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I remember in grade school hearing some of my friends go on and on about this band called Slayer and how awesome they were and how they liked to push the envelope with songs about anti-Christianity, death, and gore. Not being a fan of metal yet, I never gave them a listen. But as I became more introduced to metal, I did research on the band and learned of their importance as one of the cornerstones of thrash metal and that their album Reign in Blood was one of the best metal albums of all time with the classic song Raining Blood. I eventually decided to give Raining Blood and the rest of the album a listen and find out what all the fuss was about. I certainly had something to fuss about, but not that it was one of the greatest metal albums of all time, but why everyone thought it was.
The problem this album comes down to overall song structure. They are all incredibly short, with Raining Blood clocking in at only four minutes and seventeen seconds, with a good minute of it consisting of sound effects, and Angel of Death times in just shy of five minutes. All the others range from two to two-and-a-half minutes long. The album is only about twenty-nine minutes long total, meaning it could qualify as an EP. Short songs aren't necessarily bad, but often times they leave me wanting more. However, with the songs as crazy and chaotic as they are, often times the shorter the better. But had the songs been longer with more attention paid to melody rather primarily on sound and speed, there would be an increased possibility for catchiness and memorability. But because the songs begin and end so quickly, it is nearly impossible to remember how any of the previous songs went because they begin and end so abruptly. having what seems to eb the same chord progression played over and over again doesn't help either.
Sound is the biggest issue when it comes to this album. None of the guys are bad musicians: Dave Lombardo can double bass pedal the hell of out of a drum kit and guitarists Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman are incredibly fast and no doubt skilled and capable of cool solos. Now being a fan of power and speed metal, I have no problem with fast music. But it's the fact they try so hard to be fast and aggressive that everything just breaks down into a chaotic mess of sound. Their skill in instrumentation shows up in flashes throughout the album, but as they seemingly have no desire to slow down and build a solid, coherent melody, everything just seems forced. The end product is an album where every track sounds almost exactly the same as the one that preceeded it. This is the most recurring issue when it comes to thrash metal. There is nothing wrong with the genre of thrash metal and I am personally a fan of Metallica and Megadeth. However, bands like Metallica and Megadeth have been known for a willingness to slow things down and put emphasis on melody and emotions other than just anger and aggression as well as on instrumentation from time to time. Not to compare and contrast Slayer from either band too much, but while other thrash bands take the time to create a defined and solid melody to base their speed on, this is something Slayer completely leaves out. Although nearly every thrash band, including Megadeth and Metallica, runs the risk of repetition, this pitfall is most notable on Reign in Blood in that such a heavy reliance on blistering fast, hardcore punk-inspired power chord riffage closes the door on variety and creativity.
The vocals are another issue to take note of. Lead singer Tom Araya does not have a bad voice carries a strong aggressive feel. After all, thrash metal is a rough, aggressive genre which often calls for angry and shouted vocals. But because the songs are so fast it sounds like Tom just tries to scream as many words as he can in a single breath, often changing tempo when he needs to just to keep up. Once again, the problem here is a complete lack of melody, relying entirely on speed and aggression. And his shouts and singing are usually so fast and aggressive it's extremely difficult to understand a single stanza or identify a rational thought, only picking up on words such as "blood", "Satan", "hell", or "death."
The one song that really had potential but just falls short of being great is the famous Raining Blood. After an extended sound of rainfall, it breaks out into a really cool and dark riff that inspires feelings of doom and dread. But then the verses once again break down into an unorganized mixture of chaotic riffing and double bass pedalling (why this is regarded as one of the best drum songs in metal I'll never know) while only alternately returning to that awesome riff. Kerry King provides a very impressive solo that is worthy of its recognition, but before long the song ends with another extended section of storm and rainfall sounds. While the song had potential, only about a minute of Raining Blood, with its awesome opening riff and impressive solo, is of redeemable value. Close to two minutes of it are sound effects and another minute is dedicated to the same old formula of nonsensical chaos. Getting past the sound, the lyrics are violent, macabre-inspired, and deal with the occult. These have often offended the mainstream masses (including yours truly for a time), but songs dealing with the occult and gross-out lyrics have made entire genres of metal, so Slayer are in a way pioneers here. But overall, the lyrics just seem over-the-top and just somewhat ridiculous.
Regardless of my criticisms, Reign in Blood is not a horrible album. Like I said, the musicians and singer are clearly talented and I acknowledge their influence and recognition in the thrash metal scene. But the album just suffers from too much repetition and follows the same formula over and over again, making Raining Blood the only track that has any memorable qualities. If the songs were just a tad bit slower, longer, and more restrained in their delivery, it could have been quite a bit better. But overall, everything just seems so abrupt and forced. It was almost as if the album was written and recorded on a rushed deadline without much time to reevaluate. I understand that this album is supposed to be about chaos and anger, which is demonstrated quite well. But even in thrash metal, where aggression and speed is in the norm, you cannot simply close the door on melody and a defined song structure for every single song. Had Slayer just been slightly open to the idea of experimentation, Reign in Blood could have truly achieved the status of what many fans already designate it as: a classic.