Slayer’s first two LPs, 1983’s “Show No Mercy” and 1985’s “Hell Awaits”, were milestones in thrash metal. They were more brutal, sinister and explosive than the albums released at the same time by Metallica or Anthrax. And they pushed the envelope with bloodcurdling growls and satanic lyrics that paved the way for both death and black metal. Still, it was Slayer’s third album, “Reign in Blood,” which came out on October 7, 1986; which brought the band to a new artistic and commercial plateau. And it became a reference point for thrash metal.
Other thrash bands at the time were putting out epic albums. More than 50 minutes full of abrupt changes in rhythm and tempo and semi-clean vocals. And Slayer saw a hole. They were already the heaviest and most extreme thrash band; now, they had a chance to win the speed war; prove they were as talented as they were fast and walk out of the precision butchery display less than 30 minutes after they started.
“We wanted to blow the lid off everything that we and everyone else had already released,” guitarist Kerry King told me in 1997. “It was like, ‘Oh, you think that’s heavy? Well check this out. A lot of times when I’m working on something, all I can think about is how crazy the crowd will go when they hear it live. People start singing and then the pit starts. If I was in the crowd, I know that’s what I’d be doing, so I can imagine 500 people doing that.”
Before Slayer began recording “Reign in Blood”, Metal Blade owner Brian Slagel, who realized he did not possess the resources or distribution to allow Slayer to break out, began negotiating with other labels to release the album. album. The one that seemed most promising was Def Jam Recordings, which was founded by hip-hop pioneers Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin. The team helped make Run-DMC and LL Cool J stars and Rubin convinced Slayer that they would be the priority rock band on the label and Rubin himself would produce the album.
Convinced by Rubin’s enthusiasm, Slayer penned a batch of fast, hardcore-influenced tunes brimming with tight riffs and ferocious metal crunch. Rubin told Slayer that they had complete creative freedom for the record, so they pushed their boundaries and wrote their most direct, biting, and violent lyrics to date. They attacked religion (“Jesus Saves”), sang about sadistic murder (“Piece by Piece”), biological warfare (“Epidemic”), and the occult (“Altar of Sacrifice,” “Raining Blood”).
“We’ve always been the bad guys,” King said. “Lyrically, we write about shit that no one else will write about. We labeled ourselves bad a long time ago. I do not care about that. It’s better than singing about bouquets. That’s who I see in a movie. I’m always rooting for the bad guys.”
Guitarist Jeff Hanneman wrote a song for “Reign in Blood” that was musically flawless but lyrically the most controversial song in Slayer’s catalogue: “Angel of Death”. The song recounts the gruesome experiments of Nazi doctor Josef Mengele in lurid detail. And while he doesn’t endorse Mengele’s exploits, vocalist Tom Araya’s aggressive lyrical performance was widely misunderstood.
“They accused us of all kinds of shit,” Chilean Tom Araya said. “They called us neo-Nazis because of that song. But if you look at the lyrics, they just tell a story based on the story. It glorifies nothing. Anyone who thinks we’re Nazis isn’t paying much attention because I’m originally from Chile so I’m a minority, and that would mean I hate myself.”
“Angel of Death” caused such a stir at Def Jam’s distributor, Columbia Records, that the company’s president refused to allow his label to be involved in promoting the album. Rubin then negotiated a deal with Geffen Records, which agreed to distribute “Reign in Blood”. The process delayed the album’s release for several months, but when it finally came out, the album quickly earned the respect and praise of the thrash community.
Without any airplay, “Reign in Blood” debuted at number 127 on the Billboard 200 albums chart and six weeks after its release peaked at number 94. album it received positive press from most metal outlets and King and Hanneman were praised by guitar magazines for their tight rhythms and crazy solos.
“It’s a lot of fun because for the first few records I would make up tracks that were appropriate for the riffs we were playing,” says King. “But for ‘Reign in Blood’ I got lazy and just made up things that sometimes didn’t make any sense and still came up in guitar polls as one of the best metal guitarists.”
“Reign in Blood” was certified gold by the RIAA on November 20, 1992. In 1998, the album was re-released with two additional tracks, “Aggressive Perfector” and a remix of “Criminally Insane”. In 2004, Slayer played “Reign in Blood” from front to back on their “Still Reigning” tour. The band released a recorded DVD on July 11, 2004 at the Augusta Civic Center in Augusta, Maine. For the finale, “Raining Blood”, the band she was sprayed with fake blood that fell from the rafters. Since then, Slayer has performed “Reign in Blood” in its entirety at select shows.
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Slayer and “Reign in Blood”: redefining thrash metal
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