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Slayer. The name says it all. Something that's dark, fast, sharp, aggressive and with intent to kill. The band couldn't have picked a better name...
1986. Pleasure to Kill, Darkness Descends, Master of Puppets, Peace Sells... But Who's Buying?, only to name a few, were massive albums that marked 1986 as thrash metal's golden hour. And where does Reign in Blood come in here? The anwser is right at the very top.
The rhythm section: Dave Lombardo delivers. From the machine gun-like double bass part of Angel of Death to the pounding toms of Raining Blood, this guy applies so much force to his playing that it's practically inhuman. Lombardo's frantic, breakneck style fits this album perfectly. Tom Araya's bass is very silent (in fact, the only part of the album where the bass would be audible- the bass intro to Piece By Piece- was ommited from the final product), yet that isn't anything new or shocking by thrash metal standards. The bass lines just follow the guitar riffs anyway, so we're not missing out on much here.
Guitars: The guitar work on this album is quite admirable. Your ears bleed as Hanneman and King belt out note by note, power chord by power chord and lead by lead. Whammy bar dive-bombs simulate dropping bombs, horrible whails mimic the cries of lost souls begging for their lives, and the frantically shredded solos only add to the general atmosphere of chaos and discord the album projects. However, it must be made clear that no mistakes were made here. Each note precisely on time, each insane solo played perfectly. Hanneman and King successfully defy all music theory through the album, having received little-to-no formal musical training (I do remember King mentioning somewhere that he used to have a guitar teacher, with whom he played in a band as well).
The vocals are frantic, horrifying screams spat out at dazzling speeds. From the opening shriek in Angel of Death to Raining Blood's last enfuriated line, Tom Araya manages to retain both the endurance and the fury of an elephant.
Next up is the songwriting. The songs are short, especially in comparison to the slightly progressive Hell Awaits. We all know the story when long-time Slayer producer Rick Rubin heard the album and let the band know that it clocked in at around 25 minutes. Shocked, the band asked the producer if they should write more songs. Rubin replied that as long as they have 10 songs, they have an album. A lot of people find this record to be much too short, I, on the other hand, find its length to be perfect. The songs are all very memorable, since it's possible to discern the lyrics pretty much without the booklet. The riffs are also very memorable and very easy to make out, thanks to Rick Rubin's phenomenal production. The lyrics aren't exactly innovative for today's standards, however back in '86 singing about Nazi horrors, dismemberment, insanity, etc. and graphically depicting it within one's lyrics was pretty shocking stuff.
So, the conclusion: Reign in Blood is definitely a masterpiece, one of thrash metal's best offerings to date and a prime representation of a young band in their golden hour. The songwriting is stellar, and if the riffs weren't so fast you could actually hum along to them. The band members' performance is perfect and the production is very clear. All this is good, but what makes this album so great?
Well, I ask you... How many times did you feel like listening to some good extreme metal to get your day started, something to help you get through work? And how many times did you start listening to an album when you realized all of a sudden that you have to be at work in ten minutes and at the same time felt annoyed that you had to stop listening mid-album? This problem does not exist with Reign in Blood, since it's possible to listen to it in its entirety without missing a minute of work/school while still getting a major kick out of it. Yes my friends, that's the beauty of it. I definitely recommend this if you're new to metal in general, and if you're an aspiring thrash/death metaller, this is the first thing you should purchase.