A Eulogy For the Scariest Spectacle in Rock



“…The scariest spectacle in rock is Slayer, the Rolling Stones of the new American metal.”

– Los Angeles Times, 1991

Every real band has done a classic album tour. While limited to North America, Slayer did a series of dates playing their seminal thrash album, Reign in Blood, in its entirety. The performance reached its climax when the stage and musicians were immersed in a torrential downpour of blood.

Since then, in the wake of lead guitarist Jeff Hanneman’s passing, Slayer has clearly lost its way. With cheesy lyrics like ‘let it ride’ beginning to feature and an increasingly garish array of merchandising, it seems more and more like it’s time for the band to call it a day.

I’m not a huge fan of the album Reign in Blood and don’t believe Angel of Death to be their best song. In fact, I think most of their career highlights came after that album and, in fact, some of their latest produced many of their best songs.

Their first two records, while bearing many of the musical motifs that made them so influential, are quite shlocky by comparison with the rest of their catalogue. By 1986, Rick Rubin had signed them to his record label Def Jam.

They recorded their most famous album while the Beastie Boys recorded License to Ill in one studio and Run-DMC did Raising Hell in the other.

Around that time, Slayer shed the spandex, make-up and corny comic-book iconography that featured on the covers of Show No Mercy and Hell Awaits. Under Rubin’s aegis, they began to reach towards something far more powerful.

The cover of Reign in Blood invokes a medieval Satan who exists as a very real, anthropomorphic presence in the territory where the penumbras of science and religion intersect.

Even now, after the growth of medicine and psychology, that Satan is something, or someone, that still resonates at a distinct frequency of the human psyche.

It’s an entirely human phenomenon, cleansed of context; it’s the potent exhilaration of certain human imperatives assembled within the Christian notion of evil, charged with adrenalin and cortisol.

It’s something no other metal band has succeeded in invoking, whether they wanted to or not. It’s not that Metallica weren’t capable; perhaps it was more that they were never truly comfortable.


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