Criminally Inane


Kerry, the word you’re looking for is “unrepentant.”

Slayer’s new record came out yesterday.  I’m not happy about it for several reasons, but my biggest complaint is etymological.

It bothers me a little that Slayer isn’t really Slayer anymore.  Long-time drummer Dave Lombardo is out of the band (for monetary reasons), and that makes me sad.  More significantly, guitarist Jeff Hanneman is still dead and, as a result, was only able to contribute music for one song on the album.  Presumably, he wrote it before he died.  He has been replaced in the band by Gary Holt, one of the best guys in metal, but Jeff was the creative heart of Slayer.  That leaves lead vocalist/bassist Tom Araya and guitarist Kerry King as the only original members. I don’t know if half of Slayer is still Slayer, but that’s not what troubles me the most.

I’m also annoyed that they released it on September 11th.  While it’s possible the release date was a coincidence, I suspect they chose it to be controversial.  They previously put out an album on June 6, 2006.  Get it?  6/6/6, in reference to the Biblical “number of the beast.”  A 9/11 release strikes me as an unnecessary publicity stunt, but it isn’t surprising.

Did I mention the songs aren’t good?  While I had hoped for something amazing, like the album Exodus put out last year, I’m not surprised by the lackluster songwriting.  I haven’t had high musical expectations from Slayer for a long time.  There are some good songs, but nothing to add to the thrash metal canon.

All that stuff bugs me, but the fundamental problem with the new Slayer record is its title.  It’s called Repentless, and that’s not a word.

A few months ago, the band released a lyric video for the title track as a teaser for the album release.  The video opens with a black screen with the (quote, unquote) word “Repentless” in white letters and below it, a definition:

       Adj. Without repentance; unrepentant.

In my opinion, that’s not a definition so much as a disclosure: We should have called the record Unrepentant, but we’re stupid.

I tested my hypothesis and sang along to the chorus of the title track, substituting the word “unrepentant” for the apocryphal “repentless.”  It fit melodically, which suggests the band got through the entire writing and recording process without anyone pointing out the error.  That implies either no one in the Slayer camp has a firm grip on English or none of them are courageous enough to say, “Hey, Kerry, I don’t think that’s a word.”  Kerry King, the guitarist and chief songwriter since Jeff died,  is an intimidating figure, but I would have mentioned it.  Grammatical, syntactical, and etymological errors cannot go uncorrected. Therein lies chaos.

In truth, I will, on occasion, let those mistakes pass without comment.  For example, I have colleagues that use “words” like “supposebly” and “flustrating” or “fustrating” when, of course, they mean to say “supposedly” and “frustrating”.  It’s o.k. in casual speech.  I can laugh to myself about it and spare their feelings.  Mispronunciation is forgivable, but I would never approve of those “words” in written form.

Slayer have dabbled in wordplay before, suggesting that as lyricists, they have a decent vocabulary.  Kerry King has penned songs with clever and expressive portmanteaus like “Americon” and “Consfearacy.”  My favorite grammatical error from Slayer is the title of their previous record, World Painted Blood.  As written, it doesn’t make sense.  At the least, it’s missing an article  (definite or indefinite, your choice).  But it’s wonderfully evocative, like a haiku.  The notion of blood as a color or medium for painting the world is disturbing.  Bonus feature: if you read it backwards, it becomes explicit: Blood-Painted World.

I have enjoyed the way Slayer have made use of the English language over the course of eleven albums.  Their songs have sometimes shocked, occasionally repulsed, and frequently excited me for thirty years.  But “repentless” is just wrong. I am forgiveless.


4 thoughts on “Criminally Inane

  1. Um…[sheepish grin]…sorry to burst your rant-bubble, but…um…from my OED

    Repentless: a. Obs. rare.
    1683–Oldham, Poetical Works (1686)
    Then may the Stupid and Repentless die, And Heav’n it self forgive no more than I.

    Personally, though, I like it as a portmanteau; a mash-up meaning “relentlessly unrepentant.”

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