The good news about Slayer's current God Hates Us All is that it's generally been hailed as the band's best record since whatever anyone's given favorite might happen to be. The bad news is that, though every facet of the traditional Slayer sound remains, the new CD doesn't hark back to any particular previous point in the band's history. Those hoping for a "…Pt. II" won't find it here.

What Slayer has finally done on God Hates Us All is eschew any sense of epic-ness. There's no mistake that this is still a (very) heavy metal band, but the purposeful pursuit of a pounding grandiosity has been abandoned. Instead, the band adopts a direct, natural simplicity -- each song lingering just long enough to make its mark before the next one takes its place. Such directness is echoed in the CD's lyrical content, which can be split nearly evenly between earthly hate and some of the most stark God-bashing heard in years.

Live, vocalist/bassist Tom Araya's ability to make the listener believe that the horrors he's describing are real -- always one of Slayer's strongest points -- is moved even closer to the fore; the dual guitar work of Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman creates the perfect claustrophobic backdrop for the singer's wrath. And for the most exciting bit of news in some time for any long-term Slayer fan (especially those bent by the prerelease double bill with Pantera skipping right over Houston): Original drummer Dave Lombardo is touring with the band for the leg of the tour that includes the Houston stop.

Slayer is making music that most people don't make anymore. And even if the band has made better metal in the past, nobody is doing it better right now.

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Chris Smith