Review Summary: An essay on why RIB is overrated.
Now, before I begin the actual review, let me just make this absolutely clear. I adore this album, it is a classic in every sense of the word. HOWEVER, there are a number of flaws that simply can not be ignored that drastically affect the score. On a purely musical note, this would be at least a 4.5 out of five. However, the problems that affect this album truly are ruining for it.
In 1986, Slayer unleashed what many consider to be their magnum opus upon the unprepared metal world, who simply did not know how to handle this release. Such was the brutality of it, Reign In Blood was considered to be the fastest album of its time, being consistently brutal and speedy, with very few slower moments, and even those few moments of slower material are not slightly light when compared to much of the metal around at the time. This was the year of the speedy albums, with two others that could contest for the crown of fastest album of the time released, but the difference was that Slayer's Reign In Blood had considerably better actual musicianship than either Dark Angel's Darkness Descends or Kreator's Pleasure To Kill, crowning this as the fastest and heaviest of its time. Praise was showered upon it, with it being one of the core influence of various genres to come afterwards, such as Death Metal. Perfect scores were immediately awarded to Reign In Blood, with people dubbing it as a ground breaking album that would stand the test of time. However, over the years, this has proven to not be so, with the album lacking the impact it had in its time. Just take a look at what would follow it.
In 1987, Death released their incredible debut Scream Bloody Gore, followed by Morbid Angel's masterpiece Altars Of Madness in 1990. Then, Cannibal Corpse redefined brutality with Tomb Of The Mutilated, before Cryptopsy released None So Vile in 1996, once again treading new territories in crazy speed and sheer heaviness. Since then bands have consistently released albums with insane tempo's and a ridiculously heavy sound to them. Even the often maligned Deathcore genre manages to outdo this in both speed and heaviness. Now, to say that much of the Deathcore genre is better than this is to fool oneself, as this is clearly not the case. Reign In Blood slaughters everything from the Deathcore genre. This is an undisputable fact. However, what can be disputed is whether it tops it in heaviness. The music scene has evolved far too much for Reign's speed and actual heaviness to be of any consequence today. So many bands have outdone them in both categories, to varying degrees of success. Gone are the days when any band that played at a crazy tempo was considered a Slayer rip-off. That is one of the reasons why this album is no longer the flawless masterpiece it was back in 1986.
The other real flaw in this album is the fact that it really does not have any variation to it whatsoever, save the middle section of Angel Of Death, the opening to Jesus Saves and the first two thirds of Postmortem, all three of which happen to be some of the finest moments of the album. The album blazes away at tempos of around two hundred and forty beats per minute through its entire twenty nine minute duration, rarely taking its foot of the accelerator, leading to every song on the album blending together to form one long song that really does fast become monotonous and boring. The musicianship here is close to being perfect. The drumming from Dave Lombardo is pretty much the watermark for every fast band that came after, using his infamous heel-up technique to play at tempos that border on insanity with every single drum beat being perfectly audible. The guitar riffs across this album are glorious, with the best being the fiddly riff that opens the slowed down section of Angel Of Death and the absolute monster riff to Raining Blood, and possibly the main riff to the fastest song on the album, Necrophobic. The vocal work is about as tight as can be asked from the thrash genre, with Tom Araya spewing out lyrics about dismemberment and Nazi experiments, whilst occasionally switching it up to unleash a killer high pitched scream, such as the one that introduces Angel Of Death. So, the musicianship itself is decent, bar the guitar solos which sound like the tortured screams of the victims that the songs describe, and remain as utterly tuneless now as they were in 1986. However, the album is too fast for its own good, being played too fast for too long, with not enough moments that change the tempo of the music.
The album also lacks any truly memorable moments other than those that have already been mentioned. Upon first listen, the listener will perceive this album to be nigh on perfect, and a timeless classics. However, upon multiple listens, it fast becomes apparent that the songs themselves just are not that memorable, nor do they stand out too much. Angel Of Death and Raining Blood are two classics for sure, being absolute benchmarks in thrash metal. However, the eight songs that come in between all sound like the one that came before. Piece by Piece is a half-formed song at best, without a solo to speak of and still clocking in at faster than the song that follows it, Necrophobic, which is too fast to really get into despite the frantic delivery from Tom Araya that one loses their breath attempting to sing-a-long to. Altar Of Sacrifice is slightly better, being considerably catchier and with Araya's vocals for some reason sounding particularly aggressive on this song. Jesus Saves is nothing more than lazy, being pointless anti-religious lyrics without any of the evil nature of Hell Awaits, and Criminally Insane is plain boring. Epidemic kicks off with a brilliant drum solo, but then fades into the rest of the song, and Postmortem is slightly better, with a lot slower tempo and very dark lyrics. However, after listening to the album, the listener will find it difficult to distinguish one from the other, nor remember what any of them actually were.
Reign In Blood is no longer the bar for aggressive, fast, angry metal music, nor is it the fastest even within the thrash metal genre anymore, with Dark Angel's Darkness Descends being both considerably faster and having a lot more time poured into making the songs memorable instead of just being a half-hour snooze fest. The album needs a lot more variation, which is just a no for Slayer, it would seem. Aside from the two thrash classics found at each pole of the album, this is devoid of any songs that kick out and scream for the listener to recognize them forever. Nice try, Slayer, but this is lacking any of the power and relevancy that it had when it was first released twenty six years ago, and therefore fails to be the be-all end-all thrash album that many would have someone believe it to be.