hat constitutes a classic album? What is it that separates truly timeless, revolutionary albums from merely great ones? One would have to assume that a major factor is originality. Does the flame of inspiration flicker consistently, and if it does, does it resonate as interesting every time the album is spun? Another factor could be an album's scope of influence. Do the people who hear this work become inspired, not to simply emulate the sound, but to inhale its spirit and let it invigorate them? You must also consider its sound. Regardless of when it was recorded, does the album transcend the recording clichés/blemishes of its time, opting for a sound that complements its progressive songs? Finally, was the album embraced and celebrated by listeners from outside its genre? Can those out of the loop appreciate it as much as those in the know?
If the answer to all of these questions is yes, you are dealing with a classic, just as you are whenever you unleash Slayer's 1986 genre-definer, Reign in Blood. Original, inspiring, searing and worshipped, Reign in Blood is the greatest metal album of all time. Period. Say what you will about Master of Puppets or Paranoid - both worth their weight and classics in their own right - but they haven't aged as well and they never sounded this evil.
And evil is what great metal - and what heyday Slayer - was all about. Not the mythologized evil of Satan, murderers and Nazis, but the real, tangible evils that pollute the world we live in: the evil that feeds intolerance, the evil that produces violence. And while the evil of Satan seems awfully cartoonish, the opposition Slayer's music faced (courtesy of a Reagan-ized America replete with influential Christian fundamentalists, a conservative media and would-be censors) was as evil as anything in the songs themselves.
And what songs they were. Manic, hacksaw guitars, monsoons of double-bass drum rolling and from-the-throat barking - all note-perfect and precise - that still smokes the asses of any band playing fast and/or heavy today. "Angel of Death" begins the album as effectively as any opening song ever has, lyrically outlining the horrors to come, while musically laying the groundwork for the rest of the record: fast, lean and filthy, with changes in riffing and drumming occurring in mid-flight, slowing occasionally to view what has been laid to waste so far. "Necrophobic", with its speed, gruesome lyrics and brevity could be seen as the template for American death metal. "Jesus Saves", one of Slayer's finest and most incendiary songs, begins painfully slow - uneasy and dissonant - illustrating the expertly-placed, ear-waking diversity of the album. And of course there is "Raining Blood", possessing a red-herring, scorched-earth intro, eerie thunderstorm-and-tom-tom-triplet interlude and one of the most recognizable riffs in metal history. It is a dynamic, explosive and fitting end to a remarkable, violent experience.
I will admit that after years of listening to this album again and again, some of the songs do seem formulaic (fast-variation on the fast-slow-fast), but many classics are (Ramones, Minor Threat, Pixies, Nirvana). Perhaps it's the creation of a new formula, one future listeners can accept, adapt and reconfigure, that defines a classic.
Reviewed by: Clay Jarvis
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01