By Adam Lovinus
By Lilledeshan Bose
By Gabriel San Roman
By Rachel Mattice
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Daniel Kohn
By Nate Jackson
By Mike Seeley
Thrashes to Thrashes
Slayer’s Reign in Blood analyzed, Ariel Pink in the studio, and C.R.A.C. at Abstract Workshop
If there’s one immutable opinion in metal circles, it’s that Slayer’s Reign in Blood is unfuckwithable. To argue otherwise is to insist the sun rises in the west.
Reign in Blood came out in 1986 on Def Jam Records, a rap-oriented label. Rick Rubin, who at that point was best-known for his studio wizardry with the Beastie Boys and LL Cool J, produced it. Andy Wallace—who’d done much dance-music remixing and later went on to record Nirvana’s Nevermind and Jeff Buckley’s Grace—engineered Reign in Blood. The LP’s 10 songs clocked in at 29 minutes. All of this data seemed unlikely to culminate in what’s become revered as the most potent expression of thrash/speed/death metal ever.
D.X. Ferris’ book 33 1/3: Reign in Blood (Continuum) is surprisingly the first volume devoted to Slayer. He does a thorough, unflashy job examining how this masterpiece came to be. Ferris combines his own analyses with interviews he conducted with Slayer’s four members—Kerry King, Dave Lombardo, Tom Araya and Jeff Hanneman, plus Rubin and Wallace—and with several of Slayer’s heavy-metal peers, while cherry-picking from criticism published in music magazines to provide a multifaceted look at this seminal long-player. “I wanted to present the story in a way that’s compelling to both rabid Slayer fans and to NPR listeners who love pop music but have never lost a shoe in a mosh pit,” declares Ferris, clubs editor at Cleveland Scene, and he largely succeeds.
Early on, Ferris states his thesis: “[Reign in Blood] defined the band—and . . . the genre of thrash metal. It’s the purest thrash album, recorded by the genre’s greatest, most respected group. . . . [T]he disc left deep marks on metal, punk, alternative and arena rock.” A little later, he writes, “[Slayer are] the standard-bearers of metal itself.”
He backs up these claims with other critics’ and musicians’ testimonies. In fact, Ferris lays it on thick with these general praises about Reign’s kickassitude, as if trying to sell his book concept to an editor. But he already won that battle. More analysis and anecdotes and fewer encomia would’ve enriched the work. While we’re discussing negatives, the book contains a few grammatical and spelling errors, plus it twice lists the incorrect release date for Reign in Blood’s follow-up, South of Heaven (putting it at 1998 instead of 1988), and mistakenly calls the LP finale “Raining Blood” “Reigning Blood.”
But these quibbles pale beside Ferris’ diligent reporting (more than 80 interviews, including those with Hank Shocklee, Henry Rollins and Reign cover artist Larry Carroll) and cogent observations. He ably describes Reign in Blood’s impact within the context of mid-’80s extreme metal, comparing it to contemporaneous efforts by peers such as Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax and to the output of such later challengers as Pantera and Behemoth. Ferris competently describes each member’s instrumental prowess and role in the group, and he vividly captures the recording process. His interviews with Rubin and Wallace are especially enlightening; Ferris really fleshes out these characters—maybe too much. Will learning that Wallace earned more than 200 credits at Notre Dame but didn’t graduate help us to understand Reign’s importance? (Similarly, do we need to know that the guys creating Reign ate chopped-garlic pizza in the studio?)
Other highlights include the extended discussion of “Angel of Death,” the lyrics of which—about Nazi doctor Josef Mengele—caused controversy among Def Jam parent company Columbia Records’ Jewish execs (but not with the Jewish Rubin), and the section dissecting each track, with comments from fellow musicians detailing their favorites. Ferris’ most memorable bit comes at the end, when he compares Slayer to their metal antecedents as being like Terminator 2 vs. Jurassic Park.
Overall, 33 1/3: Reign in Blood will thrill those who’ve carved SLAYER into their skin (it’s more common among fans than you’d think), as well as pique the interest of hard-rock aficionados curious about Slayer but who’ve not taken the sanguinary plunge yet.
For more information, visit www.33third.blogspot.com.
ARIEL PINK PREPS NEXT ALBUM
LA cult pop anti-star Ariel Pink and his band are currently working on a new album at Mike McHugh’s analog-equipped Distillery Studios on Costa Mesa’s West Side, with local producer Matt Castille helming the sessions. I recently had the opportunity to catch them laying down basic tracks for a few songs, which will later be taken to a Dallas studio, where Castille and his partner in the group Vas Deferens Organization, Eric Lumbleau (as well as jazz ringers Dennis and Aaron González) will add orchestral flourishes and their patented hallucinogenic patina to what sound like nuggets from the 13th Floor Elevators’ school of enchanted-psycho pop storehouse. These tracks sound more straightforwardly accessible than previous Ariel Pink output, but once the VDO guys run ’em through their distinctly warped sensibilities, it will likely be an entirely different beast. The album has a tentative Oct. 31 release date on Animal Collective’s Paw Tracks label.