The lead up to Slayer’s eleventh album, Repentless, was as punishing as the thrash metal mainstay’s music. 2013 saw the loss of two founding members—drummer Dave Lombardo was fired and guitarist Jeff Hanneman died of cirrhosis. While Hanneman’s role in the band had been limited since a debilitating spider bite in 2010, his passing seemed like it could (and to some fans should) signal the end of the band. Bassist Tom Araya admitted that continuing Slayer in the wake of Hanneman’s passing “would literally be like starting over.” And so Repentless begins a new act for Slayer, finding Araya and guitarist Kerry King working with Exodus guitarist Gary Holt and drummer Paul Bostaph, who drummed for Slayer in the ’90s.
But it’s no reinvention of the band’s sound, hewing close to the hardcore that the band employed on their ’80s classics, complete with a Reign in Blood call back. The lyrics—focused on familiar nihilistic, religious, violent, and political themes—often approach “old man yells at cloud” denseness, but it’s still electrifying when Araya growls “Let’s get high” on “Vices” and “never surrender” in the Hanneman-penned “Piano Wire.” The record is often dizzying, especially when King and Holt elegantly duel over the blast beats of Bostaph and Araya’s throbbing bass. Repentless is a doubling down on punk metal roots, but unlike many bands as long lived, Slayer sound like they never lost touch with their initial fury.