Review Summary: Outside of Raining Blood and Angel of Death, Reign in Blood seems to offer only a handful of good tracks, most of which remain entirely forgettable.
So, It dawned on me while finishing up a review recently, that I had done only reviews for albums that I really liked. Then I started thinking, about what albums I had bouncing around my collection that I could bash on a little bit, and the first one that came to mind was "Reign In Blood". Critically acclaimed as one of the best Thrash Metal albums ever created, I have to disagree. Even on Sputnik, it is rated as the 6th highest album of 1986, it's seated in between "Master of Puppets" and "Peace Sells". Both of those albums are light years ahead of "Reign In Blood".
Now, usually I also do a track by track, but one of my biggest gripes with this album, is its ridiculous length. The album from beginning to end is 31 minutes long. That's almost laughable considering most albums hover around 45 minutes in length, which makes you almost feel cheated in terms of content. To further prove this, the albums I listed that are as well known, if not more well known, are Metallica's "Master of Puppets" and Megadeth's "Peace Sells... But Who's Buying?" Now, if you look at Master of Puppets, the length is just under 55 minutes (54:51), which means there is almost twice as much music on Master of Puppets, and in my mind, it's much better music. "Peace Sells" on the other hand is only 35 minutes, but this album is often criticized for being too short.
When it comes to content of the album, the first song "Angel Of Death", a song about a crazed doctor in Nazi Germany is a great track, and the classic hit "Raining Blood" is also a phenomenal song. Everything in between on the other hands, is entirely forgettable. When it comes to running time, "Raining Blood" and "Angel of Death" amount to about 10 minutes, and are numerically 1/5th of the album. That means Slayer crammed 8 other songs into the remaining 20 minutes. Now, that's not to say the songs are bad, they're just not that great. They all feel like two and a half minute thrash sessions. Most people address the album as a whole saying that it's the best example of 30 minutes of Thrash, but what is often described as heart-pounding tracks, I must say have hit me as somewhat boring. "Raining Blood" is classic because of the amazing musical aspects, and "Angel of Death" is great because it also has a very sadistic feel to it, but all the other songs are just not on the same level.
Given my explanation of what "Angel of Death" is about leads into the other problem I have with the album. Lyrically, it's pretty awful. Outside of the two tracks that I admittedly love, these tracks are all on par for Power Metal tracks that rhyme "fire" with "desire" continuously. Now, these leads into my final complaint about the album; Tom Araya's vocals. Now I know I'm going to get bashed by people that state his vocals are best on this album, and that he defines Slayer's sound, but I honestly think he just sounds uninteresting. I am a huge fan of powerful vocalists (see my review for "Ecliptica", I have a hard-on for Tony Kakko), but Tom Araya hardly strikes me as a memorable figure from one of the greatest Metal bands of all time.
Considering how little attention Slayer was given, it is nothing short of a miracle that they have lasted as long as this, and they continue to make good music, but I think their debut is vastly overrated in comparison to both their other works, and similar content of the era. I'll take "South of Heaven" or "Christ Illusion" over "Reign in Blood" any day, at least with those I listen through the album instead of playing the first and last tracks.
Upon initially writing this article, I knew I'd be met with heavy resistance. A "Metalhead" that doesn't appreciate Reign In Blood
? Blasphemy! Anyways, considering my initial review met a lot of criticism for lacking in a few key points, and most comments felt as though it didn't make a strong enough argument, I figured why not expand upon my ideas and address all the comments at once, in the form of a follow-up.
It should be noted that as I have said; I do not hate this album or Slayer
. The one thing to take away from my "harsh" review of it is that I merely think it is an over hyped album, and lead into their 2 best albums. I also cannot stress that two of my favorite Slayer (and Metal songs in general) are on this album, but other than those two, there are only a handful of memorable tracks.
I also do acknowledge that my initial argument of the length being "laughable" might have been a bit of an overstatement. I do enjoy a fair number of albums that have short durations and am more than willing to admit that it may have been phrased poorly. I suppose what I meant was that given the length of the album, in comparison to the level of variation in the album is disappointing. A lot of the songs feel way too similar, and don't properly encompass how talented Slayer is.
I suppose because I seem to be a stronger TBT writer I'll fall back into that to support my thinking.
1. Angel of Death
My favorite Slayer song of all time. Angel of Death starts with a barrage of drums and leads into Tom Araya giving the most memorable scream of his career. No other song could even compete for an introductory track to rival Angel of Death. If any song could represent what Slayer represents, I think this is it. Thematically the song shows a sadistic side that [given it's time] was unheard of. Musically, the most distinguishing feature of the song is the fantastic guitar work, there are very few songs that are as memorable and hard-hitting as Angel of Death.
2. Piece By Piece
The second track on Reign In Blood
feels like a continuation of the first. Angel of Death flows into Piece By Piece and sounds very similar, almost as if the song was an addition. One of the reasons this song is less enjoyable for me is that the vocal style is switched up early in the track to sound less rehearsed than Angel of Death was. Overall this song is more of a segway track and has no real distinguishing qualities.
Necrophobic starts out with a distinct guitar riff and is quickly met by Tom Araya singing much faster than he had in other tracks. Necrophobic is definitely a step ahead of Piece By Piece, but seems to be a bit confusing in terms of direction. It is a good Thrash Song, but has some very strange guitar work that switches up the pace of the song. Also, around 4/5 of the way in a similar scream to that of Angel of Death is thrown in almost randomly. In the broader scheme of things this is very much a somewhat generic Thrash Metal song.
4. Alter of Sacrifice
At this point it is apparent that Slayer has inserted themselves into the niche of making Thrash Metal that was not your grandmothers metal. Alter of Sacrifice is an extremely graphic song detailing the ritual made famous by the ancient Aztecs, whilst "hail satan" echoes ambiently. It's hard to say if Slayer writes their songs this way for effect, or if the ideas are genuinely their beliefs. I've heard in many interviews with Mr. Araya that he is far from the devil-worshiping Anti-Christ that the media outlets try to make him out to be, and in most of Slayers live albums he is always telling people to "calm down" and "be careful". Generally this track is one of the better on the album, and after two solid minutes of great thrash material, the song progressively slows to an end and leads into the next track seamlessly.
5. Jesus Saves
The instrumental work in the beginning of this song is a refreshing change from the cacophony of of guitar and drum work that makes up most of their songs. It quickly leads into vocalist Tom Araya singing almost too fast for his own good. There are several verses that he almost seems to stumble through, which is almost a shame because this song really feels like it has a lot of potential outside of these glaring flaws.
6. Criminally Insane
This song begins with some very interesting drumming and leads into a very catchy beat, but that quickly leads into the [established] generic Slayer sound, and song layout. The one thing that saves this track for me is the effects thrown in towards the end of the guitar solo. They may be a bit lame by some peoples standards, but it does show that Slayer made an effort to switch up their songs as much as possible, even though they do follow a very noticeable format.
Reborn is similar to Jesus Saves in terms of it's style. More rushed vocals that seem to bring the song down, which is a shame, because the lyrics are actually quite interesting to listen to. The second half of the song is significantly better because Araya makes efforts to bust out some longer screaming vocals, which I think he does exceptionally well. If these were more incorporated into their songs they would have a lot more variation and originality between tracks.
Epidemic is very much a generic Slayer song. It has the same progression, sound, and feel of all the less-unique songs, and seems to sink into the album and go almost unnoticed. The scream at the end of the song was more well placed than Piece By Piece, but not quite as definitive as Angel of Death.
For me this song is great, mostly because of the way it flows seamlessly into Raining Blood. It's more interesting than a majority of the tracks on the album because of the general layout of the song. It doesn't follow a generic layout of thrash verses into a guitar solo back into a thrash verse, it kind of changes it around and the "solo" is more well constructed. The way it leads into the next track is flawless though.
10. Raining Blood
Raining Blood, the song synonymous with Thrash Metal. Raining Blood is also the most popular Slayer song, and after landing a spot in Guitar Hero 3 (and causing me to furiously scream at my Xbox360 various times) it helped launch Slayer back into the public eye after almost a decade. Raining Blood is an exceptional song not just because of the catchy guitar riffs and strong hard-hitting lyrics, but also because of its progressive elements. It's hard to not listen to Raining Blood and want to bang your head until it falls off your shoulders. The strangest element is the minute long ambient sounds of rain that make up the remainder of the album, not entirely sure that they are necessary, but it is an interesting touch.
Reign in Blood
established Slayer's spot in Metal, and probably crowned them the unofficial gods of Thrash. The unfortunate thing is that it also establishes a very generic sound that Slayer sticks to almost religiously throughout the album, and leaves me wishing they had expanded their musical repertoire.