Classic LA Albums Vol. 1: Slayer - "Reign In Blood"
This is the first in a series of albums that I feel are crucial to the experience of the city of Los Angeles. These are the albums that endure year after year, and continue to make me feel alive and thrilled to be living in LA.
Some of these are going to be obvious, and some are hopefully going to inspire you to go listen to something you have never heard before. In an era where music listeners tolerate some 50-60% filler on every record, these albums maintain a song-to-song level of quality that is almost impossible to attain. All of these albums were born in Los Angeles and are utterly essential in any music fan's collection, in, as you will read, my rarely humble opinion.
I cannot think of a better way to begin this series than with a look at Slayer's Reign In Blood.
I have yet only just begun to take your fucking lives!
In 1986, while the pop charts were being dominated by likes of Huey Lewis & the News, the Bangles, and Robert Palmer, rock music was by and large plunging headfirst into the era of hair metal. While Bon Jovi and Poison were starting to blow up on a steady diet of Aqua Net, eyeliner, Spandex, and easily accessible party songs, a storm was brewing on the fringes of rock's subculture.
Raining blood - from a lacerated sky.
Bands like Megadeth, Metallica, and Slayer were busy honing a sound that would eventually be known as speed metal. Although these bands had just as much hair and played the same instruments as their prettier counterparts in the hair metal scene, the similarities stopped there. Clad in all black and playing at speeds that pushed the limit of human ability, these pioneers of speed metal raged with the attitude of true punk rock with full knowledge that there would be little or no radio airplay, and probably very little chance of mainstream acceptance. Moreover, dark imagery in metal was in a wicked hangover from the late seventies, with its campy depictions of Satan and death.
No words of praise.
No promised land to take you to.
There is no other way.
Slayer had been working on perfecting its sound on its debut Show No Mercy and follow-up Hell Awaits. Though both are excellent albums in their own right, they did little to prepare mankind for the release of Reign In Blood.
Angel of Death.
Angel of Death
Clocking in at a mere 28 minutes, Reign In Blood is as much sonic beatdown as it is musical masterpiece. The album's opener, Angel of Death, which enters the mind of Nazi scientist Josef Mengele, begins with a ferocious run of power chords that explodes with a visceral scream and a machine gun volley of drums. It is as jarring and chilling as ever more than two decades after its release.
On the trail I close the gap on a life that soon won't be.
Flesh is all I need.
Piece by Piece
From there the album only gets faster, harder, heavier, and more evil. Reign In Blood is a clinic with respect to every aspect of modern heavy music. The blistering guitar work of Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman isn't just absurdly fast and technical. It rocks. Whether bouncing off of each other's solos or playing incredibly complex rhythm parts in tandem at 160 BPM, one would be loathe to find a better two guitar team in the history of rock. The vocal style of Tom Araya is simply primal. Delivering truly terrifying lyrics and the most guttural screams imaginable, Araya performs less from his heart as from the depths of his gut. The album's foundation is Dave Lombardo, the Godfather of modern rock drumming. On Reign In Blood, Lombardo took the use of double-bass pedals and blinding fills to a level never before heard, and was somehow able to control the rhythmic chaos of three other musicians, all of whom were taking their craft to the level of athleticism.
Enter to the realm of Satan.
Alter of Sacrifice
Technical acumen aside, Reign In Blood stands out as the first and only one of a few albums that deal with the darkest sides of human nature in an honest and credible way. Sure, Black Sabbath and its followers toyed with Satanism, death, and the occult, but in the end, those topics served as more of an inspiration for theatrics than as a basis for the thematic content of the art. While Slayer was certainly influenced by bands like Sabbath, they took the concept of evil and created an entire sound around it. The brutal result of that effort is this album. When you listen to Reign In Blood, you are not in on a joke; you are getting a rare glimpse into hell. George Clinton's assertion that, "You can't fake the funk" applies equally to the realm of speed metal, and Slayer's innumerable followers have had an exceedingly difficult time even approaching the authenticity of Slayer's themes on Reign In Blood.
On a fast decline.
Perhaps the greatest indicator of this album's monumental legacy is the length to which hundreds, if not thousands of bands, have gone to in order to duplicate its style, speed, and aggression. Unfortunately, this has resulted in a lot of noise that is both technically and stylistically lackluster, but which also throws out the entire concept of musicality. While Reign In Blood is considered by scores of rock specific and non-rock specific music critics as the heaviest album of all time, it also is a very musical album packed with exceedingly well-crafted songs.
Death means nothing.
There is no end.
I will be reborn.
Slayer's magnum opus of thrash metal came early in its career, but the band has since done everything but let up. Slayer has since released seven albums, in addition to a few live albums and special compilations, all of which capture the pure evil that has been the band's calling card since its beginning. The group's latest album, Christ Illusion, is a brutal display of Slayer's continued relevance, delivering an onslaught of some of their best songs in years.
Tearing limb from limb.
Buoyed by the most rabid and hardcore fan base I have ever encountered in more than 20 years of going to every crazy show in Southern California that I could find, Slayer continues to play a vigorous schedule of sold-out dates all over the world. I caught them on their most recent tour, and witnessed the most violent pit I have ever seen. There were two huge pits that went from wall to wall of the Long Beach Arena and met in the middle of the floor. At one point paramedics were called in to assist a kid who had jumped down to the floor level from the seats above to get to the pit and who had suffered a broken leg as a result. Those are Slayer fans.
Unless you are drag racing or have access to one of these and the Autobahn, I don't really recommend Reign In Blood for your car. Need motivation to get through some tough situation? There is nothing better. Want an FBI file with your name on it? Crank it up at 3AM or play it for your mom.
In a world where the concept of 'legend' is thrown around all the time, Reign In Blood is so absolutely legendary that I would bet that 99% of those reading at this point already own the album, or in the alternate, have heard it several times. If I have been compelling enough to that other 1%, I cannot recommend this album enough. If you remotely care about rock music, I think that you will find this album to be mind-blowing.