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The Great Divide is not just a geological schism, it is also the debate among the metal community as to whether Slayer’s seminal Reign in Blood is overrated or not. For the record, I certainly do not believe such although I can see why some might think so. That being said, no matter how great and influential a metal album truly might be, there lie devil’s advocates (against Slayer?) ready to rebut the hype. The road to Hell Awaits was paved with good inventions indeed ala Venom; brick by smoldering brick.
Since we are on the subject of Great Divides, according to this album, skies will be lacerated and destinies dismembered. This is what Reign in Blood is all about and the only thing that matters here. When you switch on this album, apocalypse and inherent evil is the order of darkest day: Frenetic riffs are the fire and storm laden down beats are the brimstone. You need not bring wine and crackers atop this mount of Judgment Day.
What greeted listeners the first time they heard Reign in Blood? Why the Angel of Death that’s what. Clocking in just under five minutes, Tom Araya’s howling scream in the first thirty seconds is a farewell of sorts from this type of delivery that characterized Show and Hell. And what a great display it is. One of the knocks against later Slayer material was Tom’s abandonment of this Di’Anno and Halford inspired wailing. I would have liked to have heard a Victim of Changes type attempted closing scream to conclude this killer opening track. But Angel of Death is near perfect thrash so I can’t have everything.
The next song on the death list is the murderous Piece by Piece. The lyrics shouted on this song are a cunt hair too high in the mix compared to the other songs. And while I am splitting hairs, I think Slayer went to their own dictionary because I still have no clue what “modulistic terror” means. My point being that is how I knew the vocals were slightly a bit in the forefront; that I picked up on that term. But I digress, Slayer are thrash masters not wordsmiths. It says terror and this is a thrash album. That’s good enough for me.
The reign of terror modulistic or otherwise, continues to rain down most notably with Alter of Sacrifice. The raw opening riff on this one is quite awesome and I have heard some bands use it since. Every time I hear it I nod to myself that royalties should be thrown to Slayer. My guess is that Jeff Hanneman probably used a passive pickup to give it that raw, hardcore sound. This song is my favorite on the album. Dave Lombardo has some wicked blast beats here and Araya channels Cronos especially when he shouts “Praise hail Satan!!” and “endlessly searching for salvation!” I was left waiting for the Venom frontman to cameo “That was good. That was real good!”
Let us skip down to the final track that is Rain in Blood. The soaring, screeching guitars of Hanneman and King that are heard along with the thunder couldn’t be more brilliant to evoke the epic dread that awaits us here. The famous riff that opens the song needs no introduction. It is of course legendary. What does get overlooked at the start of the riffage is Tom Araya’s bass. What I heard was a masterful beat that seemed like pulsated drone. While Tom will never be mentioned in the same breath as four-string metallers like Steve Harris and Cliff Burton, I always thought he was underrated in light of the speed that Slayer’s metal traveled. I picked up on his syncopation underneath the guitars and it added to my appreciation for this song even more. Lombardo’s blast beats at 1:09 to 1:22 are a clinic for the style that other thrash drummers could only begin to emulate. That Slayer lost their luster after Dave departed is no coincidence.
Nineteen eighty-six was a banner year for thrash apparently. If nothing else, metalheads had options of which new thrash record to buy. That other “thrash” band released a Muppets album and ‘Deth sold Peace which was no push over. But it was Slayer who could bring the blood and brutality if you demanded your American thrash in extremes. Reign in Blood was tailored to be played live as if it was one headbanging assault. Blood would be spewed at the front rows like watermelons at a Gallagher show.
R.I.B is not a flawless thrash album. Some of the middle tracks might have that samey sound and the Brian Slagel production grit is sorely missed sometimes but I would be hard pressed to find a metalhead who didn’t value the contribution that it made on thrash. The divide is not as great on that point.