The Popular 1998 Metal Album That Did Not Age Well at All

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Slayer is a way of life. No heavy metal band in history has inspired fanaticism, awe, and revulsion quite like the California titans of thrash.

The crowd-hungry chant of their name rivals that of any sports team, and any real fan understands why. With music both blistering fast and devastatingly heavy and an aesthetic rooted in Satanism and wanton violence, the band exemplified everything that civilians outside of the orbit of extreme music feared.

Having spent the previous decade establishing the high water mark for authentic heavy metal, the 1990s proved to be a peculiar era for Slayer. After drummer Dave Lombardo’s departure in 1992, the band navigated through divisive outings like the rather bland Divine Intervention and the uninspired punk covers collection Undisputed Attitude.

While those minor missteps might have put more attentive headbangers on guard, nobody expected the limp foray into nü-metal territory they smacked the world in the face with via Diabolus In Musica in 1998.

Titled in Latin, meaning “The Devil in Music,” the album’s ominous nomenclature hinted at an experimental venture that unfortunately materialized as an awkward fusion of thrash, groove, and funk elements. The departure from their signature style marked a sonic shift that left headbangers feeling bewildered and betrayed. 

Looking to scale a new sonic mountain, guitarist Jeff Hanneman based the record around the ominous “devil’s tritone,” a musical interval banned in medieval times. While this idea seemed intriguing in theory, the execution on Diabolus In Musica sounds weird, marred by nü-metal bounce and awkward verbal acrobatics. 

“Stain of Mind,” the lead single, exemplifies this discomforting fusion.The song’s departure from thrash roots, with groove-laden riffing and experimental vocals, leaves listeners disoriented, highlighting the struggle to find coherence in the new sonic direction. While Slayer’s intent to evolve is commendable, the execution in this case feels forced. 

Despite occasional glimpses of great riffs, the album’s overall fusion of thrash and flavor-of-the-day Hot Topic metal is jarring. Moments like the album opener “Bitter Peace” tease familiarity but ultimately lead to disappointment as the rest of the album unfolds. Slayer’s attempt to align with the nu-metal trend resulted in a sound far removed from their classic thrash, leaving devoted fans disillusioned.

Lyrically, Diabolus In Musica falls short of Slayer’s established visceral prowess. Themes of darkness, evil, and the occult, while staples of their palette, feel recycled and lack the potency seen in their earlier, more authentic explorations of these subjects. Delivered with odd whispers and pseudo-rapping, Tom Araya fails to add the needed element of gravity to these flat sentiments.

In an interview with VH1,  guitarist Kerry King acknowledged his disdain towards the music that was popular during that time, saying of Diabolus In Musica: “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, was very frat boy stuff, and maybe that’s why it was popular, I don’t know. So Diabolus didn’t get as much attention from me because, you know, we didn’t stay in focus. 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 [Judas Priest album] Turbo.”

Diabolus In Musica stands as a testament to the challenges a legendary band can face when grappling with evolving musical landscapes. It remains a cautionary tale, a rare misstep in Slayer’s otherwise illustrious career.