Monday, February 10, 2014

Pile of Barbarism


Now,  I finish the story I began way back in the introductory piece.  

You may recall that I spent a goodly portion of my formative years sneaking peeks into my big bro's collection of vinyl records.  Featured players were KISS, Ozzy, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Boston...nothing esoteric by any measure, but still fresh and vibrant to pre-teen ears.  Also, the ELO record had a big ol' spaceship on it!

One Sunday afternoon, as my brother and his friends were off doing menial shit, I was in the attic again, rifling through his stuff.  I picked up an album I had not even seen before, much less thought to play, and so decided to satisfy my curiosity.  The cover didn't give me much to go on: dark, murky, and lacked strong lines for my eyes to follow.  I assumed it would be some heavy, Priest-type metal.

Yeah.  Lawrence Murphy Priest-type.  It was Reign in Blood.

I placed the needle down carefully, cautiously, and out came those opening chords.   Basically Satan slapping his cock on a butcher-block table.  (Wow is this loud.  I hope mom and dad can't hear this all the way up here.  These sounds are really weird together.  Do I have this on the right speed?)

Then, after the rev up, is the take off.  Tom Araya lets loose one of the most legendary screams to ever be.  You could say that the album doesn't truly begin until that holler of the inveterate virgin-ruiner is heard.


I hauled chubby ass, y'all.  Before he even finished, I was gone.  No screams, yells, or yelps; hell, not even so much as a squeak.  I immediately ran down the attic stairs, turned, and ran down the second floor hallway...down another flight of stairs, then made two sharp right turns, taking me past the dining room, past the kitchen, and out the back door.  Once outside I did not stop churning my legs until I reached the small in-ground pool.  I turned, panting, eyes seeking and then locking upon the attic window.  I was petrified beyond understanding.  What had I just heard?  All those sounds together created a dissonance, a goddamn horror movie scene of a body suspended from a ceiling by-- a rope?  hook?--the face gray and sunken in, blood pooled at its dangling feet, viscera slung over its shoulders.  Briefly I wondered if I'd allowed some evil entity to escape from its enticing enclosure.  Could I ever step foot in the attic again?  

It took a few weeks but eventually I made my way back up those half-carpeted, half-cracked steps.  I hadn't doomed the planet after all.

Still wasn't gonna touch that fucking Slayer record ever ever again, though.

Except I did, five years later, and heard an album that lived up to every hosanna bestowed upon it.  Reign In Blood is legitimately a nonpareil classic of the thrash metal genre, and thus a classic of music, full stop.  Hell Awaits was a bacon-flavored popsicle.  Reign In Blood is a butter burger--outrageous, dangerous, uncontrollable, totally unique.  Hell Awaits was flecked with blood.  Reign In Blood stinks with the sticky stuff.  The brevity of punk (ten songs, twenty-nine minutes) smashed up against and smeared into the brutality of metal.  That it has merely gone gold in the United States is a fucking travesty.    Reign In Blood deserves to sell more copies than Bing Crosby's "White Christmas."

You know Rick Rubin signed Slayer to his hip hop label Def Jam and produced the record, right?  You know that Larry Carroll cover is a demented and has two penises featured within, right?*  Yeah, I mean Wikipedia exists for a reason, and there’s a couple cool Slayer bios out there to be read.  Let’s fucking go.

“Angel of Death”—Possibly my favorite thing about “Angel of Death”—other than how it nearly my heart explode before I reached double-digit years on the planet—is that first amazing riff.  It’s not only irrefutably bad-boy-gone-worse, it’s also pretty much the main riff of the song “Hell Awaits” tweaked juuust a biiit.  Am I the first to notice the similarity?  Hardly.  Does anybody really care about the similarity?  Also hardly.

I won’t make a case for “Angel of Death” as their best song, or my favorite of theirs, but I’m hard-pressed to think of one which is more notorious.  Jeff Hanneman penned a graphic retelling of the sickening acts committed by Nazi doc Joseph Mengele (including experimentation on still-live human bodies straight out of a sci-fi flick).  By merely documenting the frightful scenes, without providing blatant commentary, Slayer made themselves easy targets for critics who interpreted their lack of condemnation as tacit approval.  Hanneman’s response said all:  “Isn’t it obvious?  I shouldn’t have to tell you.”  But the sad fact is, some people need things to be set against black and white, because gray gives them seizures.  (There is a cure for such a condition, but isn’t it obvious?)

That second amazing riff is unfair.**  So much talk about how great music causes new bands to form, how about great music that causes new bands to throw their equipment in the river?  We need to celebrate that more.  

“Piece By Piece”—Following that is a Kerry King creation.  Shorter, less steeped in reality, but the stench is still gloriously foul.  What a friggin’ loon King is.  He was the head of a Dickensian orphanage in a past life, I’m positive of that.

I want a song titled “Piece By Piece” to echo with butcher knives and meat cleavers doing their filthy work.  I want such a thing to have these lyrics:

Bones and blood lie on the ground
Rotten limbs lie dead
Decapitated bodies found
On my wall, your head!

If Reign In Blood had been released in 2006, metal heads worldwide would have blown up Google already.  First the word “abacinate” in “Angel of Death,” and now repeated use of the “modulistic” as part of the chorus of “Piece By Piece.”

“Necrophobic”—In a single album, Slayer have gone from fucking the dead to fearing them.  Oh, the swings of life!  Can you imagine if I’d lasted long enough first time round to reach “Necrophobic”?  No way I would have survived.  I would have fashioned a noose out of the tape inside my brother’s cassettes and hanged myself.  (I was a precocious lass, you know.)

Tom Araya attacks like Moschitta gone feral, as his bandmates go Masaccio.  Itemizing the horrors that can assail the human body have never sounded so emotionally devastating.  

250 BPM?  Fuck love, Slayer are too fast for life.

“Altar of Sacrifice”—Satanists sell their hyper-idealized flights of fancy with the same single-minded fervor to be found in Christians, Muslims and Buddhists.  Just the music is better, is all.

Komodo dragons chase stragglers down the halls in the kingdom of damnation!  Their forked tongues stab the air!  No animal shows a stronger faith in and loyalty to the Darkest Lord.  (Take that, red panda!)  Or are they but an illusion experienced by the damned, who in fact ran to the fire of their own accord, proclaiming they didn’t deserve such a terrible fate while realizing deep down this place was still good for them.

“Jesus Saves”—The ultimate send-off for the previous track segues nicely (I mean, uh, terrifically!) into “Jesus Saves,” a spit-fist to the faces of those God Squad members who live all the days of their lives adhering unflinchingly to the Word, or rather the words written in the Bible.  These people believe that the world’s problems stem from the fact that not everyone lives all the days of their lives by an old book.

Never have I heard bones break so cleanly.

“Criminally Insane”—Noctavigant shenanigans are never innocent.  A simple stroll to clear one’s mind does not require the cover of darkness.  

Are those guitar solos, or is the neighbors cat being vivisected by those two best friends who always hang outside the Shell?

Read that Richard Ramirez was an inspiration for this one.  Richard Ramirez was a fucking skinny little wimp who only attacked women and unconscious men.  If a man was awake in a house, his heart would skip a beat and he’d slink on to the next place.  He wore AC/DC ball caps and was brought to justice by vigilantes, mostly men with crowbars and lead pipes who surprise surprise he put up no fight against.  Hell, Dave Lombardo’s drum intro here would have made Ramirez faint into a puddle of his own cloudy piss.

(Were Kerry and Jeff ticked off at Tom when they wrote this?  Y’know, forcing him to spit out the word “criminally” all lightning-quick.  I mean, you try it sometime.)

“Reborn”—Too many men moan about how difficult it is for them to write female characters.  Kerry King did a commendable job of capturing a wicked woman’s voice by focusing on the wicked part.  Truly it gets no more so, as the bitch is a witch who cackles at so-called death.

“Epidemic”—The “Leper Messiah” of Reign In Blood, but that’s not entirely fair.  I’d rather hear about plagues wiping out millions than God Squadders coaxing the feeble-minded masses out of their hard-earned thousands.

“Postmortem”—Nearing the end, Beelzebub’s most facetious followers decide to slow it down and stretch it out for a spell.  The first half practically grooves in comparison to what has come before.  Although really, "a phlegmatic rush towards banal destiny" might fit better than "groove."

The second half is the ravenous killer dragging you by the scruff of your neck towards death.  His (her?) feel smacking against the stairs as they ascend to where you wait, the second or so of silence that somehow seems much longer, then they crash through the door and ain't shit sweet except the time they're taking getting to you.

"Who I am, what I want/I'm only after death." My single favorite lyric on the entire album, a magnificent play on the very title of the song.

"Raining Blood"--On some CDs, "Raining Blood" starts at the second part of "Postmortem."  Slight fucking mistake.

There exist in this world people who still confuse the titles of this track and the album.  I have no patience for these people.  If a person doesn't have the brain strength to remember the correct name of heavy metal's greatest-ever song, they should re-examine their daily routines.  Perhaps ingest a vitamin or two.  Eat smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day.  Read a fucking book.  I mean, yes, the very last words of the song are "Now I shall reign in blood," and it is very similar indeed, but it is not the same.  Come the actual hell on.

Lyrics:  Hanneman/King
Music:  Hanneman

The velocity, the ferocity.***  You think "The Four Horsemen" had a nasty gallop?  Nah, not really.  Slayer are as of this song less a band, more a juggerhemoth.  (FUCKING PORTMANTEAUS INFECT MY PEN!  INFEST MY SIN!)  The description of a body trapped in purgatory as "a lifeless object, alive" is pretty much perfect.  As is every goddamn thing else.

Kerry and Jeff use porcupine pricks in place of plectrums, slamming from strength to strength until the end, which per the CD liners is

Noise:  Hanneman/King

Each song, in addition to the lyrics, also includes information such as that track's composers and also which solo was played by which guitarist.  No lie, that appears at the very end of the info for "Raining Blood."  And yes, take it from Virginia's daughter, the ending squall is as much "noise" as any racket smoked up in musty, power-plastered basements in the American Midwest by dudes whose makeshift musical instruments are all held together with moonshine and mucus.  This is not a pastiche of solos, this is Jonathan Winters vs. the Gas Station.  This is the long-promised rain of angels blood, falling out of wounds opened up by hacksaws missing their handles.  

The speed of the playing and the stamina of the players lost as many people as it won over, if not more.  "What is this, a race?"  Sure, one where the spectators hand out cups of blood to the runners.  Slayer's music could not make a homicidal maniac out of a peaceable person, no matter how many times it comes up in discussions had by those "concerned" with how violent art negatively affects society.   No one's music has that power.  But if you were to listen to this whilst in some severe emotional turmoil, and did something terribly wrong, it's still not the fault of the art.  Nor could you point the finger if  the art made you do something wonderful.  Nothing on Earth is wired funnier than a human being.  Everyday, in every way that we open ourselves up to be touched, we run the risk of marks, permanent and temporary.  At age nine, I heard Slayer and was filled such immense terror it paralyzed my vocal cords.  A quarter-century later, I've been playing Reign In Blood every day for the past two weeks in a hotel room located square in my hometown, a place I swore would never get its crackling jaws around me again.  I have no place to live after my money runs out, and I'm somehow hearing reasons to live and create in every dry chord that blasts out of my earbuds.

*The back cover is the best of its kind since McCartney's first album:  the members of Slayer, holding cans of Stella Artois, mouths agape, or teeth bared, untouched hair grown past their shoulders, fugly as a prossy's pussy.
**It's also the source of the best use of a rock sample in a hip-hop song.
***Years later, Tori Amos did a frankly incredible cover of "Raining Blood,"  reimagining the subject not as a fallen angel but a vengeful goddess whose menstrual blood would serve primal justice to those sexist marauders in the Taliban.  Just typing that sentence was a goddamn highlight of my life. Still, she could have just covered "Reborn" and not hand to change much at all.  Eh.   

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