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This came out in 1984?!? - 96%

blackmetalfan, August 26th, 2008

Death epitomize death metal. The perfect combination of pure brutality, guitar pyrotechnics, those oft-maligned cheesy vocals, and of course, the wildly varied lyrics, can be found in any of their releases. Reign Of Terror was the first studio recording by the newly-rechristened band, who at this point featured Chuck Schuldiner on guitar and vocals, Rick Rozz on guitars, and Kam Lee on drums and vocals. During Kam’s tenure, he did most of the vocals since Chuck, Satan love him, could only muster a death growl that pretty much bore similarities to a pubescent dark angel.

1984 was a major year for metal. Venom had exploded onto the scene in 1981-82 and were the gold standard for brutality in metal, Hellhammer had their demos going in the underground and were quickly making Venom sound dated, thrash was all the rage, and Death’s competitors for the death metal throne, Possessed, were getting their shit together with a demo of their own. Chuck was quite the listener, it seems, for Reign of Terror, unleashed into the maelstrom of extreme metal that existed in 1984, took the best parts of the aforementioned entities and put them together into a vicious blend. Reign of Terror is more death/thrash than pure death metal, unless of course you’re one of those virgin death metal fans who think that the growls define the music. The riffs are the dead giveaway – brutal tremolo-picked monstrosities played at a speed not even Possessed dared to go.

The songs are among the finest of the early days of Death, with the one-two punch of Corpsegrinder and Summoned To Die opening the demo on a great note. Corpsegrinder might very well have been the most extreme metal recording released in 1984; it is one of the most unrelentingly fast songs Death ever did, with a main riff that laid the blueprint for death metal. The rest of the demo is equally insistent. Every riff is a classic of the genre, with Witch of Hell and Slaughterhouse also standing out. There isn’t much in the area of flashy soloing; what’s here gets the job done, and well at that. Chuck and Rick make a great two-headed guitar monster when Chuck’s not soloing. Kam’s not the best drummer in the world, but his work here is decent at best. His vocals are what really stand out – no one sounded as fucked up as this in 1984, and I dare say ever since. These aren’t “death growls”, these are inhuman roars, something even Chuck wouldn’t make an effort to recreate when Kam left, instead opting to sound like Jeff Becerra.

And of course, no 1980s death metal demo is complete without the totally hideous production values. Reign of Terror is one big wall of fuzz with guitars and drums fighting to break through the mess, and it’s a thousand times better because of it. Death metal is not supposed to be palatable; it’s fucking supposed to sound like shit. Chuck would go on to greener pastures sonically with his band, but Death never bettered the sheer “kvltness”, if you will, of these early demos, and Reign of Terror is the Death masterpiece, and the best release to ever come out of the death metal genre. This is an absolutely required release for anyone who calls themselves a death metal fan.