Slayer – Reign In Blood (1986)
Given that the International Day of Slayer is coming soon, that I did something similar the last time it was said day, and that I’ve recently covered another classic of speed/thrash metal; Reign in Blood seemed like a reasonable choice. In the 1980s, this was about as intense as you could go in metal without actually exploring the underground; you have hip hop mogul Rick Rubin to thank for that. I guess it speaks to the increasing cultural relevance of metal that this both was a milestone in intensity (one quickly surpassed, though) and a relative commercial success, actually cracking the Billboard 200 in a time when that meant more than it does today.
Intensity is a word most use to describe Reign in Blood – it is faster and better produced than its predecessor, although it’s a step back in songwriting sophistication. Songs here (and indeed, the entire album) are much shorter than they’d been earlier in the band’s discography, to the point that some tracks like “Necrophobic” blast by in less than 2 minutes. To be fair, even the shorter ones go through multiple sections and generally manage to make complete statements in their runtime. This is where the obligatory mention of hardcore punk influence, and unless you count the band’s 1996 cover album Undisputed Attitude, this is where that shows most blatantly. In some cases, the riffs are also quite stripped down, for better or worse. Simplification for maximum velocity and intensity, I’d say.
Obviously, the band still has to be musically proficient to pull off this evolution. Slayer’s drummer (Dave Lombardo) seems to get a lot of credit for his performance on Reign in Blood. I find it to be quite balanced in its merits – never overly showy, but it reveals a great deal of technical skill and arrangement merit if you really listen in. This also represents an important turning point for Kerry King’s leads, which reach a point of atonality and dissonance (more sound effects than musical phrases) here that’s controversial in some of the deeper, more fanatical parts of the fandom. The other members (Tom Araya and Jeff Hanneman on vocals and rhythm guitar, respectively) aren’t really as interesting to write about, since a lot of what they did on earlier albums remains here, if louder and faster. The problem with Reign in Blood on this blog is that it’s been done to death (and beyond), so I’m not sure what new insights I can lend. Other albums by this band, while still relatively popular, haven’t really broken into the mass consciousness as much. It might be best to just leave it at “This is an influential album that may not hold up as well as its immediate surroundings” and drop the issue.
Highlights: “Angel of Death” (I mean, how would this NOT be a highlight?), “Altar of Sacrifice”, “Postmortem/Raining Blood” (Because they fade into one another and the track separate was screwed up on early pressings)