Review Summary: Repetitive? Yup. Insanely overrated? Definitely. Poor? No way, Jose.
Oh yes, Slayer and their Reign In Blood
. For most metalheads, this is the Holy Grail, an album that shall not be criticised and shall forever hold a place at the altar of Metal. I confess that for the longest time, I didn’t “get” this album. I couldn’t see what all the fuss was about, and much less why it was considered such a groundbreaking classic. For me, it was just a bunch of songs which all sounded exactly the same crammed into a 29-minute running time and padded with lots of filler. However, while listening to this album intensively for purposes of reviewing, I finally “got” it. It’s still really repetitive, and to me it’s still not a classic, but I “get” it
. Now I know why so many people like this album. Having said that, however, I still find some definite flaws in it that keep me from the blind worship most rockers exhibit toward it. Read on to understand why.
Reign In Blood
is the third, and arguably defining, album of a career which had started in 1982 with Show No Mercy
. Back then, Slayer were still playing a spinoff of the NWOBHM sound, but over the years they evolved into something much faster and much more brutal, helping establish the template for non-melodic thrash metal. This album exhibits all the trappings of said template, namely edgy riffs, shredding guitar solos, relentless percussion, garbled and high-pitched vocals and evil lyrics. And while Slayer were not the first thrash metal band, nor were they the most original, the fame and respect they earned may be due to one very simple factor: they can whale
In fact, the first time I listened to this album, I described it to a friend as “totally one-dimensional, but it gets your adrenaline pumping”. Several listens later, my opinion still maintains. There may not be much to Reign In Blood
below surface level – there isn’t – but listening to it will make the blood boil in your veins and give you an uncontrollable urge to mosh around and wreck things. And for a thrash album, that’s really the most important thing.
That said, there are large chunks of this album where you’ll have to be really attentive in order to tell the songs apart from each other. Remember how the first time you listened to It’s Alive!
you thought the first few songs were one larger song, because they were all so similar? The same happens here. Listening to the best moments on here, like the bookends, you’re ready to admit you may have been wrong in your judgement; eventually, however, everything will just mash into a big mess of shrieking guitar riffs and “thud-thud-thud” drumming, and you will realize you were right all along. Nearly every song follows the same formula: catchy thrash riff, lightning-fast drumming, shrieked vocals, creaking lead, another short pass of lyrics, end of song. Slower parts are thrown here and there, along with some vocal hooks to help you memorize the songs, but in the long run the album ends up suffering from this lack of variation.
Unsurprisingly, it’s the songs which deviate from the norm that constitute the standouts. Angel Of Death
, for example, is a mammoth of an opener, and one of the best thrash songs I’ve heard to this day. Giving an historic perspective of experimentation on Auschwitz prisoners, this song brought about accusations of Slayer being Nazi, not helped by Jeff Hannemann’s fixation with WWII. However, as a Jewish male, I can appreciate the fact that the lyrics are denouncing
the Holocaust rather than glorifying it. And according to some opinions I’ve read and heard, I’m not the only one.
The stream of quality continues with the short, sweet and brutal Piece By Piece
, but from the third track on, the aforementioned repetition problem kicks in. After that, the only instantly recognizable tracks are Jesus Saves
, because of its vocal hook, Postmortem
, because it unravels almost entirely in a slower tempo, and Raining Blood
, because it has that
riff. Again, unsurprisingly, all are standouts.
However, the remainder of the songs do not go to waste, either. When you start being able to tell them apart, you realise that there is barely a weak song on here. Sure, a few are less remarkable (Epidemic, Necrophobic, Reborn
), but the only moments you can really call “expendable” are Necrophobic
and – on the remastered edition – the pointless “remix” of Criminally Insane
. Every other song, as repetitive as it may be, has at least one small detail to keep you interested, be it a riff, a lyrical passage, or even just Dave Lombardo’s powerhouse drumming. At the end of the half hour, you find yourself exhausted, but satisfied – and that’s what matters most for any album.
In short, then, my respect for this album grew about half a decimal point with each consecutive listen. While I still think it’s flawed, and while I still can’t see how people praise Lombardo based on his performance here – for me, his really impressive work came later, with Grip Inc – I can no longer deny that Reign In Blood
is a quality album. I was all ready to trash it and brace myself for the hate mail…but then I “got” it. Repetitive? Yup. Insanely overrated? Definitely. Poor? No way, Jose.
Angel Of Death
Piece By Piece