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Slayer’s “Reign in Blood” has an infamous legacy in metal, and was pretty groundbreaking at its time in terms of its almost constant barrage of brutality and speed. It’s fast and aggressive, sure, but does the fact this album is considered so influential necessarily make it a great album?
Most of the songs on this album are ridiculously short. Only three clock in over two minutes, and only two break four. This leaves us with a ten song album that clocks in at under half an hour. Due to all of the songs being so short, this album feels less written than its predecessor, “Hell Awaits,” and feels like a jam than a completed album. Furthermore, almost all of the songs are ridiculously fast paced. Almost as though the band said, “Let’s see how fast we can play,” and topped it off with Tom Araya screaming evil sounding shit over it.
We kick things off with Angel of Death, an amazing opener, beginning with fast heavy riffing, and being, to my knowledge, one of the last songs featuring Tom Araya’s high pitched shrieking wail, which becomes a barbaric yell. The song continues on brutally as Tom informs us that the holocaust was bad or something. His voice sounds all out evil, the tone of the guitars and drums are brutal, and this song features something that’s pretty rare on this album: A breakdown, which becomes a misplaced head banging piece where Tom describes graphic details of the holocaust and Josef Mengele’s victims. Then we get to the solo. Often times on this album the solos feel like they’re just fretting random shit on the high strings and seeing what happens. In some cases it works. In some it doesn’t. For the most part, I probably won’t even bring up the solos again, since “random fretting” seems to cover most of them. Tom Araya screams “Angel of Death” a few more times, and so ends the longest song you’ll be hearing in a while.
“Piece by Piece” and “Criminally Insane” have a rather mid-paced intro, which break out into a relentless thrash fest. “Piece by Piece” holds water mostly because of its placement on the album. Being the second track, the idea of relentless thrashing has yet to grow stale. “Criminally Insane,” on the other hand has always been what I considered to be a highlight of the albums middle part. Not as good as either the opener or the closer, but good compared to most of the middle. Neither “Necrophobic” nor “Altar of Sacrifice” fuck around before punching you in the face with speed, although right after Toms scream at the end of “Necrophobic” there is about… one second of a slow riff, while “Altar” slows down just a little while Tom discusses how awesome Satan is. “Reborn” and “Epidemic” thrash almost all the way through, and do absolutely nothing noteworthy.
“Jesus Saves” sounds like two songs that they didn’t feel like working on anymore, so rather than finish either, they combined both. Almost half the song is a somewhat slow chug, with some riffing over it, and then half way through, out of nowhere, it just stops and becomes another fucking thrasher. And then it just kind of stops and you wonder what the fuck just happened.
“Postmortem” is interesting, seeing as it does the exact same thing “Jesus Saves” does, but on some copies, it actually is split, so that the second half of the song is actually the intro to Raining Blood. This song actually makes it work much better than “Jesus Saves” though, and it becomes another highlight of the album’s middle section.
And then begins “Raining Blood.” The eerie guitar feedback. The rain. The almost tribal drumming. The well known riff. After the minute of build up, there is a part that sounds like every other song on the album, but as it goes on, it really stops relying on speed and pays off that intense build up for a while, as that famous riff plays, until Tom Araya finally screams “RAINING BLOOD!!” The solo sounds like a chaotic mess, but somehow the nature of it works well for the build up to that final clap of thunder, as Slayer leaves you with echoing rain.
At the end of the day, “Reign in Blood” is an album you can only enjoy if you’re the type who just wants to thrash to really fast paced noise. Despite how highly regarded this album is, Slayer had already done this type of music on Haunting the Chapel and Hell Awaits, and much better I might add, and would continue to do it, and again, better, for a few more albums. I can’t even honestly say this is a good starting place for people getting into Slayer. “Seasons in the Abyss” would be better suited, since it offers a taste of both brutal thrashing Slayer as well as the darker more ambient stuff they did. Unless you want a half an hour of senseless brutality, bookended by two good songs, then forget this album, forget all its praise, and forget its legacy. Slayer can, and have, done better, and it’s a little sad that no matter what they accomplish or have accomplished, this album will always be what the band is most remembered for.