Retro Review: Slayer - Reign in Blood (Def Jam Recordings)

Classic thrash? Why, thank you sir...

‘Relentless’ is a word that gets bandied around far too often in metal circles but when it’s Slayer’s Reign in Blood (1986) that we’re talking about; well, it’s as if the word was created just to describe it. It’s hard to explain to anyone who wasn’t around at the time how influential this BEAST of an album was (and continues to be) but you can be sure every metal band from the mid-eighties onwards was doing a piss-weak cover of at least one tune off of this seminal work by Slayer.

From the opener Angel of Death with Tom Araya’s demented scream over a riff that simply doesn’t stop, everyone who heard Slayer’s third full length release knew immediately that it was going to go down in metal history as a classic album. I remembered sticking this album on, sitting around with some mates, and we all just sat there going ‘What. The. Fuck?! Can you get any faster or heavier than this?’

Of course, in hindsight, we all know that you can get faster and heavier - but at the time Reign in Blood set the benchmark. As Kerry King pointed out when I interviewed him at Soundwave 2013: “We did that record and it just hits people in the forehead from top to bottom. It was such a turning point and it really is what we were judged on and what thrash was judged on as a whole.” And that’s just it; the entire album is just so fucking violent from start to finish.

Dear departed Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King excel with their lead and rhythm guitar work – the riffs are like sledgehammers while the lead work howls over everything. Dave Lomabardo (departed now but certainly not dead) batters the drums with a vehemence previously unheard of while Tom Araya brutalises his bass, all the while spitting the lyrics out in a frenzy.

It’s actually a bloody short album, just about hitting half an hour - but what a half an hour. 30 minutes spent listening to Reign in Blood will never be 30 minutes of wasted time. After the first track it’s Piece by Piece and then a personal favourite of mine, Necrophobic. The frantic guitar work complimented by some lyrical delivery that spews forth at a break-neck pace blows my mind every time I hear it. The guitar runs blur, the cymbals crash, and then you get that chunky break; a slight respite for your neck and spine before you’re thrown back into the main riff and dragged off to Hell for some invasive chiropractic therapy by the devil him/herself.

You can’t reflect on Reign in Blood without touching on the subject matter of the lyrics; torture, murder, insanity, Satan. Peanuts who misunderstood Angel of Death labelled the band as Nazi-Satanists but incorrect pigeon-holing aside, Slayer’s lyrics were (and still are) brutal, unyielding slashes of paint on the canvas of their song construction. Imagine Altar of Sacrifice or the derisive Jesus Saves reworked with delightful cotton-candy content. No, it’s not possible, though having said that, I sense an imminent Youtube mash-up. We need Araya bellowing “Spend your life just kissing ass, a trait that’s grown as time Has passed” as he points out the hypocrisy; all the while the rest of the band are going abso-fucking-lutely nuts on their respective instruments and you’re throwing horns and freaking out. Perfection.

Cut to the groove-laden drum intro to Criminally Insane and you’re suddenly crushed by the guitars that just drop with a riff that won’t go home – anyone who says that the drum patterns on here are too similar needs a good stabbing in the eye – and bask in the speeding solos that threaten to peel the skin off your face. Every track on here is the epitome of thrash (yes, you can have death too but at the end of the day it’s all just metal); Reborn, Epidemic, Postmortem and final track Raining Blood – each one is a unique piece of metal goodness from a simpler time. Yes, we had Show No Mercy (1983) and Hell Awaits (1985) but Reign in Blood was when Slayer really got their shit together and found their sound and their way of executing their music.

And you can't go past the album cover; how fucking metal is that? Pure Satan.