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Forgive me for not gobbling Slayer's knob, but this album has really faded with time. It's unarguably the most highly acclaimed extreme metal album of all time, usually one of the biggies that critics name-drop on "Best of" lists to show that they have some respect for metal, although if you follow their reasoning the list of essential metal releases is Master of Puppets, Back in Black, Paranoid, Appetite for Destruction, and the aforementioned Reign in Blood. Well, that's just plain wrong as the metal field is as deep and varied as any in popular music today, but I've gotta think that in that company Reign in Blood is lacklustre(although Appetite is just as criminally overrated).
I won't argue it's influence. This is neck and neck with Ride the Lightning as the most influential thrash record in my eyes, both easily marching into the top ten of all time. The atonal wandering-key solos have become a death trademark, the drumming machine Dave Lombardo is the icon of extreme drumming, and Slayer was way ahead of the game in getting away from the "power metal gone mad" Satanism that the genre had been riding since Venom and Mercyful Fate(and before them Black Sabbath of course). Slayer put the focus directly on the madness we ourselves create, from the concentration camp horrors of Joseph "Angel of Death" Menghele, to the graphic dismemberment of "Piece by Piece", to the man-becomes-devil demon wax of "Reborn" which is a retread of the lyrical themes of both "Black Sabbath" and "The Number of the Beast" which places the source of evil directly in the minds of men. This, along with Metallica's stolid lack of fantasy, would be a serious influence on the clinically inclined death/grindcore metal first wavers like Carcass and Napalm Death.
Really, you could attribute the entire death metal genre primarily to Reign in Blood with a side of Scream Bloody Gore and Seven Churches. The lyrical content on "Angel of Death" is so unrelenting stomach turning that it's really no surprise that bands like Carcass, Cannibal Corpse, Obituary, Mortician, Dismember, and a host of gorecore, grind, death, and even punk bands took to their anatomical textbooks and tried to one-up the originators. So "thanks" for allowing us to hear about a man mangling fallopian tubes with a rusty knife while bile spews out on the floor in the name of Satan/science depending on whether you're listening to Deicide or Carnage.
However, this constant one-upping as crippled the effectiveness of Reign in Blood, in much the same way that Priest's "Exciter" sounds tame after nearly thirty years of riff-mad speed. "Angel of Death" is a considerable chunk of thrash history, and it is still a rather powerful listen. The first time I listened to it I thought, "wow, that sucked but it sure was disturbing". Then I listened to it again and reversed my opinions. I had become innured to the lyrical content of the song after literally one listen due to my experience with death and black metal. When that happens, a song built around nothing but shock and speed becomes weak. That's not to say that the drumming on "Angel" is not spectacular, and the break is pretty good, but the solo is just bleh and the total lack of vocal melody(not Watchtower anti-melody, he's just not singing) turned me off to it.
And after AOD there is just a frenzy of dead-identical mediocre thrash. "Jesus Saves" gets a little groovy as does "Post-Mortem", but other than the first and last tracks it's devoid of classics. The stuff goes in one ear and out the other, never leaving with me with a point of reference or even a memorable riff. This is just rather boring. I applaud their bold execution, their obvious focus, and there total seriousness that gives this a leaden weight that the over the top antics of Cannibal Corpse and Six Feet Under just completely lack. And man, they were fast in those days, shredding Metallica in speed, stomping Megadeth in the heavy department, and just glaring menacingly at a cowering Anthrax. Trouble is, Metallica were bigger and more memorable and more effective at being heavy, Megadeth were more complex and wrote better songs, and Anthrax was about a million times more fun.
Of course, judging Slayer by this record would be a mistake. Hell Awaits, South of Heaven, Seasons in the Abyss, and even Divine Intervention are so much better that the attention this one receives is bordering on disgusting. Yes it's important, but I still despise the stripping away of Hell Awaits' density and complexity. Who cares how evil you are when they don't give a shit about any of your songs? Granted, the drooling legions of Slayerites who have raised this up on a pedastal would likely decapitate me for that, so what do I know?
I do know that "Raining Blood" is by far and away the best song here. It's actually got room to breath, and it makes use of it. Those opening riffs are as iconic an opener as ever was, right up there with "Iron Man" and "Seek and Destroy". The lyrical performance by Araya is absolutely stellar, proving that by actually spacing out the screams he could get a better effect than the classic "Hell Awaits" speed rapping. And doesn't the song just paint a(diseased) picture in your head? You can see what he's talking about, yet the lyrics are as ambiguous as AOD's are topical. Hell, even the solo actually makes sense since it's even labelled "noise" in the CD booklet. Granted that's an apt description for every other solo on the album, but here it's a great dramatic device. Everybody together...raining bloooood, from a lacerated sky, bleeding it's horrrrrorrrrr... just the best death metal lyrics ever written before the genre was even properly started.
Hilariously the bonus tracks are actually much better than the majority of the original material. Haunting the Chapel, an EP no less, is just far better than Reign in Blood and including "Aggressive Perfector" just makes it more obvious. The "Criminally Insane" remix proves that the longer Slayer palyed in the early days, the better the songs were, which is why I despise Show No Mercy and to a lesser extent RIB, while I love Hell Awaits and Haunting the Chapel.