Look, Slayer could’ve easily ridden out their entire decades-long career recycling the exact same album over and over again. Would the diehards have cared? Probably not. Maybe that’s what the broader base would’ve wanted anyway.
But the Los Angeles, California-based thrash lords, to their credit, did take some creative swings throughout their careers. The earliest, and most obvious, being South Of Heaven. The band pumped the breaks, not in ferocity but in tempo, embracing way more half-time groove in place of their already signature unrelenting and breakneck thrash pace.
But now we fast forward to the late 90’s, an era in particular that was a hard time for many a metal band grappling with their identities, the thrash gods included. Slayer essentially woke up one day to find themselves in a whole nu world where thrash riffing was rejected, and bouncy grooves embraced.
So what’d they do? Slayer doubled down on the sound of the times with Diabolus In Musica. The nu-metal influence is pretty clear. Tom Araya busts out some Chino Moreno-esque whispered vocals while the band does their best job grooving. It winds up sounding at some tritone-led midpoint between Slayer, Sepultura, Deftones and Hatebreed, a sound extremely far away from the Slayer classics, and a little too left of center for many a die-hard fan.
Speaking in “Metal Evolution” years later, Slayer guitarist Kerry King himself said, “That’s the one record that I really paid not enough attention to because I was really bitter about what kind of music was popular. I thought it was very frat boy stuff…and maybe that’s why it was popular. Diabolus didn’t get as much attention from me because we didn’t stay in focus.”
Reiterating his point to Brave Words, King said: “Diabolus, I was kind of fuckin’… I wasn’t a train wreck personally. I was a train wreck by what was popular in music, and I didn’t understand it. And I let it get to me. I shouldn’t have done that. You know, hey, I ain’t perfect. And I let it get me, and it showed in what I was making up. I mean, there were two or three good songs I wrote on Diabolus.”
And finally, in a VH1 documentary, King doubled down on the sentiment that Slayer was just struggling to figure out their place in the metal zeitgeist at the time of nu-metal’s rise to power: “Looking back we were just saying, “alright, how do we make Slayer fit into today’s society?” But, that’s probably my least favorite record of our history. That’s our Turbo [laughs].”
But here’s the thing, with 20-plus years behind us to reflect and listen again with fresh ears, this ain’t a bad album. Far from it. And honestly, there are some bangers on here:
There are plenty of great riffs and tracks on the album. So maybe it was all just a bit too sonically jarring at the time and that clouded the perception of quality. And not to turn this into a Machine Head The Burning Red slander post, but if we’re keeping it real, that was the prime example of a massive band leaning a bit too into the trend of the day, losing themselves almost entirely in the process.
Listening to that record back to back to Diabolus, it becomes pretty apparent that the nu-metal influence on Slayer on this album really wasn’t that profound.
Years later it’s hard not to feel like maybe Slayer was just a little too early. All elements of the 90s have converged in such a way it’s not totally out there to hear a nu-metal groove in a crossover thrash track. Hardcore bands have readily taken from nu-metal in the genre’s evolution into its current state, making Diabolus sound more prophetic than probably anyone in the band was thinking. Definitely worth a relisten. So in conclusion, there are no bad Slayer albums. All hail Slayer.