While not the unrelenting metal maniacs of yore -- that tide turned with 1988's South of Heaven -- Slayer has managed to move forward musically without selling its soul to the dark prince of mainstream metal. The band has resisted all urges to sugar-coat its sound with those cornball Linkin Park-style choruses the MTV crowd seems to love so dearly. Slayer's never given a shit about reaching out to teeny-boppers, and it doesn't need to; the band has managed to get by on its own terms for more than 20 years, becoming a legend in its own time. Even back in the mid '80s, when Metallica still resembled a thrash band, Slayer raised the metal bar higher than James Hetfield and his screaming ninny of a drummer cared to reach. Slayer's most recent release, God Hates Us All, continues bombarding along the same path the band laid out in the early days, without any surprising twists or turns; the quest to hit the deepest possible key finally seems an attainable goal.
Much of Slayer's thrashy influence -- OK, a lot of it -- can be heard in Killswitch Engage, more so than in most post-millennial metal bands. But KsE does show its age with a seemingly unwavering tendency toward alternative and nu-metal stylings. In KsE's case, that's not necessarily a bad thing -- these guys do it better than many of their peers -- but it still serves as testament to the moribund state of straightforward speed metal. Its latest album, The End of the Heartache, starts off with the brutal grinding of "A Bid Farewell" and jumps right into the faster-paced thrash of "Take This Oath." But... just as the song starts to get your blood pumping, the band slips in a melodic, alt-rock chorus, abruptly quelling the aggression that had been building. Fortunately, such sonic schizophrenia is absent from the unapologetically heavy music of Mastodon, who doesn't seem especially concerned with winning the hearts and panties of the average female music fan (for a detailed description of Mastodon, see the music section).
Whether you're old enough to remember hiding your Slayer albums from mom or merely a youngster eager to bone up on some metal history, go get yourself a shot of Jägermeister and toast the four guys who prove that speed metal, while somewhat of a dinosaur, is still far from extinct. -- Jason Budjinski