I turned 13 in 1986, the year that Slayer’s classic album “Reign In Blood” was released. I remember thumbing through cassettes at Uncle John’s Records in Sioux City, meeting what would ultimately be one of the most influential and loved albums in my life for the first time. Staring up at me was a simple “Slayer – Reign In Blood” beckoning for my hand to reach forth. As I lifted it from its cassette limbo, I turned the case to see the wicked Larry Carroll illustration of demons, blood, and other evil figures all residing in a hellish tomb. The story goes that guitarist Kerry King* hated the cover originally, saying it was “not very metal” in a 1987 interview, but later had the realization that the cover had in fact redefined metal album covers to an extent. That moment I instantly fell in love.
As a young boy I was exposed to some of the darker classical composers such as Chopin and Holst through my grandmother. I had also been raised by my Mother on Black Sabbath, Rolling Stones, and Queen, who all had their darker sides, and as a mentally troubled youth all of this kind of kept me on an even keel. The darker, heavier, or faster (or much slower), the better. Since elementary school I had been buying my own tapes, choosing Quiet Riot, Twisted Sister, and early Def Leppard, then Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, Ozzy, and writing this I realize I probably should have ended up with a mullet and a Camaro. I had picked up Anthrax’s “Spreading The Disease,” Metallica’s “Ride The Lightning” and Megadeth’s “Killing Is My Business” some months before seeing Reign in Blood in that store rack, and those albums were mind blowing, even for someone who searched out the most “extreme” music he could get in small town Iowa as a kid (some would say my love of Frank Zappa and Weird Al were also very extreme, but those will be written about another day).
The first time my ear drums were punished with the opening to “Angel Of Death.” all those albums just fell to the wayside. It was just RAW AS FUCK, I had heard nothing even close to this ever in all my music searching. It exploded out of the gate like a thousand nuclear hell hounds, each clawing and shredding at my brain, Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman holding the riff leashes of those hounds and guiding them towards my destruction. Then came that famous scream from Tom Araya, possibly the most famous scream in all of metal. The speed, the riffs, the reckless, atonal solos, just a total cacophony, and the blasting drums of Dave Lombardo, it was almost too much. I remember well the mile-wide smile that cracked the surface of my oily pubescent face. THIS is what I had been waiting for.
Then came the fifth track, Jesus Saves. The opening riff to this beast will forever send a shiver through my body. Here I was, all jacked up on speed metal riffing and blasting drums, then comes this monolithic pedal tone riff. It was, and still is, crushing. It’s like a half time break in the middle of armageddon, picking up to a solid mid-paced thrashing. That opening riff, I will forever bust that riff out while soundchecking, testing microphone placement, or just hanging out being an ass at a guitar store. It has been melted into my mind.
The rest of the album is a ripper, ending with “Raining Blood,” Slayer’s calling card song, but that opening riff from “Jesus Saves” will always be my favorite piece from this album of iconic riffing. It’s really tough to pick from an album that is literally just end to end golden, blood soaked riffs, but it’s the one that still stirs me from within.
Reign In Blood busted open the flood gates of speed metal for me, after my first listen I needed more. Morbid Angel, Halloween, Mercyful Fate, Napalm Death, Carcass, Kreator, Fate’s Warning, Overkill, and Coroner all followed closely behind, if it was fast, or intricate, or bombastic, I was in. I’m still in to this very day. If you have a moment, cue up track 5 on your copy of Reign In Blood, max out your volume, and fire it up.
This was the first of a series of articles about the music that has guided my life, I hope you enjoy the meandering recollections.
*the same guy who covered himself in ridiculous “tribal” tattoos, then used them as his brand’s calling card. Yeah, also not very metal.