Longevity can be a trap for any musician, but it’s especially tricky in populist genres like metal. Fans often want a band to keep cranking out the same sound that made them famous, even if it’s two decades old; critics are usually unsatisfied if the band doesn’t come up with something new. This burden weighs particularly heavy on bands that made their reps with intensity and innovation; Slayer, in particular, was perceived as wandering in the wilderness during the years Paul Bostaph sat behind the drum kit, and expectations were high for the group, on this year’s follow-up to the innovative Christ Illusion album, to produce something that would satisfy longtime fans and keep the band relevant and interested through what they claim will be the first of their final three albums.
World Painted Blood is a resounding success in that regard: It’s eclectic, but never self-consciously so. It rarely flags in intensity, and it’s good enough that if it were inserted in Slayer’s discography right after Seasons In The Abyss—the record it most resembles—it would be an almost seamless transition. Greg Fidelman does a better production job here than he did on Metallica’s Death Magnetic, perhaps due to oversight by Rick Rubin, who produced Slayer’s best work. And the clunky “Americon” is the only dud track on the album. World alternates between two modes: There’s the blistering, crowd-pleasing stuff like the thrashtastic “Unit 731,” the minimalist “Hate Worldwide,” and the searing “Beauty Through Order.” On the other hand are more innovative tracks like “Snuff,” with its uncharacteristically British-sounding dual-guitar attack, and the downright freaky “Human Strain.” It’s hard to move forward while holding your ground, but managing that is a big reason why Slayer is Slayer.