In the Middle Ages, music was seen as a gift from God and thus composed to praise God. Songs celebrating His holiness, gracious and solicitousness were written and performed using the only most gorgeous notes so as to please not only the Savior himself but also all those who believed.
This meant no tritones. These impure, sour, foul-sounding intervals comprised of three whole tones were the opposite of good, the enemy of joy, and the Catholic Church spoke out against its use in church music (although stories differ as to whether or not the Church actually banned the tritone).
The tritone isn't in and of itself "scary," in the way that an item of food isn't in and of itself "tasty." Black Sabbath receive--and deserve--credit for creating the genre of heavy metal music, and also the use of the tritone in said music. But are their songs pants-shittingly terrifying? I never thought so. Menacing, sure. Dark as pitch at best; ponderous as a giant's waltz at worst. Does The Simpsons theme give you shivers?
Hell, back when I first heard Slayer and they scared me speechless, a tritone had nothing to do with it! Just some good ol' fashioned yelling from someone who had apparently just been disemboweled by a lion.
Oh, yeah. Speaking of those guys.
Diabolus In Musica isn't exactly fright night at the movies for the blind either, despite boasting Slayer's first creepazoid album cover of the decade. The guys had clearly reached a sort of crisis point creatively with Divine Intervention. The release of Undisputed Attitude in 1996 showed a group with much left in the tank… but they were expending that fuel on covers of the old punk songs that inspired them. Could they muster the same git-up for a new record of original material?
As much as the return of Jeff Hanneman in a creative role excited fans (he had a hand in every song save for "In the Name of God"), the band's decision to play most of the album in a dropped tuning either deflated or inflamed a good many of them, worried that their beloved antichrists had gone "nu-metal."
No, Diabolus In Musica is still Slayer. Just not quite the Slayer we're accustomed to.
"Bitter Peace"--A self-cannibalizing take on "War Ensemble" that chucks the tank and stays on foot. When the terrain changes from sand to pavement, things get a tad less interesting--but it still sounds tough.
Peace is like a Vince McMahon sex tape--nobody really wants that shit.
"Death's Head"--Resist the n-word, friends. Let us show some equanimity here. Yes, that intro is choppy, and there's some superfluous sonic trickery. Paul Bostaph--hell of a drummer, let me never hear otherwise--has spoken with pride about playing on Slayer's "most experimental" album, but what were they really experimenting with, other than elements of the prevailing musical trend of the day?
"Stain of Mind"--Yep. "Stain of Mind" grooves. It churns. And I love it, maybe more than anything else here. Groove is in the heart beating its wild life against my chest, the thudding reverberating in my ears, the alarms blaring in my brain.
Sure, the "oh yeah!"s are cheesy. So's a Jucy Lucy. The man you hear on this song is not a pasty-skinned dread-locked wanna-be Scot crying about some hands-y male member of his family. Nor is he a prematurely-balding, ball-cap wearing failure of a human being rapping and singing with equal ineptitude about how fickle women are. This is Tom Araya, screaming at you until the skin begins to peel off your face.
If nothing else, Slayer look more dashing in these new duds than "Panthrax."
"Overt Enemy"--Why is Tom singing through a floor fan set to "medium"?
"I infiltrate/Continue lies/Then masturbate."
Who wrote this? Really? Well…maybe Jeff just wanted to see how crap a song he could get the other dudes to roll with.
"Perversions of Pain"--Here comes the ax! And here comes the smasher! Take it like the men you aren't, jobbers. The throng is throbbing and frothing before word one even escapes into the light. Slayer cranks up the whites more than Russell Mulcahy.
"You better learn my name!" Yeah!
"'Cause I'm the one insane!" Oh yeah!
"Love To Hate"--The fact that people have called Tom's delivery here "rap-like" just shows how many metal fans have no idea what rap music actually is.
Paul continues to impress, earning his wings as a dark lord of finesse even when performing such a vile task as melting skin.
When you've been around as long as Slayer, and been as strong as Slayer, some people expect more. They could visit an elementary school with a cardboard box marked MacBooks and iPads and Puppies!, play some bowdlerized acoustic ditties in the auditorium, then have an "unveiling ceremony" where it turns out the contents of said box are two armor-clad midgets with machetes who start chasing teachers and students--and all of a sudden that's not good enough anymore.
"Desire"--Mine is to skip this song.
"In the Name of God"--AKA, The One Jeff Didn't Have Anything To Do With (still the best episode of Friends).
Hey, baby, what're you doing for the rest of your life? Why not come with me to a sacrifice?
Tom had some issues with Kerry's lyrics here--"lies in the name of God," "Antichrist is the name of God," that sort of deep-friend sacrilege. King bristled at the singer's sudden reticence: "Whether he agrees with it or not, he didn't write it--I wrote it." And it's not like Tom hasn't penned some gnarly shit in his day ("Sex.Murder.Art." for fuck's sake!) Tom capitulated, but the fact he had reservations in the first place reveals a fundamental truth about Slayer. Unlike the members of a black metal group like, per example, Dissection--a Swedish band who boasted several members in the Misanthropic Luciferian Order/Temple of the Black Light--none of the Slayer guys actually adhere to Satanic law, or even believe any of that shit is real. (Just like Kerry and Jeff, at least, didn't believe in the God shit.) They just wanted to write about extreme, evocative topics--and then get shit-faced. No one is fucking dead bodies, or slaughtering priests and/or nuns then eating their hearts. No one is getting into heated discussions about how Anton LaVey was a pussy. This is rock and roll. You play rock and roll so you don't just lose it someday and wind up impaling someone on their own arm.
"Scrum"--The Probert vs. McSorley of sports songs.
"Relentless brotherhood of discipline!" That's why the Washington Capitals will never win the Stanley Cup. Championship teams exit their locker rooms in a synchronized death march. Not whatever viral dance craze is sweeping the nation.
"Screaming From the Sky"--A mischievous pugilist that runs out of opponents, but retains a surplus of fighting spirit, will eventually beat themselves up.
"Point"--Ironic title, as this song is ultimately without a point. DUN-DUN-DUN-screeee! Hell, this might be the bizarro "War Ensemble." Way to bookend the record, guys…?
Jeff's songwriting dominance on Diabolus In Musica was due in large part to Kerry King's disinterest in and discouragement with the late 90s music scene. He could scarcely be bothered to pick up a guitar, and later dubbed this period "my darkest time as a musician" in an interview with Metal Hammer. (Which makes the "trend-chasing" accusations of some fans doubly hilarious.)
Having put out back-to-back records dominated by one man's creative mind (and each of those records being lesser offerings in Slayer's oeuvre), perhaps the band would get the hint and make their next album a more egalitarian affair.