SLAYER: Diabolus In Musica
Release year: 1998
Label: American Recordings
As for virtually all 80’s metal bands, the 90’s were a tough time for Slayer. Thrash metal, along with other 80’s metal styles, went out of fashion and, spearheaded by grunge, entirely new approaches to distortion-driven guitar rock sprang up. The excess of 80’s metal was… so 80’s. But not only that; at this point Slayer, like many of their contemporaries, had been at it for a long time. It was 15 years from their debut Show No Mercy and 13 years from Hell Awaits, the album on which Slayer truly hit their stride.
So it’s no wonder that in the 90’s Slayer, like the other bands in the Big Four of US thrash metal, experimented with their sound and found a new direction to their style. Maybe they felt like they wanted a change, and the record companies certainly demanded a change. Divine Intervention four years prior had not yet been a major departure of style, but Diabolus In Musica certainly was.
The album kicks off with its absolutely best track. Bitter Peace is a strong track with fierce guitars, an aggressive tempo and vocalist/bassist Tom Araya belting out his trademark shout in fine form. An entire album of this, and Diabolus In Musica would have kicked ass. It’s almost like Slayer and producer Rick Rubin wanted to assure old fans that Slayer still could deliver the goods before taking them on a ride.
For people who still thought Slayer meant the same as, say, Reign In Blood or South Of Heaven – and why not, considering they’re both crown jewels of thrash metal – it must’ve come as a shock to hear Slayer dive headfirst into 90’s alternative metal. That is exactly what large parts of Diabolus In Musica is. It’s not nu metal per se, but there’s a definite 90’s groove edge to a lot of this stuff, and you could certainly imagine a rap verse being put on a song like Stain Of Mind or Love To Hate. So, not nu metal, but too close for comfort.
But that’s not all that’s off with Diabolus In Musica, and in some ways not even the worst part. As perverse as it is, some of those then-modern elements even work, sort of. Not in album length and not in these amounts, but I see how they could have worked in smaller quantities spicing up better songs. Which leads me to what’s the worst thing about the album. The worst thing is, that a lot of the time when Slayer try to sound more like themselves, they sound forced, uninspired and flat. It just doesn’t feel like they mean it the way they used to. That’s what’s worst about Diabolus In Musica.
Playing it safe, the album closes with another more traditional Slayer headbanger, and another slightly more inspired track, Point. It feels like Rubin and Slayer were playing it safe again: begin the album on a higher note, end the album on a higher note, and hope people either forget or forgive what’s between them. Sadly, it doesn’t really work like that.