90s Metal Weirdness, Hanneman Edition: Diabolus In Musica

Cast your minds back to a time when metal music was not cool. Nay, indeed, a time when metal was anathema to all that was considered to be “chic” and “in.” A time when your favorite bands were actually encouraged by the music industry to play slower, cut their hair, and write sensitive lyrics about their childhoods. Yes, this unfortunately really happened.

Our new semi-irregular feature “90s Metal Weirdness” focuses on albums released between 1992 and 2001 and which we all probably would rather forget. But in the service of publicly shaming the musicians involved, we have pushed forward. — AMG

Slayer – “Diabolus in Musica” (1998)

slayer-diabolus-in-musicaThe Back Story: Slayer was interesting in the fact that they had two dominant songwriters. After Reign in Blood, the pendulum swung back and forth wildly — South of Heaven was written mostly by Jeff Hanneman while Kerry King was on his honeymoon, while King returned the favor on Divine Intervention. 1998’s Diabolus in Musica, however, was overwhelmingly Hanneman’s baby, with music for every song but one (“In the Name of God”) composed solely by him. 

It’s worth noting that this is one of only two Slayer albums I don’t own (God Hates Us All being the other), and that I’ve never listened to it while sober until now. This should be interesting.

What Does It Sound Like: At the time, Diabolus led to accusations that Slayer had sold out, and more specifically, had tailored their music to better fit the nu-metal scene. Although it was unthinkable that the mighty Slayer would ever do something so lacking in integrity (again, this was 1998), the evidence against them was overwhelming. The band insisted it was just business as usual, but listening to the album today, it is A) a pretty big departure from the Slayer sound, and B) very much Ozzfest-friendly. 

Diabolus’ opening trio of “Bitter Peace,” “Death’s Head” and “Stain of Mind” all sport a similar groove riff, and may as well be the same song three times. Downtuned, boneheaded riffs areSonisphere Music Festival - Day 3 everywhere on this album, covered with a layer of wah pedal and vocal effects that have not dated well, to say the least. Tom Araya tries out some new vocal techniques as well (more on that in a sec), with some fairly embarrassing results. There are also some drum & bass breaks on this album, which is something Slayer had never done before (or since). 

As usual with Slayer, the best songs on here are the fastest — namely, “Scrum” and “Point.” However, those tracks come towards the very end of the album, and aren’t nearly enough to make the rest of Diabolus interesting. But the bigger problem is that Diabolus is missing those gigantic war-cry anthems that Slayer typically excelled at, i.e. “War Ensemble,” “Raining Blood,” etc. 

Incidentally, I recently read a blog by a guy who was the opening act for Slayer on the Divine Intervention tour. He mentions that Hanneman suffered from pain and numbness in his wrists, which made it hard for him to execute Divine’s faster material live. Maybe this is the true reason for the simplified sound on Diabolus — that Hanneman was writing music that he could play without physical difficulty? We may never know.  

Are There Any Songs About Molestation? Hard to tell for sure, although “Perversions of Pain” could certainly fit the bill. However, I think it’s fair to say that if Slayer wrote any songs on the subject, they’d be from the viewpoint of the guy doing the molesting. 

Stupid Political Lyrics? Somehow, there don’t seem to be any. Kerry King’s lack of involvement may be related to this.

Is There Any Rapping On The Album? While it may not technically be “rapping”, Tom Araya definitely makes use of Jonathan Davis’ “whispering the same phrase over and over and then screaming it” technique. Actually, fuck it — on “Stain of Mind” he’s definitely rapping [Blasphemer!!Steel “Orthodox” Druhm].

diabolus-era-slayerWere Haircuts Involved? Kerry King was already well into his “white trash Ayatollah” look by this point. Otherwise, no. It’s worth noting that after they ditched the eyeliner back in ’82, Slayer never underwent any kind of drastic image makeover. 

The Aftermath: Not surprisingly, Slayer played a shitload of Ozzfest tours during this era. Afterwards, Diabolus in Musica became the album for Slayer to rebound from — first with the supposedly-better God Hates Us All, followed by Christ Illusion, which actually resembled a legitimate comeback. Diabolus remains the one true detour in what was otherwise a pretty damn consistent career of evil. These days, Slayer is touring without either Hanneman or Lombardo, meaning they are missing the cooler half of the band.

Jeff Hanneman passed away in May 2013 from cirrhosis of the liver. His songs defined Slayer and, to some extent, heavy metal in general — think “Angel of Death,” “Raining Blood,” “Seasons in the Abyss,” and so on. The idea of Slayer making new music without him is unthinkable to me. There’s no word yet on the band’s future, but I sincerely hope that King and Araya do the right thing and lay the band to rest [Amen to that, brotherSteel Druhm].

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