On Oct. 7, 1986, thrash metal pioneers Slayer released what many consider to be their best album, “Reign in Blood.” At a brief 28 minutes and 58 seconds, the record is a lightning-quick exercise in musical speed and sonic chaos. Featuring such classic songs like “Angel of Death,” “Criminally Insane” and the band’s finest track, “Raining Blood,” the album is hailed as one of the most important heavy metal albums in history.
The clear, sharp sound that Rick Rubin crafted from the band took the world by storm and cemented the band as legends, and today we look back at the iconic record that helped shape the metal world.
Its cover art has become a staple of metal imagery, and the band’s choice to produce with Rick Rubin, known for his work with rap acts, was a major step forward for both the band’s sound and metal’s invasion of the mainstream. The first metal band Rubin worked with, Slayer caused some stir amongst metalheads with their choice of producer, but given the lasting effect “Reign in Blood” has had on the world, nobody really complained.
“Angel of Death,” the longest song on the album, kicks off the record in true Slayer fashion with a high-octane riff and cacophonous drums. And then bassist and singer Tom Araya comes roaring in with a now-famous high shriek. A catchy lead riff continues the song before cascading into a frenzied solo. The song closes with another trademark Araya scream. Lyrically, the song describes the atrocities committed by Nazi “doctor” Josef Mengele, which landed the band in hot water and saw them branded as Nazi sympathizers. In reality, they just had an interest in World War II history.
“Piece by Piece,” more mid-tempo than “Angel,” follows, still retaining the speed Slayer is known for. A perfect pace that allows for maximum headbanging and gruesome lyrics tailored for an 80s horror film, one can simply not pump their fist to this just over the two-minute track.
“Necrophobic,” the shortest song on “Reign in Blood,” is also one of the fastest. Araya uses a spitfire vocal delivery that matches the breakneck speed of the guitars and drums. Around halfway, the song slows down for a bit before charging into a mind-warping guitar solo. Similar to this track is “Reborn,” with a steady, rapid, alternating drumbeat underlying the distorted guitars and some of the most decipherable lyrics on the album.
No strangers to blasphemy, Slayer flex their Satanic chops on songs like “Jesus Saves” and “Altar of Sacrifice,” despite Araya being Catholic. The former is fiery and rageful, a speedy lead guitar riff and ripping solos tearing through the track that rails against the hypocrisy of Christianity. Furthered by the preceding “Altar of Sacrifice,” which contains lyrics dealing with demons and Satan, these songs complement Slayer’s grandiose Hell-worshipping aesthetic.
“Criminally Insane” and “Postmortem” are two of the moderately popular songs off the album, the latter being a live staple, while the disease-centered “Epidemic” infects listeners with an inescapable lead riff.
The album closes with “Raining Blood,” Slayer’s most iconic song. With that unmistakable opening drum beat and ominous rain sounds leading into a legendary riff, the track speeds into a breakneck pace that seems too fast to headbang to. Araya lets loose a howling vocal barrage, letting the lyrics of “Trapped in purgatory/A lifeless object, alive” echo hauntingly in listeners’ ears. A reprisal of the opening riff soon leads into a back-cracking breakdown with whimsical guitar work from Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King. The climactic scream of “RAINING BLOOD!” follows, the band reaching their ultimate speed in the song’s final minute before thunderstorm sound effects fade the album out.
The impact that “Reign in Blood” had not only on the thrash genre but the metal world as a whole, is indisputable. Slayer furthered the overall invention of extreme metal by pushing sonic speed, brutality and imagery to their excesses and then some, layer the basic groundwork for the death, black and grind-core genres that soon sprung up.
The fusion of punk and metal thrash is known for helped promote the coexistence of punk fans and metalheads, two factions previously at war with each other, and the band’s existence even spurred Pantera, in their glam metal phase, to drop the whole spandex-clad shtick and become the groove metal titans we know them as.
Lastly, for better or worse, Slayer’s legendary logo has become commonplace in society, appearing on everything from battle vest back patches to fast fashion products and designer clothes. With the band embarking on the last part of their “farewell” tour, it is perfectly safe to say that Slayer’s effect on the world, metal or not, is nothing but their album-defined reign.