Essential, landmark masterpiece of Thrash Metal.
There's not an ounce of fat here, yet there is the full album's complement of 10 songs, most clocking in at little over 2 minutes, yet replete with all verses, choruses and multiple guitar solos.
When this album came out, it was the equivalent of a nuclear blast across the music industry - the shockwaves were felt across the globe. It was such a dramatic increase in quality, notably in terms of production, thanks to Rick Rubin - but all this is well known now.
The first song, Angel of Death, is the longest - and I must admit I always felt it was a bit too long, until I saw them playing live at Hammersmith Odeon in 1986 on the Reign in Blood Tour, and truly, it couldn't go on long enough. My opinion of the album, which I already held in very high regard, changed for the better, witnessing them performing it for the first time in England.
There are criticisms that the music is "samey" - this is to miss the point. When the music sounds like this, you don't want it to stop sounding like this - you want to live in the nirvana of the "ball of spikes" forever. I swear that concert was the second shortest one I ever attended - after Metallica with Anthrax supporting in September of that same year.
It's all been reviewed so many times, it's difficult to know how to give a fresh perspective on this album, which set a benchmark that has never been surpassed - but here goes. If it's not fresh, who cares? Another masterpiece rating won't hurt this masterpiece. Grin.
The intro slams hard and heavy - the production allows everything to shine through, every hit to slam home, every plectrum stroke (if such a gentle word may be used) and every scream to pierce through in a sonic explosion.
From the opening lines, "Auschwitz, the meaning of pain, the way that I want you to die", we are acquainted with the subject matter - and although I feel that the lyrics are grossly overdone in places, they are as nothing compared to the sad attempts at shock lyrics you hear now.
There follows the middle section, breaking away from standard rock song format, Slayer breaking down the intense thrasherama into THAT riff, which you just want to go on for ever and ever. Another riff is chucked in for the vocal section, and more riffs and breaks are chucked across the mix - how can anyone say the music stays the same, and who cares if it does when it's this amazing?
The various riff sections are buzzed around again, until the twin guitar solos slam in suddenly over a frantic version of the chorus riff, King and Hanneman exchanging evil-sounding swoops and screams, painting a stunning picture of the Angel of Death.
This doesn't feel like nearly 5 minutes any more. I'm sure it was 10 seconds.
Piece By Piece starts with a slower, churning pair of riffs, before returning to Angel of Death speed. The multiple stops and starts rip your brains out piece by piece, and is incredibly catchy, despite having no tune to speak of. The breakdown features an uber-intense descending riff, followed by a Sabbath-inspired tritonic motif, before exiting abruptly with the final verse and chorus - blink and you miss it!
Necrophobic is one of the fastest songs on the album, and simply rips along, severing flesh, tearing limb from limb. Headbanging to this is sure to result in a brain hemorrhage, so dont try it - but try resisting the riff at the breakdown - it's killer. The double solo flies off atop another Sabbath inspired motif before the song makes it's return with an impressive scream and mega heavy ending. I think my fingers are bleeding from trying to listen and type at the same time. Great!
The band I was in, back in '88 used to cover the next two songs, but in reverse order, and they're two of my favourite Slayer songs. It's weird to me to hear them in the album order, but they have better flow in the context of the preceeding songs - and this album does flow magnificently.
Altar of Sacrifice changes key and tempo as a kind of brief respite - it's no slouch, as it fairly zips along, with some brilliant riffing and key changes, and that fantastic exit from the solo, with the awesome passage "Enter to the realm of Satan", whcih picks up almost immediately, with a slower version of the main riff, Priest-like chugging a-plenty (but way more intense), and more guitar solos - Slayer really play around with the structure of the song here.
Rounding off side one of the vinyl, the music segues straight into "Jesus Saves", another catchy ditty from the friendly Slayer guys.
This is kicked off with a dark, explosive riff that's Sabbath-like, another riff follows, and another, you can really feel the build-up, then more explosions before the tempo rockets again, and the music frantically whirls around you - thrashing like a maniac, you might say. There's a guitar solo, another verse, another guitar solo, with some speedy shredding, another chorus, and another shred-fest and BANG! Side 1 ends with real flair. If you listen to the CD, you miss out on this experience, and lose some of why the album is so utterly compelling.
Side 2 starts with Criminally Insane, another of my favourite tracks - hell, they're all my favourite tracks.
Lombardo kills with an impressive recycling of the slow drum beat from Angel of Death - effectively turning the structure of that song upside down, as the verse/choruses return to the fast tempo - we like. More breakdowns and soloing, with wild shredding, and the slow beat is returned to in magnificent style. This never fails to give me goosebumps, especially with the spidery, doomy riff that snakes itself around everything. This song is over waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too soon.
Reborn has a kind of Priest vibe - but there's absolutely no doubt that Slayer have stamped their own, unique personality over every song on this album - it's incredibly rare to find a band that has a truly unique sound, but Slayer managed it. It's more of the same - but more of the same is exactly what we want - especially that mad thrashing that kicks off the guitar solo. Slayer really had the knack of knowing when to time breakdowns and build ups to perfection.
Epidemic has an odd, kind of reigned in feel to start with, which is attacked mercilessly by Slayer's many ultra-short semi-stops. This song has a kind of feel which Sacred Reich built a career on - check out the breakdown to the slow riff, although note that Slayer sneak in some little thrashy motifs to decorate the riffs. Every riff seems to have a long tongue hanging out and drooling - just when you think you know the riff, you hear a tiny detail that you missed before.
Postmortem you just know is going to be unleashed and wild - but again, Slayer tease and tantalise, holding the tempo back until the last possible minute. The riffs describe an amazing, captivating melody that stretches entire phrases rather than simple bar-by-bar work. The whole of the song up to the guitar solo is one evolving organism of a melody. Just when you think the song is slowing, it chekkily speeds up, then is taken back again, speeds up, and ends up in a completely unexpected place, like a new song has started at the unleashed tempo we were waiting for - "Do you want to die?". The song structuring here is astonishing, and it segues straight into "Raining Blood", in a similar manner to the final songs of side one - showing clearly the attention which was paid to structuring not just the songs, but the entire album.
Raining Blood is, of course, the best song in the world ever - this is surely common knowledge /grin.
It's 4 and a bit minutes of musical perfection. Those howling screaming axes shining through the thunderstorm, the thundering drums, the massive columns of riff that threaten to tear your head off - then carry out that threat with no mercy. At this speed, it's a tad messy - but it is what it is. Genuine boundary-pushing from one of the ultimate boundary-pushing bands. The breakdown here is another goosebump moment, and should be about 20 times longer before that scream of "Raining blood from a lacerated sky". The impossible buzzing of the guitars, thrashed within inches of their lives and howling, soaring demons that end in cacophony and the thunderstorm that continues in the run-out (see, you really miss out with CD) is a beautiful, predictable (in a very welcome sort of way) ending to an album that, once heard, feels like a life-changing experience.