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Slayer, "World Painted Blood" (Sony) [3.5 out of 4 STARS]

At a time when the horrors of reality easily trump the vivid imaginations of the most wicked fantasists, what is a band that regularly traffics in gore and blasphemy to do? Unsurprisingly, Slayer’s 10th studio album is among the most overtly political of its long and punishing career, with songs such as the title track, “Hate Worldwide,” “Public Display of Dismemberment,” “Americon” and “Not of This God,” and four different CD covers that, when combined, create a map of the world covered in blood and bones.

Of course, as the many devoted fans of this most extreme and influential of thrash bands will cheerfully testify, the core of its appeal has never been the lyrics that raise the ire of blue bloods; those just help set the mood for one of the most unrelentingly powerful sounds in rock. And amid rumors of its impending retirement from live performance (apparently false) and with hardly any of the new tunes written before the band entered the studio (a departure from its usual methodology), Slayer incorporated more of the hardcore punk influence than it’s displayed since the mid ’80s, attacking with an undiminished fury belying the fact that it’s fast approaching the third decade of its career.

How can these gents defy the inevitable aging process that has sidelined so many other monstrous metal bands? Perhaps steel-throated bassist-vocalist Tom Araya is offering a clue when he howls about “drinking blood for vanity” in “Beauty Through Order,” though he swears this pleasant ditty actually is about “the first known female serial killer,” Hungarian Countess Elizabeth Bthory, who was said to be fond of bathing in the blood of virgins. In any event, like the rest of this disc, the song will send fans of “Twilight” and “The Vampire Diaries” running in horror, and the Slayer faithful wouldn’t have it any other way.