Justify Your Shitty Taste – Slayer’s “Diabolus in Musica”

Almost every band has that album: you know, the critically and/or commercially reviled dud in an otherwise passable-to-radical back catalog. Well, every Wednesday morning, a Decibel staffer or special guest will take to the Deciblog to bitch and moan at length as to why everybody’s full of shit and said dud is, in fact, The Shit. Today’s submission: Adem Tepedelen bears the cross for Slayer’s Diabolus in Musica.

We’ll start by saying that we’re semi-perturbed by the notion that 1) we have shitty taste and 2) in fact, this is an album that actually needs defending. Thus, you will forgive us if it doesn’t seem like we’re giving you the hard-sell on this one. What we’d really rather rant about is the sheer lunacy/stupidity/ridiculousness of those who would put this in the category of “Slayer’s worst.” We’d sooner nominate Hell Awaits for that category, and we actually really like that record. But, at least there’s an argument to be had that Slayer were still trying to figure out this whole speed metal thing, not to mention the fact that the production is abysmal. But Diabolus in Musica? Slayer’s worst? You’re fucking kidding me. The most unfortunate thing about this album was simply the horrible period in music (and not just extreme music) into which it was released. Talk about a wasteland of shittiness. There were probably some great things going on in the underground, but this was generally not a time in rock history that anyone will ever point to with great fondness. We were being told by the mainstream media that guitars were dead and electronic music and DJs were the future. It’s no wonder things like “nu metal” (I gotta put that in quotes, it’s just such a lame moniker) seemed fresh to a younger generation that hadn’t seen a decent “real” metal band through the better part of a decade. Hell, Slayer only managed to issue two albums of new material in the ’90s prior to 1998’s Diabolus.

Admittedly, by 1998 Slayer had pretty thoroughly mined the whole speed/thrash genre. They distilled it to its purest essence on Reign in Blood, slowed things down on South of Heaven and even got more melodic on Seasons in the Abyss. By 1994’s Divine Intervention, with new drummer Paul Bostaph, they were noticeably starting to lose enthusiasm for what the genre had to offer. Was it because they couldn’t seem to make an album as highly lauded as Reign, or had the loss of original drummer Dave Lombardo been a bigger blow than they would have cared to admit? Divine was one of those Slayer albums that sounded like they were going through the motions—certainly not a bad album, but one that seems, for lack of a better word, predictable.

Thus it was no surprise that they returned in 1996 with an album of punk covers, Undisputed Attitude. Maybe they were hoping this would recharge their own enthusiasm, or maybe they just wanted to make an album without any pressure to (once again) live up to Reign’s continuously growing reputation. The timing was certainly telling, as the band seemed to have worked itself into a creative corner. They could either continue to try to recapture prior glory, stay on a path that they themselves by now seemed bored with, or go off and do some significantly different. They chose option C, and made, arguably, their most significant album of that decade: Diabolus in Musica. We wouldn’t necessarily argue it was their best, but it in no way deserves to be called their career worst.

This whole idea that it is a “nu metal” album is absurd. Yes, we get the fact that they tuned down, used grinding rhythms that were atypical of past releases and occasionally used vocal effects, but more than half of this album just fucking sounds like, well, Slayer. And the rest that doesn’t, we appreciate it for that very fact. The band did absolutely nothing to embarrass themselves, because even stepping outside of their comfort zone, they still blazed away with a fury that few of their peers at the time were capable of. Metallica were positively fucking lost during this same period. Seriously, Decibel could probably devote a handful of “Justify Your Shitty Taste” columns to that band’s entire ’90s output. Except that they’d be hard-pressed to find anyone stupid enough to legitimately go to bat for Load, Re-Load or S&M.

And BFD if Slayer used drop-tuned guitars on Diabolus. Like that’s some sort of indictment of their authenticity. Tons of bands have done it throughout the history of metal (it’s fucking commonplace across the genre today), and Slayer clearly used it to expand their repertoire, not to sound like fucking Korn. And for fuck’s sake, Decibel enshrined Sepultura’s Roots album into the Hall of Fame, and that album not only features Jonathan Davis on it; it’s clearly beholden to that whole unfortunate ilk. We don’t recall Sepultura, that seminal death metal band, getting as much flack for their “tribal rhythms.”

Seriously, we’re not even going to go through song by song and try to convince you that this wasn’t some diabolical scheme by Slayer to hit it big with the baggy pants-wearin’, Limp Bizkit-lovin’ dipshits that turned Woodstock ’99 into a rapefest. It’s completely ludicrous. Slayer may not have kept this material in their more recent setlists, but at its heart, Diabolus is an album with all the band’s usual lyrical themes, solos that are typically atonal and insane, and vocals from Tom Araya that pretty much sound like they always have. And quite honestly, at the time, we embraced the slight stylistic changes the band exhibited on this album. It was a welcome relief from “more of the same.” Nothing significant was compromised and, though Slayer will likely never make another album like it again, they should never feel a need to defend it. And neither do we.

Tracklist 1. “Bitter Peace” 2. “Death’s Head” 3. “Stain of Mind” 4. “Overt Enemy” 5. “Perversions of Pain” 6. “Love to Hate” 7. “Desire” 8. “In the Name of God” 9. “Scrum” 10. “Screaming From the Sky” 11. “Point”