Classics Revisited: Slayer - 'Reign In Blood'

On 7th October 1986, the metal world changed forever. Slayer, the underground thrash band, had released their third album Reign In Blood, and it went on to change the face of heavy music forever. It has since gone down in history as a masterpiece, and the band themselves have stated that they will never be able to top it. It inspired countless bands, both large and small, and just a few weeks after the 35th anniversary of such an important album, Jake Longhurst is here to take you through it from front to back, and dive into just why this album is so truly revered by anyone who calls themselves a metalhead.

The first track Angel Of Death is as aggressive as music comes. This is in no small part due to the combination of the shouted lyrics detailing the horrors of Auschwitz, a riff that sounds like a buzzsaw was given a guitar, a bass line heavier than an anvil, and drums like an artillery battery, courtesy of Tom Araya’s vocals and bass, the twin guitar fury of Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman, and Dave Lombardo’s mastery of percussion. The song is a gruesome retelling of Josef Mengele’s twisted, torturous experiments on prisoners at Auschwitz during WW2, and has caused many a controversy, including nearly stopping the album being released, as so many record labels wouldn’t release an album with a song about a Nazi. However, Geffen eventually agreed to release it, although declined to put their logo on the album cover due to the amount of bad publicity they thought might be generated. This song has been rated by many to be the single best album opener in metal, and I am inclined to agree. This song also includes my favourite ever drum break, a small snippet only a couple of seconds long, but is a delightful fill that leads perfectly into the end of the song.

Directly following Angel Of Death, Piece By Piece is a very simple song. It starts fast and intense, and it finishes fast and intense. It doesn’t beat about the bush lyrically, simply talking about death and gore. The meaning of the song has been debated, but it is widely accepted to be about either a cannibal, or an abortion in grisly detail. With lyrics like “As soon as life has left your corpse, I'll make you part of me, no emotion, death is all I see” you can quickly understand how this song fits into the same album as a song about a Nazi torturer. It is not a long song, at just over two minutes, but Kerry King once said that he prefers shorter songs, so they don’t get boring when playing them onstage, and when every song bar two on the album have runtimes shorter than three minutes and twenty seconds, the point comes across well.

"The shortest song on the album at one minute and forty seconds, Necrophobic is in and out almost as quick as you can blink"

The shortest song on the album at one minute and forty seconds, Necrophobic is in and out almost as quick as you can blink. The song is about a man who is terrified of death, but starts to imagine gruesome ways to die, including, but by no means limited to, “Strangulation, mutilation, cancer of the brain, limb dissection, amputation from a mind deranged”. Tom Araya is on fine vocal form here, spitting the lyrics at almost supersonic speed. One anecdote about the album talks about how originally it was written to be approximately 34 minutes long, but when recording it the band got faster and faster until they ended up recording all ten songs in just 28 minutes total. The speed of the band is no small part in their sound and indeed sphere of influence, and when it comes to speed this song may just about have everyone beat.

Altar Of Sacrifice, possibly unsurprisingly at this point, was quite a controversial song. In 1995, Elyse Pahler was just 15 years old when she was murdered in San Luis, California by a group of teenagers. They claimed it was a ‘Virgin sacrifice to Satan’ as detailed in this song. The song is more of a story than others on this album, and in each of its three verses describes a new progression to the story. Verse one starts with a satanic priest sacrificing someone on the “table of hell”, answering to Satan’s command. Verse two then has her sent to hell, where she is transformed into a demon, and we only get a vague description, but it would appear the band describes the transformation as a goat-like demon, which could be the pagan god Baphomet. Verse three then imbues the girl with satanic power, but she looks heavenward and craves salvation, which she can never achieve. All in all, this is quite a dark song.

The band slowed down slightly for the beginning of track five, Jesus Saves, however pretty abruptly they get right back to the lightning quick pace that we have come to expect of this album. The instrumental intro gives just the right amount of creepy atmosphere to the song, with some very nicely written guitar licks, before immediately shifting gear into overdrive. The song is a critical view of normative Christian behaviour, which may seem hypocritical considering Tom Araya, the singer, is a practicing Catholic. However ,it is examining the idea that your everyday Christian, who only goes through the motions of church and doesn’t spend much time practicing the word of God, expects to be saved by God with minimal effort on their behalf. The song criticises their desire for salvation and lack of effort to do anything in order to achieve said salvation and describes them as worshipping an “invisible man”, who they cannot even see to prove their faith is worth anything. Naturally, this is a viewpoint that Tom Araya doesn’t entirely agree with, however as the band were attempting to write a song that would get the attention of the masses, this was a very successful way to do it.

Criminally Insane, which has a short but very enjoyable drum introduction, is one of the songs that was most important to the rise of death metal, especially the Florida scene with bands like Morbid Angel and Obituary. This song is lyrically very simple, like Piece By Piece, and tells the story of a serial killer who is "Criminally Insane". The killer is imprisoned for life, but pledges to escape and end the listeners life. It isn’t gruesome in its lyrical content, but is more chilling than some of the other, more grotesque songs on the album, as it is an entirely real situation that could happen anywhere. Afterwards, Reborn tells the story of a witch who is being burnt at the stake at midnight, laughing at the people who have imprisoned her as she will be reincarnated when she dies and will return to kill them all. This is one of the more directly occult, rather than satanic, tracks in Slayer’s discography, and like the last track isn’t so gory, but is rather more sinister in its themes and content. The witch is telling the priest who is burning her that he shall die and never be saved as his values are fake, whereas she has signed an eternal pact with Satan and will be back to wreak her vengeance.

Following the metaphorical lyrics that came previously, Epidemic is a much more straightforward track than its precursor. It describes a virulent disease spreading around the world, that is killing everyone, with no cure. Almost sounds familiar… The song is a bit more focused on the gore front again, with lyrics like “Pain results in screams, bleed internally” being a morbid view of this plague and its symptoms. The narrator calls themselves a “corpse to be”, which is a genuinely terrifying way to describe oneself, as they have accepted their death after having been infected and have now consigned themselves to death and nothing more. The following track Postmortem continues the themes of death. It is more thought-provoking than most Slayer songs, as it examines the idea of death being a way of transcending life, rather than ending life. It feels like it could’ve been written by some sort of twisted psychopath who believes death is the path to enlightenment, and lines like “wanting to die is your reason to live” show a perverse sort of suicidal ideation.

"The producer of this record, the legendary Rick Rubin, said that he loved the way Postmortem and Raining Blood flowed into each other"

The producer of this record, the legendary Rick Rubin, said that he loved the way Postmortem and Raining Blood flowed into each other, and that he thought the solos on this album were phenomenal, with Kerry and Jeff playing off against each other to do the more ludicrously fast solo, which caused the album to be chockful of insanely fast solo licks. Speaking of Raining Blood, the finale of this album is Slayer’s biggest track by some considerable margin, and deservedly so. Raining Blood is a masterclass in how to write metal, and the atmosphere provided by the ominous raining intro and outro make the music feel somehow even more intense. The riff is one of the most well known and imitated throughout the genre, but no one has ever truly mastered the style quite like Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman.

The lyrics tell the story of the Last Judgement, and Satan’s coming to end the world. Lyrics such as “Abolish the rules made of stone” and “Souls of my treacherous past” give us a good idea of the situation, as the “rules made of stone” sound like the ten commandments, and the “treacherous past” could allude to Lucifer’s fall from grace. At the end of the song, Satan is successful in overthrowing heaven, and finishes the album off by saying “Now I shall reign in blood.”, which is the first and last time the album name is sung, and then leads into the final eerie outro, using the sound of a thunderstorm once again.

Slayer’s Reign In Blood is a quintessential metal album, and as I’ve described here, holds some of metal’s greatest ever moments. From start to end it is an intense, aggressive ride that never lets up and always keeps you listening until the final drop of rain has fallen. Without a doubt, this album is a must listen, and with Slayer now finished with touring and writing music, what better time to pay your respects to the masters of extreme music, and give this album a spin.

Written by: Jake Longhurst

Edited by: Gemma Cockrell

In-article image courtesy of Kerrang! via Facebook.

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