Q: What's the title of the new Slayer album?
A: World Painted Blood.
Q: What's it sound like?
A: What on Earth do you think?
Nine studio albums, thousands of live shows and nearly three decades into a career that's made them one of the biggest and most important metal bands in the world, the members of Slayer know exactly what kind of music they make—brutal but beautiful, punishing yet precise. A fresh Slayer record is a thing of terror but also one of trust: You can depend on what you're getting—even if you're unprepared for it.
As guitarist Jeff Hanneman says with a sly little chuckle, "At this point I think a Slayer album pretty much speaks for itself."
And yet there are some interesting things you should be made aware of regarding World Painted Blood, the highly anticipated follow-up to 2006's Christ Illusion, which debuted inside the Top 5 of Billboard's album chart, a career best for Slayer. Let's start with the fact that its fury, believe it or not, was born out of fun.
"The interaction between all of us on this record was really something special," says Hanneman of his work with the band's three other founding members: singer-bassist Tom Araya, guitarist Kerry King and drummer Dave Lombardo. "Rather than trying to get something done," Hanneman continues, "it felt like we were just having a good time. We were discussing things, giving things a go. The prevailing attitude was, ‘Let's try it!' It wasn't even work, really—it was play."
For the first time ever, Slayer entered the studio—in this case, The Pass, in Los Angeles—without an entire album's worth of material already written and rehearsed. They'd booked a preliminary chunk of studio time in October 2008 to see how they liked working with producer Greg Fidelman, who'd been recommended to the band by their longtime pal Rick Rubin after the two worked together on Metallica's Death Magnetic. "While we were in there recording the couple of songs we had, things were just really clicking with Greg," says Araya. "So we thought, ‘Why don't we try to write the rest of the record in the studio?' We weren't sure what was gonna happen; we just kind of did it, and the music kept on coming."
Not only did it keep on coming—first during that initial session, then in a second period of work stretching from January to March 2009—but it came in a way it hadn't before, driven by a new degree of collaboration. For Slayer's last several albums, Hanneman would write his songs, King would write his, then the two guitarists would bring their separate material into the studio, where the band would put it to tape. "This time," says King, "everyone was talking about what we were doing. Everyone had a say and was involved—like, ‘Maybe we should go faster here or stop there or whatever.' It was cool."
Hanneman is succinct when asked how or why this cooperative spirit took root. "I have no fucking idea," he admits. "The chemistry was just good." The guitarist does note that Slayer "weren't rushed, and that makes a lot of difference with the music. I don't like being rushed, and on this record we had plenty of time."
You can hear the effects of that creative freedom throughout World Painted Blood, which Lombardo says fits in with such classic Slayer slabs as Reign in Blood and Seasons in the Abyss. "The rhythm riffs on this one make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up," says the drummer, who describes his determination to make his parts sound human and natural, rather than like the product of a machine. "It does it for me the same way those older records did." King agrees: "I think it has kind of a retro vibe to it," he says. "It sounds like the stuff we wrote in the '80s."
Did this renewed enthusiasm brighten Slayer's worldview? Not exactly. "We have a tendency to follow a theme, and I think on this record the theme is more apocalyptic than usual," says Araya, pointing to songs like the title track, a meditation on what the year 2012 has in store for humanity, and "Public Display of Dismemberment," which King says is about whether or not certain "vulgar but effective" law-enforcement measures might work as well in America as they have elsewhere. "That's kind of the running concept here," Araya adds, "but aside from that it's the usual Slayer topics of death, murder and serial killers."
Usual, perhaps, but far from ordinary, World Painted Blood is one of Slayer's most impressive efforts yet—a vicious, uncompromising look at what's broken in our society and how frighteningly powerless we are to fix it. King says World is "more well-rounded than the last couple of albums." Lombardo calls it "a speed metal record with emotion." Anyone with ears will think it's an accomplishment of a major kind.