Ahead of the curve, the world of heavy music had been in turmoil for a number of years. The advent of nu-metal in the middle years of the 1990s saw the sound and look of metal change in remarkable and pliant ways. Tunings went down and guitar solos were eschewed. Long hair was no longer de rigueur. Baseball caps and vivid oversized sportswear became the wardrobe of the choice.
In truth, Slayer had endured a difficult decade anyway. Leaving aside the Seasons In The Abyss album, from 1990, the final 10 years of the 20th century had seen the band unveil just two further of albums of original material. Caught in a nu-metal storm, Diabolus In Musica, from 1998, provided a nod to these changing times. The Californian quartet’s most adventurous release – never again would they attempt to write songs as innovative as Stain Of Mind and Wicked – and by far their most intriguing, Slayer’s attempts to park their tank on a new cutting-edge lacked just one thing: an identity.
In this, the group were not alone. Iron Maiden slogged through a swathe of the 1990s with singer Blaze Bayley, a solid presence who lacked the charisma of his predecessor Bruce Dickinson. Even market leaders Metallica spent the second half of the decade attempting to escape the shadow of their 31-million selling Black Album. Between 1996 and 1999, the San Franciscans released four albums, only one of which – S&M – was met with anything approaching universal acclaim. The group did, though, start the 21st century in reassuring style, with the convincing I Disappear, from the 2000 summer blockbuster Mission: Impossible 2.
In the fullness of time, it would take Metallica a further eight years to re-establish their identity with the slightly-too-comfortable Death Magnetic album. Iron Maiden exorcised their recent past with ruthless efficiency by re-recruiting Bruce Dickinson and releasing Brave New World, in 2000, an LP that reassured listeners that normal service had been resumed. But it was Slayer who returned from their brief paddle into uncharted waters with the greatest sense of urgency and violent panache.