Over twenty years after its release, SLAYER’s "Reign In Blood" is still one of the most cherished and important Metal releases of all time. To those who were interested, SLAYER had already proven that they could write long-winded progressive songs without sacrificing any of their NWOBHM-influenced Thrash Metal flare with their sophomore release "Hell Awaits". To say that their direction would change for their junior release would be a massive understatement; "Reign In Blood" sounds like it was recorded by a completely different band. This album’s impact is undeniable; it was incomparably aggressive and brutal for its time. While the album has held up over time, certain moments feel lacking which I will further elaborate later in the review.
"Reign In Blood" isn’t a long album, but if you had any previous knowledge about it then you already knew that. The album possesses ten tracks and a runtime of only twenty-eight minutes, but things still manage to get repetitive at times. For the exact same reason, substance doesn’t exactly call "Reign In Blood" its home. As opposed to the progressive nature of "Hell Awaits", “Reign In Blood” concentrates on one thing and one thing only: aggressive, ugly, ferocious speed. When in comparison to the other Thrash Metal heavyweights, it is easy to tell that SLAYER were the heaviest. METALLICA and MEGADETH were both experimenting with more intricate song structures while ANTHRAX took pleasure in playing goofy music for the fun of it. SLAYER were evil and their music sounded dead serious.
While it has stood the test of time fairly well, and arguably more so than SLAYER’s succeeding album "South Of Heaven", it has aged, and it is fairly difficult not to draw comparisons to the more recent Metal acts, most of whom have highly elaborated upon SLAYER’s trademark sound. At the time of its release in 1986, no other band was as fast or as evil. METALLICA was fast and VENOM talked about Satan in a positive light, but SLAYER were nothing more than speed and Satan.
Most of the tracks don’t surpass three minutes, and most follow the exact same structured pattern. Skinsman Dave Lombardo pounds relentlessly at his kit while axe wielding madmen Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman churn out guitar riffs at breakneck speeds. Occasionally, either King or Hanneman will take five from the riffs to discharge a rather ephemeral guitar solo (most of which are interchangeable with each other). Tom Araya’s bass guitar is passable but not always fully audible. His vocal work is very energetic with his mile-a-minute lyrics; his words are always fully audible despite the ludicrous speeds that they must reach in order to stay in line with the music. Essentially, the entire album can be broken down and described by those aforementioned elements save for a few tracks.
As far as stand out moments go, this album is fairly empty. "Jesus Saves" manages to differentiate itself from the group by toning the speed down a few thousand notches for about thirty seconds before returning to the exact same formula as the songs that preceded it. "Postmortem" also sacrifices speed for a sound that allows a mild groove to be heard; if you felt hard pressed, you could refer to it as "catchy". It also sheds a little light on their song writing talent for a few brief seconds which essentially gives it the upper hand amongst the album’s track list when memorability is mentioned.
Credit is due to the illustrious "Raining Blood" for its hopelessly sombre commencement as well as its technical prowess. The opening guitar riffs are among the most memorable in music, let alone Thrash Metal, and what follows are some of the most erratically insatiable riffs known to man. The remainder of the song holds many of the same qualities as "Postmortem", and the irreplaceable, literally explosive ending is beyond compare.
Depending on what kind of person you are, the lyrical content is either going to frighten you or cause unsettling laughter. "Angel Of Death" tells the story of Auschwitz physician Josef Mengele and is the best story on the entire album despite having somewhat questionable lyrical matter. Most of the remaining subject matter is laughable at best. The constant attempts at glorifying Satan seem rushed and moronic.
"Reign In Blood" is SLAYER’s most overrated work. With that said, it is not a bad album. It delivers a sense of pure excitement while listening. The album’s core content does tend to run together more than a little, and I can still barely name all of the songs after countless listens. It is a little lacking in substance, but for what it does have, "Reign In Blood" is still a kick to the groin and a slap to the face courtesy of Satan.
(Online December 9, 2007)