Review Summary: A bloody mess, that's what this is.Part II of IV: Reign in Blood, by Slayer
*Also Part I of the Unholy Thrash Trinity
Slayer’s origins can be traced back to the two ever-present guitarists Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman, who met while auditioning for a band. Bassist/vocalist Tom Araya, who had played with King earlier, was recruited to fill in the third position. And strange as it may seem, drummer Dave Lombardo was added to the formation when he met King during a pizza delivery.
Instead of writing material of their own, the band initially played Iron Maiden
and Judas Priest
covers, while their shows carried a Satanic theme. Their eventual low-budget debut Show No Mercy
consisting of original material, and earned them some respect in the underground metal scene. Hell Awaits
, it’s follow-up, was quite different, and contained progressive elements, creating longer songs with musically more complex arrangements.
This second album experienced much success, leading to a major label contract with Def Jam Records, which was just newly formed at the time by Rick Rubin. It was only then that Slayer really started playing music influenced by the thrash scene. The change of recording environment influenced their style, which became the opposite of Hell Awaits
: short and simple. This led to their third and most successful record up to that (and this) point, Reign in Blood
, which was released on October 7, 1986.
Reign in Blood
Reign in Blood’s Slayer was:
- Kerry Ray King ~ Lead Guitars
- Jeffrey John Hanneman ~ Lead Guitars
- Tomás Enrique Araya ~ Bass Guitar, Vocals
- David Lombardo ~ Drums
Artwork by Larry Carroll
Reign in Blood
caused much controversy, even before its release, because of its violent cover art and lyrical subject matter. Angel of Death
, for example, depicts the Holocaust in World War II, and led many to believe Slayer approved of Nazism. However, the album peaked quickly, despite or because its controversy, eventually even reaching Gold status in 1992.
Actually, it is also very easy to describe. It is a continuing onslaught of blood, gore and Armageddon, lasting for a mere 29 minutes. With titles such as Necrophobic
, Criminally Insane
and Raining Blood
, it is almost a surprise its release was even continued at all back in ’86. Death, decay and aggression are literally all over the place, with the only track doing something different thematically is the aforementioned opener Angel of Death
(though in fact, its subject matter is death and decay just as well).
On their third record, the punk influence in Slayer’s thrash came truly to life. Reign in Blood
is by far the most punkish of the Four, containing the shortest tracks by far, the most punkish attitude by far, and the fastest riffs by far. The speed guitarists and bassist King, Hanneman and Araya play at is astounding (and was even more astounding back then), and Slayer is clearly not taking any prisoners. It’s not just the guitar though. Araya shouts those vocals so fast you often can barely hear what the man is actually willing to transfer to your hearing system, if that is his purpose at all, and Lombardo’s pounding drumming is pure terror and madness (it is with good reason, after all, that he is called the Godfather of Double Bass).
The complaint many had and will have about Reign in Blood
is obvious. Track 2-8 fly you by the ears at such pace you hardly have the time to grasp a breath, let alone dig into their musical contents. Angel of Death
just finished, and before you know it you’ve ended up at the Grand Finale Raining Blood
. The repetitiveness of the major part of the album is obviously its weakest link, but considering what is being conveyed here, there may not be a better way to capture all bloody aggression on a compact disc. Relentless onslaught is what Reign in Blood
is, in the simplest of summaries, and it has no intentions of excusing for that. Angel of Death
and Raining Blood
, both of which contain some interesting slower
riffs and solos, are therefore wisely positioned at beginning and end.
And as closer Raining Blood
thus concludes with the sound of falling, uh, blood, you’ll have little idea what you’ve just been through if this is your first listen, even if this review has prepared you for it. Fast, heavy, short and aggressive, Reign in Blood
is exactly what its cover art depicts: a bloody mess. It’s an enjoyable mess though, but does not justify a full rating for the sole reason of lack of diversity. Not that that even matters, as what Slayer created here simply doesn’t give a damn about what anyone thinks of it.
Angel of Death
And what happened then to the boys? They released the slower and more melodic works South of Heaven
and Seasons in the Abyss
, which were both quite successful, although not received so well by all fans of their third. When Lombardo left after Seasons
due to personal conflicts, Slayer’s quality work experienced a step down. Lombardo’s return and the new album Christ Illusion
that followed much later, in 2006, were hailed by fans and critics alike, and now Slayer still maintains their classic line-up, working on their upcoming release World Painted Blood
To be continued in Part III: Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying?...