So I had my album of the week post all written up and ready to go. I usually get them sorted the week prior and line out the posting itself on Sunday evening. Earlier in the day I noticed the date and recalled that June 6 is a special day (for some) – it is the International Day Of Slayer.
This was first conceived for June 6, 2006 (666, get it?) and has run every year since, at least as far as I know. There are no big parties or festivals that I know of. The point of the day is simple – listen to Slayer.
Since this year’s International Day Of Slayer falls on a Monday, I decided to switch gears and cover a Slayer album for the AOTW. I just hope I can find a shorter one so I can bang this out real quick…
Slayer – Reign In Blood
Released October 7, 1986 via Def Jam Records
My Favorite Tracks – Raining Blood, Altar Of Sacrifice, Angel Of Death
Slayer released their third studio effort after jumping labels, from Metal Blade to Rick Rubin’s Def Jam Records. Rick Rubin’s production efforts would see Slayer transform their sound from their early days into a whole other beast.
Reign In Blood is an impossibly fast and brutal record. 10 tracks clock in with a 28:55 runtime, a ridiculous running time for a full-length album in the 1980’s. 7 of the songs come in with a sub-3 minute clock and one is under 2 minutes. It’s pretty insane for something not actually an EP.
The album is a cornerstone in the realm of thrash. It was the most brutal and fast record around, even when considering the metal underground. Not much was going on like this at the time, even early death metal wasn’t flailing along at this pace.
It will take me longer to discuss the album than to listen to it, so let’s have at it. Even with the almost stupid runtimes, there are highlights and things to discuss here.
Angel Of Death
The thrash assault begins right of the bat, as the band pounds out an intro that leads to a sick Tom Araya scream. The resulting song outlines the life and crimes of Dr. Josef Mengele, a Nazi war criminal who conducted horrific, inhuman experiments on concentration camp victims. The song is the longest on the album at nearly 5 minutes and is also the most “conventional” in terms of verse-chorus-solo-etc structure.
There was controversy around the song – Def Jam’s distributor Columbia Records did not want to release Angel Of Death, so Geffen Records stepped in and distributed the album (though without their name on it). Slayer have been hounded by accusations of Nazism and racism due to the song, and echoes of that argument still play out today. The band members have repeatedly denied such viewpoints, offering that they were simply recounting history through the song. I think it’s much ado about nothing and I don’t conflate history-based lyrics with automatic support for the topic at hand.
Piece By Piece
It’s a really short song that doesn’t actually move at the fastest pace ever, the band kind of “chills” a bit (relative to how “chill” one can be with Reign In Blood). In a shocking twist, the song is about chopping someone up. No one saw that coming.
This song is about being fearful of and morbidly obsessed with means of death. It’s very fast and the shortest song on the album, which probably deserves a trophy.
Altar Of Sacrifice
One of the album’s highlights, the song delves into ritual sacrifice, Hell and all that kind of stuff. It gets the thrashing job done in neck-snapping fashion, with plenty of dissonant riffage from Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman.
Slayer make up for their Satanic last track with a song about Jesus. I’m sure everyone can figure out the real angle here. For such a relentless album, the band lets this tune marinate at mid-pace for a minute before getting down to business in the other two minutes. The extremely brief chorus is one of the album’s more well-known bits.
It’s barely over two minutes long. The song’s meaning is found in the self-explanatory title. It’s Slayer. Nothing more to say.
Another fast and short number about someone who is killed but then reborn through black magic or something. There are quite a few words in this song, which is also barely over two minutes.
Everyone is beating the shit out of their instruments for another two minutes. Fun fact – drummer Dave Lombardo quit Slayer after the tour for this album. Rick Rubin was able to talk him back into the studio after a bit of time off. I’d probably quit too if I had to play drums like that for a fucking year.
Nearing the end now and a song that’s a bit more fleshed-out than the bits and pieces we’ve been getting. Though the song is called Postmortem, the lyrics are about the lead-up to that state. Another scream from Tom Araya in here, something he’d quit doing much of after this album. The song closes with an ultra-fast section that was probably about the fastest thing in music at the time.
The album closer is the star of this show and is most likely Slayer’s best-known song. There might a be a few others that are somewhat readily known, but Raining Blood is definitely the band’s signature anthem.
A bit of thunder and an eerie quiet lead in to the track. It’s more like the sickening quiet before a tornado than it is a welcome respite. The immortal riff comes in, then the band pounds its way to the breakdown where the riff again makes its home. We get the familiar call of “raining blood!” from Tom Araya, then the band goes off the rails to close the song and album. A thunderstorm takes us home.
Reign In Blood was Slayer’s magnum opus and was a master class in brutal thrash metal that sent the scene into a maelstrom. Many other thrash bands felt like quitting, feeling unable to even touch what they’d heard. The album also had an outsized influence on the burgeoning extreme metal scene, providing a new template for brutality and speed. Many folks were paying attention.
Slayer’s album would leave such a mark that the band themselves never bothered trying to top it again. In contrast, the band turned the tempo down a lot on future releases. While some fans were disappointed with the move away from breakneck-paced thrash, I’d say it was a wise decision. There is no topping your magnum opus, many musical acts have learned that sad fact the hard way. Slayer instead pursued other ground, remaining a heavy, dissonant force while not even attempting to do Reign In Blood II. And Slayer would eventually retire in 2019 due mainly to Tom Araya’s neck problems derived from headbanging, so no need to push the envelope again.
So it is June 6, International Day Of Slayer. And here is one of the craziest albums ever recorded. Enjoy.