Friday, October 7, 2011

Slayer - Reign in Blood: Part 4 in a 10-part series looking back at the best thrash metal albums of 1986

Throughout the year, I've been looking back at some of the best thrash metal albums of 1986 -- the year thrash hit its zenith in popularity and creativity. When possible, I've tried to interview band members, producers and others associated with the original albums. I've also tried to time the blog posts to coincide with the 25th anniversary of each album's release, although accurate release dates from 25 years ago can be hard to come by.

This installment commemorates Slayer's landmark third album, Reign in Blood, which was originally released on Oct. 7, 1986. I'm not exaggerating when I say that I honestly believe that Reign in Blood is the greatest 28 minutes and 56 seconds in the history of recorded music. It's an album that undeniably changed the face of metal. I had really hoped to interview one of the guys in Slayer for this post, and I was fairly certain I could make it happen. I'm on good terms with the band's publicist and I've interviewed Kerry King in the past. Unfortunately, the band isn't doing any press until their next album cycle, so I figured the next best thing would be to ask a bunch of other bands about their memories of Reign in Blood and how it has influenced them as artists.

Turns out a whole lot of folks like Slayer. Twenty musicians representing 28 different bands took the time to weigh in on this classic album. Read their responses below, as well as my own Reign in Blood memories...
"Reign in Blood completely undermines the church and smears the world with Satanic upheaval. Pounding drums, big hair, grinding bass, high-pitched vocals, thrash or die. Reign in Blood makes me want to crush beer cans off my head. When I first heard Reign in Blood, it made me want to throw a midget down a wishing well... and wish for hell on earth. I don't think there is an extreme metal band in existence that hasn't drawn some influence from this truly classic record. 1986 'til death, Hanneman lives!"
-- T. (Dragged Into Sunlight) 
"I was just a kid when that record came out, and I didn't discover it until I was in my early teens. Seasons in the Abyss was my gateway release into the world of Slayer, and thrash metal as a genre. I remember that I thought that the Reign in Blood record was too extreme for me, or too hard to get into in the beginning, but I loved the songs 'Angel of Death,' 'Postmortem' and 'Raining Blood.' It didn't take long for me to get into the full record, and today it's up there with the most classic releases in the history of metal. Everything is damn-near perfect: the bombastic and thunderous drumwork by Dave Lombardo, Hanneman and King's guitar shreddery and Araya's rapid-fire vocals. It might very well be the perfect thrash record. Had it been a tad longer, it might not have been the classic that it is today. There is not one minute of filler on it - each track is fantastic and they blend together extremely well. Hail Slayer for giving us this crown jewel!"
-- Björn Larsson (Mordbrand) 
"I grew up listening to punk, not metal. When I was in high school I was listening to stuff like Discharge, Conflict and Nausea. Being into punk, it was rather 'uncool' to like metal. I didn't listen to Metallica or Pantera, however it was OK for punks to like Slayer. I remember a friend of mine who was into metal letting me borrow Reign and I was hooked. It was my first look into the metal world that I had previously scoffed at. That record made me a metalhead. Slayer was a turning point for me and I've never looked back."
-- Evan Linger (Skeletonwitch) 
"Reign in Blood was a great record. It was very inspiring too, because it came out in ’86, so S.O.D. had already done our thing, but with Nuclear Assault, that was the year we went in to record Game Over, and when that record came out, it just gave us a little kick in the ass. We were like ‘Oh shit, man. We’d better up our game. Listen to these motherfuckers.’ Besides just enjoying the record as a great metal record, it served a purpose. I don’t know if we did that consciously, like sat down and had a meeting like ‘Do you hear this record? We’ve gotta play fast.’ You had different types of thrash metal, even back then. By then, Anthrax had Joey [Belladonna], you had stuff like Overkill, and then you had the harder stuff that was more influenced by hardcore… Anyway, I really liked Reign in Blood and I want to thank them for putting it out and giving us a kick in the ass."
-- Dan Lilker (Nuclear Assault, S.O.D., Brutal Truth)
“It changed my fucking stupid life. All poser thrash bands need not make music anymore. Hail Slayer.”
-- John Strachan (Early Graves, The Funeral Pyre)  
"I was ten years old when this record came out and had only yet to discover three of the Big Four. It was mostly Priest, Dio, Maiden, Metallica and the more mainstream stuff for me before this point. I'd heard Slayer, but it was hard to get into -- much less even hear -- anything back then unless you could save up your $1 a week allowance and buy the tape, and then you had to ride your BMX bike all the way to the mall to get it. It wasn't 'til about '88, around when South of Heaven came out, that I started to delve even deeper into the depths of darker, scarier metal and hardcore. But needless to say, I was at Tower Records or the Wherehouse on release day right after school for every Slayer album from then on. I can honestly say that getting South of Heaven, Reign in Blood, Show No Mercy, Hell Awaits etc. scared me almost as much as it excited me. Growing up being forced to go to church, I often felt as if I was committing a crime listening to this, the most Satanic thing I'd ever come across. This was no Shout At The Devil. This was pure evil, and I loved it."
-- Ryan Butler (Landmine Marathon) 
"Show No Mercy is the only album that could ever live up to the hype of Reign in Blood."
-- Chris Black (Superchrist) 
"You know an album is good when it gives you chills down your spine and takes you to another place. Slayer's 1986 album, Reign in Blood, goes beyond that. It doesn't just give you these feelings, it consumes you. Listening to Reign in Blood is the closest thing to possession that I can imagine. There should be a warning [or] disclaimer on the front of the CD that says "Don't listen to this album while driving" because you might get arrested for multiple counts of speeding, road rage, assault with a deadly weapon, and/or second degree murder. I remember being at a stop light while listening to this album for the thousandth time. At that moment in time, I was a different person, just like everyone is every time they listen to that album. A woman and her two kids were crossing the street right in front of me. All of a sudden, running those people down with my vehicle seemed good and right. That is how I feel while I listen to that album and it's a good feeling. Reign In Blood is the greatest metal album of all time!!!"
-- Travis Thune (Hemoptysis) 
"It's always hard for me to pick my favorite Slayer release. Some times it's Hell Awaits with that evil as fuck sound. Sometimes it's Show No Mercy with that old school attack. And yet, sometimes it's Reign In Blood with the sheer relentless intensity that the album brings to the table. When those opening punches of 'Angel Of Death' come, you know you are in trouble. It might just be the most recognizable thrash/death beginning to a song in the history of heavy metal. And the album never lets the fuck up. It slams you down with total violence and steps on your throat. It pummels you into submission and doesn't let up until the end of 'Raining Blood,' when the break ends and the really fast part comes with the wailing solos, that is the sound of your death. The blood storm that comes at the end of the album is the sound of your soul going to hell. You can call it 'the trendy pick' as far as a favorite Slayer album. And some have said that it is 'overrated.' But look and listen deep. Will there ever be anything like it? In 29 minutes, Slayer kick more ass and shred more metal than most bands do in their whole careers. This is the album that we listen to in traffic. This is the album that we listen to as we plot revenge. This is the album that no one will ever forget. All albums are judged to this standard in extreme metal, and no one will ever come close!"
-- Mike Abominator (Gravehill) 
"I first heard Reign in Blood pretty soon after discovering Slayer for the first time, and thrash metal in general, in about 1990 when Seasons in the Abyss came out. Slayer stood apart from the crowd because they are probably the first band I ever heard that managed to capture a truly menacing nature in musical form. Reign in Blood embodies everything about Slayer and is the perfect thrash capsule: 29 minutes of compact, heavy, unimprovable metal with fantastic production. There is no doubt that the attitude of fast, short, riff-laden songs has influenced me on a personal level, and Monsterworks even performed the intro section of 'Angel of Death' at our first ever gig (the one and only cover we have ever played). It all fell apart after the scream but it was worth it."
-- Jon Higgs (Monsterworks, The Living Fields) 
"I can actually remember when this album came out. This was before the death metal era and, at the time, was the heaviest, fastest and most evil album in the world. My friends all thought it was pure noise and crazy sounding. For me, it just pushed the envelope for more extreme things to come. We incorporated a bunch of Slayer-type riffs in Oppressor and even when we went for the heavy rock style that was SOiL, we always closed the show for much of the "Scars" era tour by playing part of 'Raining Blood.' The crowd always went nuts! Slayer is truly a universal language for metal fans."
-- Tim King (SOiL, Oppressor) 
"Reign in Blood was one of the first fast records I ever owned. Kill 'Em All has it's fast parts and so does Peace Sells, but Reign in Blood set a new bar to me as far as breakneck speed. The riffing on top of that is absurd. The fact that this album was written and recorded while I was stuck on Def Leppard's Hysteria but became a way more drastic influence on me is always funny and awesome in retrospect. The fact that the album still sounds fresh musically, vocally and sonically is a testament to not just Slayer, but thrash overall. I think the lyrics on this album are the most underrated part. I absolutely love themes being hidden under metaphor, especially in metal where the laymen may only see death and blood. 1986 was a completely ridiculous year in thrash and metal overall, but Reign in Blood STILL holds a top spot in not just that year (notably against Master of fucking Puppets) but in metal history.
-- Rick Jimenez (This Is Hell)

"My introduction to Slayer was Hell Awaits, which I had to get after seeing the live version of the title track from Sky Channel's 'Monsters Of Rock' show, hosted by Mick Wall. After the raw and violent Hell Awaits, which scared the shit out of me and my pals, Reign In Blood sounded rather "commercial," but yet intense and tight. RIB has one of the most memorable band photos of all time: scary looking lads conventionally carrying beer cans while grinning to the camera. Is that a considerable role model for a 13-year-old kid from a broken family? Anyway, Dave Lombardo's drowsy smile made the shot even more wicked.

"Where Slayer lost its rawness by choosing Rick Rubin to produce the album, they certainly paved their way to the more cultivated style, which they perfected on their next efforts, South of Heaven and Seasons in the Abyss.

"To most people, Reign in Blood seems to be 'the album' in Slayer's discography. Even though I think it's an awesome record, I see it just as a necessary link between 'the creepy Slayer,' and more mature Slayer, which was a huge musical influence to myself with the heavier and more melodic style."
-- Olli-Pekka Laine (Barren Earth)
"'86 was the year that I really discovered metal. A pretty good fucking year for it! I got caught up as quickly as I could. Reign in Blood was not only terrifying, but so much more violent than anything else I had ever heard. Lyrically it was obvious: "benefit the Aryan race," "flesh starts to burn, twist and deform" and the classic "on my wall your head!" snippets would slip past on the first few listens. What the fuck?!? Araya's delivery was so brilliant too. Super pissed, quick, and deadly serious. No 'thrash is fun' vibe back in those days, kids. But the music was what really fucked everything up for everybody. So fucking powerful. Like they were all whacked on angel dust, possessed by Satan or, more likely, both. Those drums and guitars set the bar at a level so high that I don't think anyone has come close to achieving yet. It sounds like it was recorded in an abandoned chapel. They somehow found the perfect combination of musicality and tempo that it still makes the heart pound a little harder than before you started listening. Even all these years later it's still the album that everything else is compared to. Other bands have taken the Slayer influence and gone on to do great things, but there is only one Reign in Blood."
-- Jon Necromancer (Bones)
"There's no doubt that Reign in Blood is a momentous album for me. That's the album that got me into extreme metal and I still think that it is one of the best albums ever made. Beginning with the mighty 'Angel of Death' and ending with the sinister 'Raining Blood,' every single track on the album is pure genious."
-- Johan Gustafsson (Volturyon) 
"Slayer is awesome. Mike is also awesome."
-- Marshall "Fucking" Beck (Reign of Vengeance, Rebirth) 
[Thanks, Marshall. Your check's in the mail.] 
"I'm not sure exactly where I was when I first heard Reign in Blood -- probably in high school, like everybody else. What I do recall was my reaction as my virgin ears were sodomized by 'Angel Of Death' for the first time: 'Christ on a penis, what the fuck is wrong with these guys?' Many years later, I still wonder. And then there's that scream. You know the one. Years ago, I always thought of it as 'Well, it's a metal song, so yeah, he does a scream.' As time went on, I realized there's more to it than that. That particular scream is the sound of somebody who actually takes pleasure in offending your senses, and your dignity. It's the sound of someone who's excited because he knows that he's about to sing something that will fuck with you severely. It comes from a mindset of pure subversion. And that is what makes Slayer great."
-- Mark Sugar (Trials) 
“I had heard Slayer's Hell Awaits, but it didn't really affect me at the time. But when I heard Reign in Blood when it was released, I was totally blown away! I mean, I wanted to blow things up, and burn things down! I had heard a lot of speed metal acts and early thrash acts, but this was extreme in a way that captured my soul and mind on a whole other level. I remember thinking that the only flaw the album had was that it was too short.”
-- Bjørn "Tiger" Mathisen (Fester, Sincera) 
"Slayer is the ultimate thrash band and Reign in Blood is the greatest thrash record of all time! I was 15 when that record came out and it blew my fucking mind! I still emulate Jeff Hanneman's evil riffing to this day in almost every song I write. No thrash, death or black metal band since has come close to topping the intensity of that album (Slayer included)! It's Slayer's masterpiece and one of the greatest metal albums ever made! You can't fuck with Reign In Blood!!!"
--Matt Sorg (Ringworm, Charred Walls of the Damned)
"I remember the day I bought the record (the day it came out) and took it home to listen to it. As soon as 'Angel of Death' came on, I went 'WTF!?!'  The motherfucker skipped! You'd expect that from a New Renaissance record but not a major label like Columbia!?! I still have the record and to this day 'Postmortem' is still the baddest fuckin' Slayer song out there..."
-- Tim Matthews (The Horde)
As for myself, I was 13 when Reign in Blood came out. I was living in Beatrice, Nebraska (pop. ~12,000) at the time, which wasn't exactly a hotbed for metal. A good friend used to visit family in Kansas City fairly frequently, and one time in 1986 he came back with Reign in Blood on cassette. I had already begun to make the leap from cheesy hair metal to harder stuff like Metallica and Megadeth, but Reign in Blood sounded like nothing I'd heard before. I wasn't even sure if I liked it at first, but it was so ridiculously loud, fast, heavy, angry and Satanic that I was fascinated by it. I used to listen to it on my Walkman (actually, it was probably a knockoff) while doing my paper route every day after school. The entire album was on both sides of the cassette, so as soon as "Raining Blood" ended, it would switch to the other side and start all over again with "Angel of Death."

Twenty-five years later, the album is permanently burned onto my brain. Plenty of albums have been released in the meantime that are louder, faster, heavier, angrier and/or more Satanic, but none of them have had the lasting impact of Reign in Blood. The album represented an unprecedented leap forward for heavy metal. The genre was barely 16 years old at the time, but the evolution from Black Sabbath in 1970 to Reign in Blood in 1986 was monumental. The difference between today's most extreme metal albums and Reign in Blood doesn't seem nearly as pronounced, despite the passage of 25 more years. Nowadays, you can turn on the local "active rock" station and occasionally catch "Master of Puppets" or "Peace Sells," but the next time I hear "Altar of Sacrifice" or "Criminally Insane" on commercial radio will be the first. Even at the ripe old age of 25, Reign in Blood is still way too heavy for mass consumption, and Slayer fans wouldn't have it any other way.

Read about the other great thrash albums of 1986:
Part 1: Metallica - Master of Puppets
Part 2: Destruction - Eternal Devastation
Part 3: Flotsam and Jetsam - Doomsday for the Deceiver

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