The metal titans' retirement is almost upon us, but first there's a bloody gore-fest and live gig movie to see them on their way. Here's what James McMahon makes of their 'final fuck you'
When Slayer announced the beginning of the end in early 2018 – there’d be a final world tour, obviously – it left the global metal scene, depending on one’s capacity for cynicism, either mildly shocked or wearily suspicious. The idea of retirement doesn’t sit right with Slayer; since 1981 the most consistently distasteful – and subsequently, more often than not – thrilling hard rock band on the planet.
After KISS announced their retirement in 2000, they were back by 2002. The immortal Ozzy Osbourne announced his retirement in 1992. In 2014, Mötley Crüe, upon putting on sale their second farewell tour in less than a decade, promoted their final run by publicly signing a legally binding contract promising that this was it, promise. Even Slayer’s support bands don’t think this is it; Pantera’s Phil Anselmo, opening for Slayer until the last show in the diary, at Los Angeles’ Forum on November 30 – recently told Revolver magazine: “Put it this way: there’s a lot of bands that have claimed they’re doing one last tour. It’s called smart business, to a degree. So, I’ll believe it if it happens.”
And yet the release of the bands The Repentless Killology – which is essentially a 45 minute compilation of people being murdered horrifically set to Slayer’s music, with the band’s show from The Forum back in August 5th, 2017, tacked onto the end – is perhaps the first time the idea of a world without Slayer has seemed legitimate. If retirement didn’t seem like a particularly Slayer sort-of-idea, then it’s extremely Slayer to call it quits with a film as vulgar, gruesome, desperate to offend and problematic as The Repentless Killology. Note that for all the blood spilled, it still isn’t the most bloodthirsty DVD the band have released. The 1995 film Divine Intrusion features a fan of the band carving their logo into his arms.
There is a narrative of sorts to The Repentless Killology, which is directed by BJ McDonnell (horror connoisseurs might know him as the man behind 2013’s Hatchet III). Wyatt, a hard-as-nails former neo-Nazi is searching for his kidnapped, pregnant, mixed race girlfriend. Between them stand shit-loads of his old neo-Nazi mates, whom Wyatt must murder in a variety of innovative ways; knife through the eye, through the penis, through the neck – wash and repeat with a variety of other sharp objects until your surroundings are awash with blood and guts and bits of twitching gristle. Full marks for whoever conceptualised the scene in which Wyatt stabs a Nazi so hard and so frequently that the Nazi’s actual spine is removed. All that’s missing from said scene is a discombobulated video game voice declaring, ‘FINISH HIM!’
Along the way Wyatt meets Danny Trejo and Jessica Pimentel (Mario Ruiz in Orange Is The New Black, but also fronts her own metal band, Alekhine’s Gun), before the whole thing culminates with a very funny scene involving the band themselves. The entire piece is a knowing tribute to the grindhouse and exploitation genres, the themes of which – serial killers, torture, Satanism, war – have so long infused the lyrical content of Slayer’s songs. It’s easy to forget – in an era where the Slayer logo has been tacked onto everything from socks to bobble hats – just how dangerous the thrash OG’s once felt in their prime. Because there’s another reading of the movie altogether: perhaps this isn’t so much a suicide note at the end of a thirty-eight-year long career as one final ‘fuck you’ from a band who rarely gave a solitary shit about you or your fucking feelings.
Slayer have been accused of harbouring Nazi sympathies nearly all their career, mostly because of ‘Angel Of Death’, the opening number on their third album ‘Reign In Blood’, which fastidiously catalogues the crimes of Auschwitz ‘physician’ Josef Mengele. The song contains no critique or commentary. “There’s nothing I put in the lyrics that says necessarily [Mengele] was a bad man,” said the man who wrote the lyrics, the late Jeff Hanneman. “To me,” continued Hanneman, “well, isn’t that obvious?! I shouldn’t have to tell you that…”
So yeah, swastikas feature predominantly throughout The Repentless Killology. But then the heroes of the film are often people of colour (including Chilean born bassist and singer Tom Araya). What does it all mean? Fuck knows. How much do we ever truly know about the hate that may or may not fester inside a person’s mind? The Repentless Killology also features a pregnant woman being shot in the belly. Would you like them to explain to you why that’s a bad thing too?
Maybe we live in an era so combustible, so filled with hate and division, that such libertarian frivolity is downright irresponsible. Maybe it’s time for Slayer to go away for a while. Sit out these strange times. Maybe during his time out Tom Araya should read some books about things other than war and ask himself if doubling down on a pro-Trump rant shared on the band’s Instagram account in 2016 (he called fans offended by said post ‘snowflakes’, called gay people ‘fruits’, then joked about gay conversion therapy) wasn’t in line with his band’s career long odyssey of not giving a fuck, but was in fact just an utterly dick move.
And then you watch the concert footage at the end of the movie segment of the film and remember that, in full flight, there isn’t a single act on earth who wail like Slayer do.
If The Repentless Killology really does mark the end for Slayer, the world without them is undoubtedly a nicer place, but also so much more boring.
The Repentless Killology is released November 8