Slayer - God Hates Us All (American Recordings/Mercury Records)
The cover boasts a Bible, several nails embedded into its' cover, spattered with blood. The name 'Slayer' burned, scrawled across the chiselled gold cross. This can only mean one thing. The return of my beloved Slayer, and now all is (un)well with the world. People who know me know I like, no, love Slayer. Always have, ever since I heard 'Black magic' on a friend's Metal compilation tape way back in 1984 when I a skit of a lad of 15. Every new album release is greeted like the Second Coming. No one fucks you like Slayer.
There's no doubt that "God hates us all" had an awful lot to live up to. Last album "Diabolus in Musica" promised to deliver the goods, but failed short of the mark - methinks lead guitarist Kerry King was so smitten with Machine Head and Slipknot that he and the rest of the band… got lost. They won't admit it, but their flirtation with Nu-Metal lost them many old fans who at the time saw them embrace the 'Nu' breed of Metal bands, and was sickened for their open admiration for Slipknot.
Recording for the first time outside of their home of LA in Vancouver with Monster Magnet producer Matt Hyde (regular Slayer desk twiddler Rick Rubin taking a back seat to executive producer) the first thing to hit you about GHUA is AGGRESSION, this is such a pissed-off record. Scrambled intro, 'Darkness of Christ', leads into the riot-inducing 'Disciple', with the now already infamous chorus of "God hates us all".
This is perhaps the greatest song penned by Slayer since anything off 'Reign in Blood', especially the mid-riff - this doesn't put a smile of your face I don't know what will. 'God send Death' boasts some welcoming duelling leads from King and Hanneman, blatantly absent from DIM. And then 'New faith' kicks in, one of the more violent tunes from Slayer, and you're left rubbing your hands with satanic glee.
To be perfectly blunt, there are some shit songs - the vampiric 'Bloodline' and the WWF-inspired 'War Zone'. I hated 'Here comes the pain' when I first heard it on another WWF record earlier in the year, but here it sounds a hell of a lot better. But God help us all, what the fuck is 'Payback' doing on a Slayer album? These gripes aside I am pleased to say that GHUA doesn't disappoint and it warms this cold, black heart of mine to have the Godfathers of extreme Thrash Metal pushing the boundaries for the rest of the flock to follow.
System of a Down - Toxicity (Columbia/Def American)
What we have here, dear friends, is the album of 2001. No questions asked, no quarter given, this is THE definite Metal album in a year that has so far given us newies from the likes of Tool, Slipknot and Slayer. The second release from these Armenian-American nutters sees them building on 1998's quasi-debut and pressing 'detonate'. With producer Rick Rubin behind the wheel (why Slayer ditched him is beyond me when Rubin can get a sound like this?), 'Toxicity' literally rips from your speakers, as opening track 'Prison Song' demonstrates in eye-widening style.
Theirs is a sound where metal clashes with punk and jazz, fusing all three to a beautiful noise that is wholly unique in today's extreme music genre. The rhythm section of bass, guitar and drums of SOAD has never sounded so fresh or exciting. One minute they're blasting away with sheer speed and heaviness that would put most metal and punk bands to shame (witness the ludicrous 'Bounce', about a pogo-stick, of all things), the next they're chillin' on a smooth breeze not heard since Jane's Addiction.
Yet it has to be vocalist Serj Tankian who will impress you on first listen to "Toxicity", surely the most versatile man in Rock today. He can sing like an angel to lull crying babies to sleep; then screams mercilessly to wake the little buggers up. His vocal range, topped with gorgeous harmonies, is simply incredible. Listen to the gorgeous 'Aerials' and I dare you not to be mesmerised. James Hetfield dreams he was this good.
If I have one quibble with this record, it is that there was apparently 32 songs recorded in all, with only the 14 released. I can only shudder at the thought of which songs they felt the need to discard. Make no mistake, SOAD will be huge, on both sides of the Atlantic, and deservedly so. Unlike the aforementioned Slipknot, the hype is real. I urge you to get this album.
Destruction - The Antichrist (Nuclear Blast)
Let's talk thrash metal. Revered by some, despised by others, such was its impact back in the '80's that it changed the face of heavy metal, as we knew it. You either played it safe and listened to glam such as Motley Crue or traditional metal like Maiden, or you thrashed 'til death to the likes of Possessed, Venom, Slayer and Dark Angel.
Like Nu-Metal ten years after it spawned wave after wave of long haired, tight jeans, white running shoes-wearing bands, belting out album after classic album - Sacrifice's "Forward to Termination", Holy Terror's "Mind Wars", and Deathrow's "Raging Steel" to name but three. Unlike Nu-Metal, though, these were quality, talented bands who wouldn't have a sissy fit 'cos they couldn't find their make-up or someone nicked their Nike gold chains.
Thrash spawned death metal, and black metal was always there, and then grunge dragged its hippy-like feet into the scene and nearly killed metal off all together. However, throughout the years thrash remained dormant, bubbling away quite nicely on the back burner and, 18 years after the release of "Kill 'em all" (Jesus, 18 years?!) the thrash metal revival is well and truly boiling over.
German thrashers Destruction was, alongside Kreator and Sodom, pioneers of the German scene, releasing genre-inspiring and timeless albums between the three of them ("Infernal Overkill", "Pleasure to Kill" and "Persecution Mania" respectively). And all three bands are still going strong today, a Testament (pun intended) to the music and its fans.
And so, Destruction continue their onslaught for world domination with this blistering blitzkrieg of a release, hot on the heels of last years "All Hell Breaks Loose". The nucleus of this German trio lies in bassist/vocalist Schmier and guitarist-extraordinaire Mike, Godfathers of Teutonic thrash, with fresh-faced drummer Sven pounding the skins in support.
The soft, melodic intro of 'Days of Confusion' (a fond throwback to the 80's) leads straight into the face-melting 'Thrash 'til Death', and straight away you know what you're in for, a no-frills, no down tuned, no rap, no samples METAL album, the likes of which one thought would never hear again. 'Bullets from Hell', 'Let your mind Rot', 'Dictators of Cruelty', all prime slabs of heavy, HEAVY thrash metal. There's even a hidden bonus track, a re-recording of the 1986 classic 'Curse the Gods' from the smouldering "Eternal Devastation" album. WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT?
Some may very well raise their eyes in dismay, but if, like me, you just can't get enough of old-school thrash metal, then seek this out immediately.
Entombed - Morning Star (Music for Nations)
A lot of critics and fans for that matter have been terribly unfair to Sweden's Entombed. Hailed as gods of the Death Metal Underground when they were known as Nihilist, before they burst onto the scene back in 1989/90 with their debut "Left hand Path", this was a band who could do no wrong, even setting the whole Scandinavian sound mimicked by a hundred others.
Slowly, as the years went by they moved away from the whole Death venture and added a more 'groovy' edge to their sound in what was to become known as 'Rot and Roll'. The EP "Wolverine Blues", ironically not liked by this reviewer, is a prime example and a fan favourite. Then, in a space of creative madness, they released '98's "Same Difference", and the reverence the metal world had for Entombed went out the window.
It wasn't that it was a bad album, it just wasn't Entombed, and consequently the band has been scraping for the metal world's respect back. Cut to 2001, two albums later with "Morning Star" and one must feel that the Swedes will either go on to world dominance or throw the towel in frustration. Produced by the band themselves (probably taking no chances) and recorded in their native Sweden they've come up with a solid-sounding, well-produced Entombed album.
But is it any good? In a word, yes. Damn sure it is. It kicks off with the brooding 'Chief rebel angel', naturally about the Horned God himself, before stepping up the tempo with 'I for an eye'. From there we're lead by the hand through a mixed barrage of Entombed tracks, ranging from the Slayer-esque 'Ensemble of the restless' to the Autopsy-inspired 'Year one now', all sounding vaguely familiar yet definite 100% Entombed. Will it make or break them? Hard to tell, but those who wrote them off in '98 should listen to this and have a serious rethink.
Vision Of Disorder - From Bliss to Devastation (Music for Nations)
What is it that they say, that every hardcore fan is a secret metal fan, or every hardcore fan grew up listening to metal? Whatever the connection, there's no denying that both genres are intricately connected, musically if not by attitude. Take Vision of Disorder, for example. Their last album, 1998's "Imprint" was a tour-de-force in noisy, extreme hardcore, a brutal album full of songs of brutality. They toured for a while, made a lot of folk sit up and take notice, before leaving/being dropped by their record label Roadrunner (fill in where appropriate).
Three years later they've returned, new label, new album, and… with a completely different sound. Gone is the ferocity of "Imprint", replaced with what can only be described as Soundgarden meets Metallica. In fact, listening to the two albums back to back one would swear that this is two different bands. A radio bleep-bleep countdown leads to opener 'Living to die', a groove-infested tune where harmony and melody are fighting tooth and claw with the aggressiveness that was the old VOD. Where he once snarled and yelled vocalist Tim Williams now actually sings, his new adopted vocal style reminding this reviewer of Dax Riggs from the legendary Acid Bath.
In fact, there are many moments where Acid Bath is splattered all over this album - 'Sunshine', 'Pretty hate' and the eerie title track. There are, however, dashes of the old VOD here and there, particularly on the brilliant 'Without you', as well as the incredible 'Regurgitate', but it's hard to tell if it's enough to please the old guard. Methinks that die-hard hardcore fans will despise this for the new drastic direction VOD has taken, for, end of the day, this is NOT a Hardcore album.
Metal fans (particularly those who like their music weird and bizarre) will lap this up, but whether they'll overlook the fact that VOD was once a Hardcore band (always a Hardcore band?) and check them out remains to be seen.
Slipknot - Iowa (Roadrunner)
And so, onto Slipknot … Firstly, let me just say that I honestly admire what Slipknot do and what they have achieved - they have brought HEAVY, extreme music to the masses that ultimately other heavyweights such as Slayer and Korn have failed to do. "Iowa" entered both the Irish and UK charts at #1, while entering the US billboard chart at an impressive #3, no mean feat for such a bunch of noisy bastards.
You may loath their popularity, that every 13-year-old wears their shirt and that they've appeared on Channel 4's TFIF, but can you honestly say that they haven't written some damn heavy tunes? 'Get this', one of the bonus tracks on their debut is by far one of the most fucked-up Death Metal tracks I've heard ever. And as opening track 'People=Shit' from Iowa blast-beats from your speakers you will leap in the air thinking they've kept their winning formula and are going for broke. And they do, to a point.
Next track has the classic chorus of 'Noises, noises/people make noises/people make noises when they're sick' and you think, yeah, this is the shit! Unfortunately, as the rest of the album plays through you realise that you're listening to the same thing over and over again, and just how Nu-Metal it all sounds. And therein lies the problem. For all of Slipknot's open admiration and respect for the 'old school' such as Suffocation, Autopsy and other Death Metal greats, they play and remain Nu-Metal.
And as for vocalist Corey, formidable as he is, there's only so much of his self-hatred/hatred of the world one can take, Motherfucker. That 'singing' chorus of 'My plague', it just REEKS of everything this reviewer despises in Nu-Metal, and if I hear another down-tuned record again I'll probably scream. (No, that's a bad thing.) To sum up, this is definitely a mixed bag. On one hand I applaud them for their success and for putting extreme metal in with the likes of Steps and true Satanists Westlife, on the other, apart from a few decent tunes I tend to shake my head in bewilderment…
Slipknot - Iowa (Roadrunner)
Slipknot fell into one of the traps most feared by serious "artistes", they became instantly popular and phenomenally successful. Obviously this was the aim, but they couldn't have been prepared for the waves of teeny-Goths who immediately began to worship and idolise these nine masked freaks from Des Moines, Iowa. Their self-titled debut was intended as an uncompromising slab of hatred thrown back at the world. Hatred, however, came out in convenient three-minute shout-along anthems, which everybody loved. So what do you do when you're not taken seriously? Well if you're Slipknot you make a record called "Iowa".
"Iowa" takes all the really nasty bits from the first album and takes out the pop appeal. It will be very hard to find a "Wait and Bleed" type single on this album, "I Am Hated" being the most likely candidate, thanks to it's similarity to one of their most successful singles, "Spit It Out". It's difficult to pick highlights from this album as each of the 14 tracks is so astounding.
Listening to this album is a scary experience as the 'Knot drag you through choruses like "If I'm 555 then you're 666/How does it feel to be a heretic" (The Heretic Anthem); drop you into seething soundscapes like the slow and menacing "Gently"; and, just when you think it can't get any more disturbing, along comes the 15-minute epic title track, 'Iowa'. Take a deep breath… And start the CD again. "Iowa" is everything Slipknot promised us and so much more. Yes, it's heavier. Yes, it's nastier. And, Yes, it's got a really cool sleeve.