"Annihilation, obliteration / Pulses in these veins / Sheer defiance drives my hostility / I am merciless to the core." -- "Here Comes the Pain"
In an admittedly ineffective attempt to duplicate the churningly chaotic spirit of Slayer’s worldview, let’s put the CD player on random and see what evil bobs to the surface:
“War Zone”, God Hates Us All‘s eleventh track, launches like a blitzkrieg, hurtling riffs pounding away over ferocious doubletime drumming that’s surprisingly light on its feet. This isn’t war between nation-states but between personalities, as Nietzscheian self-empowerment turns to aggression in the throat-shredding vocals of singer Tom Araya: “This ain’t about me / I’m better than you’ll ever be / . . . Take your lesson in supremacy / ‘Cause I’m the one who stands alone at the summit.” The song differs from much of the album in its lack of blood-soaked Bibles and its eschewing of the word “fuck”.
The third track, “God Send Death”, starts out more slowly, a rumble of thunder rather than a crack of lightning, but the relatively subdued pace doesn’t last long before the pummeling begins again and the throat-shredding vocals take over and the chorus posits a life worse than death: “Clawing at the eyes of God / You pierce your throat and hands / You’ve gone insane with pain / You’re blind screaming for your God / Pathetic God.” A blazing guitar solo makes up the bridge.
Following a similar pattern, “Deviance”, the tenth song on this remorseless album, brings the doom ‘n’ roll with a slowly pounding riff and hurtling drums, before the throat-shredding vocals of Araya emerge from the shadows to put the weak-as-a-worm listener in his pathetic place: “Face the dead and dying / Feel your life drain / Through your soul / Seek salvation from an MIA God.”
You get the idea: the riffs pound, the drums thunder, the vocals shred. After two decades and one acknowledged speed metal masterpiece, 1986’s Reign in Blood, Slayer do what they do with impassioned authority, which is what makes an album full of vileness so compelling. With Metallica gone mainstream, Anthrax in the news for all the wrong reasons, and Megadeth foundering in mediocrity, Slayer remain the only unadulterated survivors of the thrash scene’s mid-‘80s peak. Their influence extends to a raft of black and death metal, and their power, two decades since their formation in Southern California, remains undiluted. The best songs on God Hates Us All—and despite the above quips, there are differences between the thirteen tracks collected here—stoke a burning fury that’s utterly convincing and, as such, occasionally terrifying. “Here Comes the Pain”, “Disciple” (effectively the title track), and a small clutch of others justify their volcanic power with a kind of twisted honesty that outdistances the cartoon grossness of much of the rest of the album. Slayer know, and stick to, their strengths; the songs are short, all but one under four minutes, and sharp in their attacks on conformity, religion, and seemingly life itself.
The lyrics are mostly by guitarist Kerry King, and while he may be bitter and nihilistic, at least he has the audacity to take on the universe. While Staind and the rest of the nu-metal ilk whine about their mothers and how awful it was to grow up in the soulless suburbs, King wants to give the finger to God himself. Death and contagion, torture and hopelessness permeate the album like the plague in a medieval city, as sentiments like “You make me want to slit my own fucking throat” hurl themselves into the void. King’s vehemence suggests a childhood spent among pedophiliac priests or the kind of parents who use religious stricture as an excuse for corrective brutality. With the bitterness of a cruelly spurned lover, King attacks his vision of the Creator, writing, “Looking for the place where God speaks / Every time you find Him He just stabs you in the back again.” Even at a short 42 minutes, the redundancy with which this ground is trod reduces rather than enhances its power. While bombs fall in Afghanistan and tit-for-tat violence rages in Israel—both conflicts exacting a horrendous cost in civilian lives—Slayer’s poetry of violence (“I want to take a bullet in the fucking head”) can seem churlish at best, and at worst like the pathetic posturing of rich, insulated pseudo-evil ones.
For any reasonably well-adjusted music fan, it can all get a little tiring by the end, and most people in most walks of life would cross the street to avoid the graphic images of pain and violence exhibited here. “Payback”‘s final caterwaul (“Fuck you and your progress / Watch me fucking regress / You were made to take the fall now you’re nothing / Now you’re nothing”) leaves one feeling sullied, crushed with the weighty pain of the universe. On Slayer’s own terms, admittedly, there may be no higher compliment; whether you’ll want to feel that way again may be questionable.