens with the title track, and it's a song that Slayer opened with when promoting and touring off the album. It begins with a slow guitar-driven approach which is backed by Lombardo's military style drumming before the pedal is pushed almost to the floor. Slayer is holding something back here and I'm not sure why they're choosing to do that, unless they want to pull you in before hitting you with their best stuff. It's a song which theorises on what would happen if Satan came to Earth. It goes into gruesome detail on a world which turns red with the blood of the people and we're all powerless to stop it. There are some really great riffs by Hanneman and King here but they're almost muffled and I think it's down to the lack of production. This was the first album Fidelman worked on with the band, and I'm sure it's just nerves when he had to take over from the legendary Rick Rubin.
This is a full-on fist pumping song which is in the same mould as some of Slayer's fastest of songs. However, it must be noted that the lack of production just doesn't do Lombardo's immense drumming any justice at all. He's throwing arms around like he's an octopus and you can barely hear what he's doing because it's practically distorted. It's the best song on the album for me just because of the best drummer I've ever heard. This is a song about a Japanese bunch of military scientists who conducted experiments on their poor victims and massacred an estimated 10 million people during their reign of terror between the years of 1934-45.
This track begins with a ripping guitar solo from Hanneman and another by King quickly follows. As a fan of thrash metal and one that's followed Slayer since the early days, it's pretty obvious that both are hugely talented guitarists, but here I think they're trying too hard. Both solos sound really good but it's a case of 'look what I can do' instead of concentrating on the song. Unfortunately, the song doesn't do much else apart from those solos and it falls flat, as far as I'm concerned. It's a song about snuff films and the psychological effect they have on people - those that commit the crimes and the families of their unfortunate victims.
Beauty Through Order
This is a song about Elizabeth Báthory, the Hungarian-born Blood Countess of the 16th and 17th centuries who is widely believed to be the world's first female serial killer who is said to have killed as many as 650 people, though was only convicted of 80 murders. It is understood that she bathed in the blood of her victims to retain her beauty. The song has excellent structure in the verses and it almost sounds as if Araya's vocals are distorted yet harmonic at the same time, and harmony is something which can't really be said for the front man who once described his singing as sounding like a tortured pig. The bridge is a frantic blast of pure thrash metal done in the style that only Slayer knows how before slowing down into a bit of their "South of Heaven" era riffs and hooks. It's not a classic by any means, but it's still Slayer and that's never a bad thing.
This is a song full of speedy riffs that scream old school Slayer, which is never a bad thing if you're a fan of thrash metal, and if it's crazy ape bonkers solos you're after then you will find them on this track. It's a song about the panic that is spread throughout the world with organised religion. Slayer is saying here that almost every war has come about because of the differing faiths that people have which spreads hate worldwide. I do think, however, that it's more aimed at the fanatics who wish to spread terror and panic amongst those that are completely innocent. Once again, you can't fault the brilliance of Lombardo's drumming, even though it's a little difficult to hear most of it over the furious guitar work of Hanneman and King.
Public Display of Dismemberment
This track deals with the topic of crime and punishment in some countries around the world. For instance, under Sharia Law, amputation of hands can be carried out for someone who is convicted of theft. In Saudi Arabia, beheading is a legal form of execution and as recent as 2007, four bodies were put on a crucified display after being decapitated. Musically, it sounds a bit like "Mind Control" off the band's 1994 album, "Divine Intervention", especially in the main riff department, but again the production is a little too distorted to be able to tell for sure. The song has a couple of breakdowns to a slower signature but that doesn't stop it from being a pretty good Slayer record, especially when it picks up near the end to a pretty rapid pace.
This is about the very real possibility of a mutated virus which has the capability of wiping out most, if not all, of the human race. At the time of the writing of the album, there was a huge public fear over the swine flu pandemic, and though it never really took hold as much as it was predicted, it still infected many people. I like the sound of the main riff but I also think I would have liked it more if it was faster than it is. When the song gets going, however, there is some really good double bass work from Lombardo, but it's a track that doesn't quite grab me and I'm going to label this one as filler. It's right around the middle of the album and most bands put fillers there anyway, but it's a shame a band as respected as Slayer has done so.
This is a song written solely by Kerry King and is about the needless wars to rid of tyrants, but what it's really saying is it's really for the control of oil. Musically, it reminds me of Anthrax's style of playing - that groove-infested laid back approach which works for that part of the Big Four, but I'm not so sure it works for Slayer. The lyrics, too, are so weak and casual that I can hardly believe it's Slayer that has recorded the track, save for Araya's distinct vocals. This is, unfortunately, two in a row that don't work, and I am beginning to wonder if the album is going to continue on a downward spiral. I certainly hope not, as we have four tracks left!
Another Slayer song about another serial killer is up next, and "Psychopathy Red" deals with the life and crimes of Russian, Andrei Chikatilo. The Rostov Ripper was found guilty of 53 murders in 1992 and sentenced to death. The sentence was carried out 16 months later in February, 1994. The track is a non-stop thrash fest which sounds like it could belong on the band's "Reign in Blood" album and it would easily shine on that 29-minute masterpiece which is widely regarded as the heaviest album of all time. Normally with a song about a serial killer, I'd instantly think of something which starts slow and brooding but gradually picks up the speed over the duration, but this beast refuses to let up. It's a very good track, but not quite the best on the album.
Playing With Dolls
This isn't a track I can comfortably say I like too much. The guitar playing is pretty tedious, and the first 70 seconds of the song is full of that. If you can get past that part it turns into a decent track until it comes back again to annoy you once more, as it does on and off throughout. Lyrically, the song is about the thoughts going through a child's head as he witnesses a serial killer take his parents away from him. I suppose the song is all about experimentation as far as Hanneman and King are concerned, but these two seasoned guitarists should know better than to sign off on this and say it's worthy of being on a Slayer record, because it very much isn't.
Not of This God
This song ends the album on a high note with a wonderful-sounding thrash number that is classic Slayer in every way from the lyrics to the furious pounding of Lombardo's drums and the frantic riffing of Hanneman & King. The only problem I have with the song is the bridge which slows it down into a marching rhythm, but fortunately that doesn't last long and some great solo interchanges pick up the track once more. This is another Slayer track which deals with religion and could, I suppose, be labelled an atheist's anthem for its choice of lyrics which are against what they class as false icons - Gods, if you will.
This is a mixed Slayer album but I'm leaning slightly towards it being a good one. It's certainly no "Reign in Blood", "Hell Awaits" or "Seasons in the Abyss", but it still has some decent tracks on it. Sadly, though, it also has some songs which Slayer would have thrown on the recording studio floor 20 or 25 years ago. There is nothing wrong with trying something different but you also have to cater for the masses and Slayer isn't the type of band that can change from their breakneck speed thrash roots. The majority of thrash metal fans will like it but some, like me, will question some songs and that's why I marked it down more than what I normally would have with one of my favourite bands. Dave Lombardo is still the best speed drummer on the planet and his playing is what saves the album, in my opinion, because without him on this record it would become stagnant very quickly.
What the Critics Say
PopMatters: "As long as expectations are met, we'll be happy. And with this album, we're happier than we've been in some time."
Q Magazine: "More of the same, then, but such cold-blooded consistency should be commended."
Boston Globe: "The band's grim outlook remains bearable after all these years thanks to strong songcraft."
All Music Guide: "The first listen or two to the album might be a bit confusing for the seasoned Slayer fan, but that changes quickly, and the sound of those drums blasting in one's head will become a more than welcome presence in the mix."
Pitchfork: "Slayer being timely is not Slayer being timeless. But the way they're still playing, they sure sound like it."
My rating: 7/10
1. World Painted Blood
2. Unit 731
4. Beauty Through Order
5. Hate Worldwide
6. Public Display of Dismemberment
7. Human Strain
9. Psychopathy Red
10. Playing With Dolls
11. Not of This God