Sunday, February 23, 2014
The Tom and Kerry Show
Any discussion about the music on Slayer's sixth album has to be prefaced with the acknowledgement of events outside of the studio.
Early 1992, Dave Lombardo informed his bandmates that he would not be available to tour in September, as his wife was due to give birth to the couples first child that month. The band's manager stressed how important touring revenue was to a band like Slayer (who could be counted on to garner gold with each release, but rarely ever achieve platinum). Lombardo remained steadfast.
There's a couple ways to see Dave's decision to leave Slayer. The birth of your first child is an event that happens once and only once, guaranteed, and it's natural that a man would want to be there, to establish an immutable emotional connection with the newborn. There is also the harsh reality that he will be providing for his child by doing his job, and his job is playing drums in Slayer. He can go and play drums for other bands, but what are the odds any of those positions will be as lucrative?
The announcement that former Forbidden drummer Paul Bostaph was selected to replace The Father of Double Bass was received anxiously by fans. Would this dude just mimic Dave's classic style, or would he bring something new that the other guys would get behind? Would fresh blood galvanize the band, or leave them enervated?
Kerry King took a huge step towards staving off encroaching baldness and overall middle-age lameness when he shaved his head, grew out a goatee, and got himself covered in more demonic ink than Satan's letters to the archangels. Fuck yeah metal.
Perhaps most troublesome was the diminished participation of Jeff Hanneman. He receives only three songwriting credits, and unless he played a solo, he didn't play. Yep, Divine Intervention is Slayer with a new drummer and one virtually absent guitarist. Welcome to the Tom and Kerry Show.
"Killing Field"--The very first thing to hit our ears is Paul Bostaph, filling in.
I really wanted to love this 'un. 'Cause of "field." (It's a big thing with me.) But unless hearing a legendary metal band rock out on autopilot sends shivers racing up and down your spine, this is forever ignorable.
"Sex.Murder.Art."--"You're nothing!…A subjective mannequin…Raping again and again!" Oh Tom, you hopeless amorist!
Bostaph is certainly proving to be a technically precise bastard who wears his hats high.
This over the top tale of a rapist-torturer and his interesting hobbies doesn't disturb me; never has. The only fictional depiction of rape that has ever made my skin crawl is the unedited, nine-minute one in Irreversible, which I could only take for two minutes before turning the film off. (Now there's a fuckin' party game for ya.)
"Fictional Reality"--Reminds my ears of those mid-tempos gems on the last album. Going out exploring with a flashlight is weak; take a machete along too.
And then use it to carve the band's name onto your inner forearm.*
"Dittohead"--"Necrophobic" revisited..'cause there ain't much difference between a congressman and a slice of adipose tissue.
Kerry's attack on political malfeasance is fast and deadly as a dragonshark. The ascending riff at 1:45 is so wickedly simple, gah, why doesn't it just see us out the door?
Not every Slayer fan knew (or cared) that a "dittohead" was another name for a fan of Rush Limbaugh, the ultra-conservative radio and TV blowhard. Back in the 90s, millions of chucklefucks took this fat cunt seriously. (Then he started talking about black quarterbacks in the National Football League and how only sluts use birth control pills 'cause a woman has to take one every time she has sex, obviously, and that's what we're spending our tax dollars on?!) Among the chucklefucks were Kerry and Jeff. These days Kerry identifies himself as a political "Independent," so I can't get very mad. Also, this song is fuckin' great. I mean if Slayer can write amazing songs about actual goddamn Nazis, why can't they get a pass for writing one in honor of a walking tub of Oreo cookie filling who wishes he could have handed out towels at Auschwitz?
"Divine Intervention"--Does the job of spearing three ill-shaped forks into my brain. Every first word of every verse urges me to run headlong into glass, thanks to Tom's tuneless yelling, but the "web-like Hell" gleams compellingly. I'll stick around, all right.
"Circle of Beliefs"--Closed-minded people suck. Attacks on them should not.
The distortion on the vocals ain't a little bit cool or edgy, nor tough or evil. The venom is dripping! No, just drool.
"Slayer don't fuck around!" is great to say, and greater still to believe, but listen to this song, guys. That's all they're doing.
"SS-3"--So the wannabe Nazi gets a fucking killer song, and the actual Nazis get this snoozefest? This is 'bout as mighty as a sand castle crafted by 48-month-old hands (or 48 month-old hands). The snares are tuned to "soft as bananas shat out of rhino butt" and the guitars are simply the dullest yet...and duly the simplest yet.
"Serenity In Murder"--Guitars! With but a single intake of breath, the Lord Satan commands that you distinguish yourselves!
"213"--Yet another demented love song from Tom's pen (taking its title from Jeffrey Dahmer's apartment number).
When the big boy guitars make their presence heard, the overriding impression is that soon they will make their presence felt. The abrupt switches are the best parts of the song, but Tom is not comfortable here. Or at least the mix makes it seem that way.
That's a pretty li'l blood spill--till you end up taking one of your own. The thump of your back hitting the uncarpeted floor activates a trigger that opens up select ceiling panels. Chunks of putrid flesh rain all over your body before you can even react. Death by death.
"Mind Control"--This is "Hallowed Point" bored out of its skull 'n' bones pajamas. The lyrics are far from the problem here; more often than not, the wordplay on Divine Intervention outshines the musical tracks.
That is how to slap someone on the back and smash a brick in their face in one half of a sentence.
Per Tom Araya, American Recordings gave up on trying to get a "hit" out of Slayer after the release of this record. That the label had any such aspirations at all is frankly amazing. Slayer specialize in base rage represented through outsized splatterfest imagery both lyrical and musical. There will be no "Enter Sandman" coming from their camp.
All questions about Paul Bostaph's impact were rendered basically moot when Divine Intervention turned out to be Slayer's most poorly-recorded and poorly-mixed effort. Both his drums and Tom's vocals are cranked up, almost like they felt they had to convince the listeners that just because they were down one original member, Slayer could still fucking rip your face off. Which wouldn't be such a problem if they'd bothered to write any classic songs. (Or maybe, let me just fucking say it, if Jeff could have been bothered to write any classic songs.) As it is, Divine Intervention is a very loud, very average record.
*One of the most hardcore moments in fan devotion, ever. I love Sonic Youth more than Canadians love hockey, but I can't ever imagine carving even their initials onto my body.