3 out of 5
Produced by: Rick Rubin
The Latin album name… the “I’m so dark and moody” cover art… It was 1998, and in our post-grunge surge we had the mainstream mainstream-ing a metal / industrial sound, with a lot of angry guys and gals shouting angry things to which crowds were singing along. Slayer – kings of thrash – were due to drop another album, but what was it going to look like in the then-current music clime?
Try as they might – and they did try – Diabolus in Musica ended up being rather middling, with some definite standout moments, but perhaps inevitably affected by all the grooving, rocking, nu-metal going on around it, and thus watering down the Slayer-ness of it overall. Drummer Paul Bostaph, according to wiki, likes the album, and it’s kinda clear why: there is a lot of variation intra-song that allows him to shift from thrash to rock mode, and simply from a performance perspective, that’s probably a good time. But singer Tom Araya would lament (again, wiki is almost always my source here, people…) a lack of inspiration, and that’s definitely felt: the dude performs well, as Slayer always does, but there’s a dash of commitment missing to send these war and religion criticisms over the top. The lyrics (mostly Hanneman) still stand out amongst the crowd, though, certainly several notches above the simplistic angry rhyming you were likely to hear from like minded yelly people of the era.
Mind you, from the opening track – Bitter Peace – you might be sold on this version of Slayer, as the track throttles from riff-centric metal rock to thrash masterfully, but it’s a trick not oft-repeated thereafter, at least to that extent. There are highlights to perk one’s attention on almost every song, but it’s rare that one lands fully; Rubin’s production seems tuned in to ‘industrial’ as well, curbing the edges off of things for a rather mechanical sound.
As is the curse of being an awesome band, Diabolus in Musica is technically wowing, and a better-than-their-peers offering of metal… but it’s average Slayer, subject to trying to navigate through the sounds that were popular at the time.