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Slayer: Part 1 "Reign in Blood"
Fall into me, the sky's crimson tears
Slayer’s first album ‘Show No Mercy’ could best be described as some young dudes cos-playing Iron Maiden. And it rocks. The track ‘Black Magic’ was an early crowd favourite and was still being played on their farewell tour. They followed this up with an e.p. and a second album in 1985. ‘Hell Awaits’ was when Slayer sounded properly evil. The Iron Maiden influence was now just a taste as opposed to the main flavour of their music. It was a remarkable album for its time. Extreme metal was in its infancy and ‘Hell Awaits’ became one of the main influences on the genres of Thrash and Death Metal.
Released in 1986, ‘Reign in Blood’ was Slayer’s third album. There was no great plan for the album as, in guitarist Kerry King’s words, they just recorded the next ten songs they wrote. However, a young producer called Rick Rubin influenced them to record with a more stripped down sound than on ‘Hell Awaits’.
Slayer had been listening to their contemporaries like Metallica, Megadeth, and Anthrax, and felt those songs were too long. With a clean production and the Rubin influence, ‘Reign in Blood’ is actually only 29 minutes long. Due to its subject matter lyrically, and its heavy, harsh sound, it got little to no promotion from their record label. Despite that it became Slayer’s first album to break the US Billboard top 100.
The album is bookended by Slayer’s most famous songs (and the two longest on the album). ‘Angel of Death’ starts with a riff and a scream. Lyrically controversial, it details the cruel torture of prisoners in Auchswitz at the hands of Josef Mengele.
Hip hop aficionados are also familiar with the tune, as Public Enemy sampled the breakdown riff in ‘She Watch Channel Zero!?’. It’s an iconic breakdown that is instantly recognisable, and is up there with the the most iconic sounds in Metal. If you want to hear the riff it in all it’s glory here it is.
The next eight tracks average about two and half minutes each. Each one has brutal vocals, machine gun drumming, and great riffs. They’re all excellent tracks and Slayer were on the money in their decision to keep the songs short. I can’t say I have a favourite of the middle tracks per se, but the penultimate track ‘Postmortem’ is great, a crowd favourite, and even Metallica had some fun with it in rehearsals.
The album concludes with ‘Raining Blood’, a track that starts with a thunder clap, some dissonant guitar sounds, and a chilling three beat drum intro. It then breaks into another one of the best riffs in the genre. Dave Lombardo’s drumming is insanely fast and controlled. Lyrically the song describes a serials killer’s victims suspended from a ceiling, thus raining blood. It’s a four minute, fourteen second masterpiece. If you want to hear one of the stranger sounding cover versions of a song, check out Tori Amos version of it.
Slayer’s sound was always down to the superb drumming of Dave Lombardo (on this album), and the twin guitars of Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman. Tom Araya as a vocalist is in my opinion, perhaps the most underrated Metal singer of all time. Often parodied, he has never actually been properly imitated and I don’t actually know how he does it. He sings from the chest, though giving the impression he’s all throat and growls. I saw Slayer live several times and each time I was struck by his speed and enunciation.
There was no Grammy for Hard Rock until 1988, and no Metal award until 1990. Slayer didn’t win one until 2005 and were as surprised to be nominated for one as to actually win. Only Tom Araya attended and accepted on behalf of the band. That was 19 years after ‘Reign in Blood’ was released. At that point it was regarded as one of the best Metal albums of all time.
The album was a watershed in Metal history. The Rick Rubin production, the lyrics, the evil sounding guitar riffs, all laid down a marker for other bands to follow. It’s the best Slayer album. It’s arguably the best Thrash Metal album, along with Metallica’s ‘Master of Puppets’ and Megadeth’s ‘Rust in Peace’.
Death Metal was in its infancy as a genre and while Slayer were never fully part of that scene, every Death Metal band that formed from ‘86 onwards had listened to and digested ‘Reign in Blood’.
These days when I hear a track from it (or even a riff), I stick on ‘Angel of Death’ and then realise I’ve listened to the entire album all the way through again. Why not? It’s only 29 minutes long.
To play us out, here are Slayer with ‘Raining Blood’ live in Augusta Civic Center, in 2004 and it’s literally raining blood (ok its fake blood, but still)!
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