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Slayer - Reign in Blood
Review: At some point in the career of every metal band, the temptation to create an epic album emerges, and Slayer fulfill one vision of it with this short and intense blast which defined the songwriting style for the coming generation of death metal. Framed between two epic songs with melodic underpinnings, the bulk of this album are ripping speed anthems which make use of the tremolo strum to create phrasal riffs, eschewing the muted strum rhythm-riding riffs popularized by speed metal at the time.
Instead of gaining power from rhythmic expectation, this album gains strength from riding its texture in a continuous blur where change comes from the phrases themselves, making each like a sigil a leitmotif in its own right which appears as the song narrates a change in thought from the perspective of the listener as a participant in events unconcerned with that listener's survival. As a result, this album has the feel of a travelogue through hell, in which successive horrors and denunciations of false innate value cartwheel past in a deepening mood of horror, aggression and reverence.
With the liberation of song structure that comes from entirely riff-based music, Slayer approach Ornette Coleman's free jazz ideal that "the pattern for a tune, for instance, will be forgotten and the tune itself will be the pattern" but do so not through randomness but intensely structured, ritualistically planned songs that encode themselves in noise but distill down to a clarity of change in experience expressed like poetry as an ironic reversal evolving into a higher context which places their initial state in a new and restorative light. Songs are journeys from the most elemental of riffs through a sequence of motives commenting on those riffs, through the changing phrase shape changing the context which gives them meaning, and in doing so altering the meaning of the song.
As with earlier Slayer work, the frenetic lead guitars that sound like bats unleashed over a twilight horizon are there, and vocalist Tom Araya hounds us with his most terrifying scream, all to the expert cadences of drummer Dave Lombardo, but these elements are intensified by their careful placement in these thoughtful but effortless songs. Emblematic of the album in both music and nihilism is the first track, "Angel of Death," which without judgment reveals the horror in history -- and revels in how intense the possibilities it suggests are, completely reversing conventional morality as easily as this band have reversed heavy metal and pointed it like an arrow toward the heavens.