Friday, March 13, 2009

March 13: Slayer, "Reign In Blood"

Artist: Slayer
Album: Reign In Blood
Year: 1986
Label: American

In honor of today being Friday the 13th, I've decided to be a bit cliche and review one of the most delightfully evil bands ever, Slayer. For nearly thirty years, when it comes to thrash/speed metal and all out noise assaults, they are pretty much second to none. Their 1986 release, Reign In Blood is maelstrom of organized chaos and arguably the greatest metal album in history.

The albums' release came with a large amount of controversy and its overall impact was massive. Initially, the release of the record was delayed for the albums' cover art. Another hold-up was the Reign In Blood's opening track, "Angel Of Death." The song discusses Nazi concentration camps, and there were loads of accusations about the band being supporters of the atrocity. After the band made it quite clear that they in no way condoned such acts, the record was released with the questionable artwork (though their main label, Geffen, did not include it on its list of album releases the week it came out.)

Temporally abandoning their Satan-fueled lyrics, the band moveed to songs of death, insanity, murder, and overall, more "street" or "universal" themes. While most metal bands of the time (Metallica, Megadeth, etc) were writing albums that clocked in at well over an hour, Slayer was quoted many times as saying, "so what?" when it came to album length. It is from this fact that the heavy influences of the punk movement are clear in the bands' approach to recording. Many of the songs on Reign In Blood lack any repetition and change tempo and keys mid-song. This choice in style is rarely heard anywhere in the heavy metal genre.

One of the most amazing things about Reign In Blood is its speed. Covering twelve songs in just under a half hour, such concentrated aggression was unheard of at that point. The lightning fast doubled guitars of Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King finally brings the musical "punch" that is lacking on the bands' first few records. Though he would leave the band for nearly a year after the albums' release, drummer Dave Lombardo takes Reign in Blood to set the bar at a nearly unreachable level for drummers in metal bands. He keeps break-neck pace through every song and it drives the tornado of music coming out of the speakers. The fact that Slayer finally lives up to all of their potential may be due to the fact that Reign In Blood was their first album with an up and coming producer named Rick Rubin.

Whether delivering spoken lyrics with the fury of the finest punk singers, or hitting notes that would make Steve Perry jealous, Tom Araya was, and remains, one of the most amazing singers on the planet. Understanding that volume does not necessarily equal more intense, Araya's vocals remain in control throughout the record, yet they are still strong and fiery. Artists ranging from Chuck D to Tori Amos to the gents from KMFDM have all cited Araya as a huge influence on their style and, listening to a majority of metal bands since, it is clear that most of them are trying to duplicate Araya's style.

While most critics tend to completely write off the entire heavy metal genre, the impact of Reign in Blood is simply undeniable. Public Enemy sampled parts of the record on their Fear Of A Black Planet album. Tori Amos has covered "Raining Blood" live for years, and released a studio cover of it on her 2001 album, Strange Little Girls. Classical metalheads Apocolyptica have covered many songs off the record, and a handful of tracks of Reign In Blood have been featured in video games (Tony Hawk's Project 8, Guitar Hero III, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.) Such wide ranging acclaim, even more than twenty years after its release, helps to support just how much significance lies within Reign In Blood.

Speed metal, or thrash metal, are extremely difficult genres in which to find success. While there are countless bands who try, most miss the mark by a longshot and sound like second-rate reproductions of bands that have already succeeded. High atop the list of great metal bands stands the immortal Slayer. Their name alone has become synonymous with the genre and for good reason. They pioneered the thrash sound, throwing conventional restrictions of how the genre "should" sound to the wayside and making the albums they wanted to create. Their 1986 release, Reign In Blood, is a masterpiece of musical mayhem and is essential in understanding the entire genre.

Standout tracks: "Angel Of Death," "Altar Of Sacrifice" and "Raining Blood."

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