REIgN IN bLOOd still stands as Slayer’s great­est achieve­ment. Its cre­ators re­call its birth.

changed mu­sic for­ever. It’s as sim­ple as that. Tom Araya, Kerry King, Dave Lom­bardo and some close friends talk us through the mak­ing of a le­gend

Metal Hammer (UK) - - Contents - Words: dave ev­er­ley

The end of days is ap­proach­ing. The pre­cise point when Slayer will make their exit has yet to be de­ter­mined, but it’s there, hov­er­ing in­ex­orably in the not-too-dis­tant fu­ture, in­evitable as death. Their fate is set in stone: when their cur­rent world tour ends, so will Slayer. When they do even­tu­ally bow out, the band that formed in sub­ur­ban Orange County in 1981 will leave an almighty legacy. Slayer can jus­ti­fi­ably lay claim to be­ing one of the found­ing fa­thers of thrash metal. A band who helped turn it from a feral un­der­ground move­ment into a game-chang­ing force of na­ture, whose im­pact can still be heard to­day. Their records, from 1983’s Show No Mercy through to 2015’s Re­pent­less, stand among metal’s holy texts.

But one thing tow­ers above ev­ery­thing. Re­leased in Oc­to­ber 1986, Reign In Blood isn’t just Slayer’s great­est al­bum, it’s up there with the great­est al­bums ever made, by any band in any genre: 28 min­utes and 58 sec­onds of un­bri­dled power and undi­luted in­tent that drew awe, ac­claim and con­tro­versy in equal mea­sure. More than any­thing else, Reign In Blood will be Slayer’s legacy.

We never re­alised how spe­cial it was when we were work­ing on it,” gui­tarist Kerry King tells Ham­mer. “We knew it was

cool but we never thought it was what peo­ple would talk about for the next 30 years.”

King, along with singer/bassist Tom Araya, orig­i­nal drum­mer Dave Lom­bardo, pro­ducer Rick Ru­bin and sev­eral other friends and con­tem­po­raries of Slayer, look back on that land­mark al­bum. This is the blow-by-blow story of how Reign In Blood changed the world for­ever…

By 1985, Metal­lica had emerged as the lead­ers of the thrash metal pack. But Slayer weren’t that far be­hind them. Their first two al­bums – 1983’s Show No Mercy and 1985’s Hell Awaits, re­leased on US un­der­ground la­bel Metal Blade – proved they weren’t con­tent just to ex­ist in the shadow of James Het­field and Lars Ul­rich.

Kerry KING: “I look back on that time just be­fore Reign In Blood, and it was to­tally ex­cit­ing be­ing a mem­ber of Slayer. You’d walk down the street and peo­ple would know your face and name. It was weird. It was the only time I got a big head.” Don KAYE (US METAL JOUR­NAL­IST): “The first two Slayer al­bums and the EP came out on [un­der­ground metal la­bel] Metal Blade. They were re­ally solid. Ev­ery­body was flip­ping out over them.”

BRIAN SLAGEL (owner, METAL BLADE): “By the time they got to Hell Awaits, you could see how much bet­ter they were. Es­pe­cially Dave – he was a phe­nom­e­nal drum­mer, and he re­ally upped his game big-time on

Hell Awaits.”

Tom ARAYA: “Song­wise, we were writ­ing ma­te­rial that was re­ally heavy – long but heavy. At the time, that’s what ev­ery­body was do­ing. We thought, ‘We can do that.’ But were grow­ing all the time.”

DAVE LOM­BARDO: “We knew Hell Awaits was good, but we were itch­ing to get onto the next thing.”

Tom: “The only thing that we knew about the next al­bum was that it was gonna be faster than Hell Awaits.”

The Hell Awaits cam­paign hadn’t fin­ished, but Slayer were al­ready plan­ning their next move. They were on friendly terms with their thrash peers, but they knew they had it in them to de­liver some­thing that would leave them in the dust.

DAVE: “We were get­ting cocky. We had al­ready re­leased two al­bums and been on tour.”

Tom: “Right at the end of the Hell Awaits pe­riod, Jeff and Kerry were con­stantly putting ideas to­gether, com­ing up with new stuff.”

DAVE: “Be­fore, we would all sit to­gether and bang out the songs.

But Jeff had in­vested in record­ing equip­ment and he started record­ing his own demos com­plete with the ba­sic drum pat­tern, gui­tar riffs, some ar­range­ments. And then he would present us with cas­settes. It was awe­some, be­cause it gave us a clear pic­ture of where he was go­ing.”

Tom: “Jeff had be­come a fan of a lot of West Coast punk. There was this record store where he’d go a lot and look for al­bum cov­ers. He fig­ured the cooler the cover, the bet­ter the band. Then he’d bring it in and play it all the time.”

DAVE: “TSOL, Mi­nor Threat, Dead Kennedys, Cir­cle Jerks… Jeff was dis­cov­er­ing new bands all the time. It was def­i­nitely a turn­ing point.”

Tom: “The last one on the wagon was Kerry – he was more of a met­al­head. He didn’t un­der­stand it at first. Even­tu­ally he started like it – if you get hit in the head with some­thing enough, even­tu­ally you start lik­ing it.”

Kerry: “There was a ca­ma­raderie be­tween the thrash bands at the time. I’d get the other guys’ records, just to see what they were do­ing.”

DAVE: ‘We were keep­ing tabs on what they were do­ing. We’d lis­ten to other bands and go, ‘That’s weak, we could do bet­ter than that, we’re more bru­tal than that.’”

Tom: “Ev­ery­body else was do­ing some­thing slow. Kerry and Jeff said that they didn’t want to do a slow record, they wanted to do some­thing fast. They didn’t re­alise it was gonna be that fast…”

Don: “I think their goal was to out-heavy and out-speed Metal­lica.”

“I FIN­ISHED THE LYRICS TO RAIN­ING

BLOOD IN THE STU­DIO LOBBY”

Kerry KING

BRIAN: “On Reign In Blood, I think that was the sin­gle fo­cus: ‘We want to make the fastest, heav­i­est record that’s ever been done.’”

It didn’t take long for more clued-in ma­jor la­bel A&R ex­ec­u­tives to spot thrash metal’s po­ten­tial. In 1984, Metal­lica were picked up by Elek­tra Records, and the fol­low­ing year it was Slayer’s turn to be courted by the big boys.

BRIAN SLAGEL:

“Metal Blade were a small lit­tle la­bel and the band were get­ting re­ally big. We knew they were go­ing to sign with a ma­jor la­bel, just be­cause it made sense at that point.”

Don: “Metal­lica had signed to Elek­tra, but no­body re­ally ex­pected Slayer to get a ma­jor deal at the time be­cause they were so heavy.”

BRIAN: “We had meet­ings with Capi­tol, and with Warner Broth­ers. I think at that point pretty much ev­ery la­bel was in­ter­ested in them be­cause metal was a big thing hap­pen­ing then. Metal­lica were start­ing to re­ally take off.”

Tom: “That’s when we re­alised that there were record com­pa­nies that were in­ter­ested.”

BRIAN: “Rick Ru­bin, who was head of Def Jam Records, ap­proached us. Def Jam was a hip hop la­bel. They’d put out records by Run DMC and peo­ple like that. But Rick was a fan of punk and metal, too.”

DAVE: “We had al­ready signed a multi-al­bum deal with

Metal Blade. I caught wind of in­ter­est of a ma­jor la­bel in New

York – Columbia – that wanted us. So I told the guys about it and they were, like, ‘No Dave, we’re al­ready signed to Metal Blade, it’s too much, we can’t get out of the con­tract.’ I’m like, ‘Wait, we should check this out and see what they have to say.’”

RICK RU­BIN: “I first met them at their show at The Ritz in NYC. I knew noth­ing about them be­fore the show and they blew me away.”

Tom: “Some­body goes, ‘Hey, I want you to meet Rick Ru­bin. He’s this guy from Def Jam.’ We’re like, ‘Def Jam?’”

Kerry: “Was I a fan of hip hop? I wasn’t, no.”

Tom: “It was a lit­tle strange, but we knew that he was a fan and that was the ex­tent of it. And that was one of the luck­i­est things ever – here’s this guy who’s just got a shit­load of money from ma­jor record la­bels, and he wants to work with us and he’s a fan. You can’t beat that.”

BRIAN: “Rick wanted it more than any­body else and he went af­ter the band hard. He said, ‘Hey if you come with me, I’ll do this and this and this’, and they chose to go with him.”

In June 1986, Slayer en­tered Hit City West Stu­dios in Los An­ge­les with Ru­bin and engi­neer Andy Wal­lace to be­gin work on the al­bum that would be­come Reign In Blood. Ru­bin’s vi­sion for the al­bum was to boil ev­ery­thing down to the bone, cap­tur­ing the al­bum live and strip­ping it of un­nec­es­sary re­verb.

DAVE: “The stu­dio was just a lit­tle place on Pico and La Cienega Boule­vard. It wasn’t elab­o­rate.”

Tom: “We were a bunch of young kids. We didn’t re­ally have any­one work­ing with us. We brought our own stuff in, we set up our own stuff. It was us and my brother John, who came in and set up all our gear and mic’d it up for us. But this was our first record with some­one that was a pro.”

DAVE: “Andy Wal­lace was there – he’s an amaz­ing engi­neer. He had a very Zen-like per­son­al­ity. He was very mel­low, a very nice guy. He wasn’t a party an­i­mal or any­thing. He ba­si­cally held the fort when Ru­bin wasn’t there.”

BRIAN: “There’s a cou­ple songs that had ac­tu­ally al­most ended up on

Hell Awaits. Al­tar Of Sac­ri­fice was one of them. You could kind of see the early mak­ings of where that record was go­ing.”

RICK RU­BIN: “What sur­prised me most was that Jeff and Kerry both knew which so­los were good and which weren’t, since at the time, none of the so­los made sense to me. It’s as if they were speak­ing a dif­fer­ent mu­si­cal lan­guage than the rest of the world.”

DAVE: “The ses­sions used to start very late – 10 or 11 o’clock – and would go to the early hours of the morn­ing. I hon­estly don’t know why. The Witch­ing Hour, maybe, ha ha ha! Mid­night to three in the morn­ing was the best time to con­jure the most evil.”

Kerry: “What else were we fu­elled by? Noth­ing. I didn’t even drink yet. It wasn’t a party.”

DAVE: “We were so well-re­hearsed be­fore we went into the stu­dio. I be­lieve I recorded my tracks in three or four days. There were no com­put­ers, no soft­ware. It was well­re­hearsed: get your tempo down, press record and don’t fuck up.”

Tom: “Ru­bin tweaked our gui­tar sounds. Other than that, we just kept record­ing un­til he said, ‘I got that one.’”

Kerry: “Some­body at some time said, ‘You don’t need re­verb to be good.’ Once we got that in our heads, we were like, ‘OK, that’s pretty fuck­ing tight.’”

RICK RU­BIN: “It’s very close to be­ing a live al­bum, very well recorded in a stu­dio. Slayer didn’t sound like any­one else, that’s why the al­bum sounds dif­fer­ent than other metal al­bums. They re­ally were cre­at­ing their own genre.”

The 10 tracks that made up Reign In Blood lived up to Slayer’s am­bi­tion of be­ing faster and more bru­tal than any other band. They di­alled back Hell Awaits’ Sa­tanic shtick in favour of a lyri­cal ap­proach that was one part grue­some med­i­cal text­book, one part Hierony­mus Bosch paint­ing – most notably on in­stantly iconic open­ing track An­gel Of Death, which was in­spired by the in­fa­mous Nazi sur­geon Dr Josef Men­gele.

“WE WERE SO EX­CITED. THEN THEIR FANS THREW LIGHTERS AND COINS AT US”

BOBBY ‘BLITZ’ ELLSWORTH

Tom: “Did I have any prob­lem singing the lyrics on An­gel Of Death? No, I didn’t. When Jeff brought in the song, we thought, ‘Wow, that’s re­ally cool – this was the guy that did all those crazy, ter­ri­ble things.’”

DAVE: “It was, ‘Let’s be bru­tal. Let’s be evil, dark.’ I thought it was great.”

Tom: “As usual, we al­ways end up fin­ish­ing a song in the stu­dio, while we’re in the process of do­ing it. On that one, it was Rain­ing Blood. That was the song that didn’t have any lyrics.”

Kerry: “I re­mem­ber fin­ish­ing the lyrics to Rain­ing Blood in the lobby of the stu­dio. I think Jeff was do­ing some of the tracks in­side. He had no ideas for the part I was work­ing on, so it was, like, ‘Here, let me try. I fin­ished it.’”

DAVE: I think my favourite point on the al­bum is Post­mortem into Rain­ing Blood. That piece is mon­strous. It’s epic how it flows from one song to the other.”

Tom: “The only thing was that we told Dave to speed it up – ‘Hey Dave, c’mon, speed it up, pick it up a bit!’”

DAVE: “Ru­bin and the band were say­ing, ‘Let’s push a lit­tle more… a lit­tle more ag­gres­sive… get an­gry.’”

Tom: “All 10 songs came in at 28 min­utes. A full al­bum, con­trac­tu­ally, con­sti­tutes at least 45 min­utes of mu­sic. I asked Rick if that was OK. His only re­ply to any of that was, ‘It’s 10 songs, which con­sti­tutes an al­bum. There’s verses and leads and cho­ruses.’ He didn’t have an is­sue with it, which was re­ally cool.”

Rick Ru­bin might not have had a prob­lem with the al­bum, but some­body else cer­tainly did. Def Jam’s re­leases were dis­trib­uted by Columbia Records, whose pres­i­dent, Wal­ter Yet­nikoff, ob­jected to An­gel Of Death. Wal­ter, who was Jewish, viewed the song as an­tiSemitic and re­fused to re­lease the al­bum un­less the open­ing track was pulled. Slayer re­fused.

Tom: “All of a sud­den, the record com­pany doesn’t want to re­lease the al­bum. We were, like, ‘Fu­u­u­u­uck…’”

Kerry: “I didn’t know shit about the world at that point. I thought, ‘That is the most ridicu­lous thing I have ever heard.’”

DAVE: “When Ru­bin told us that Columbia were back­ing out, he said, ‘Guys, don’t worry about it. I have an­other com­pany. This is kind of cool, we could spin it in a way that it could be of ad­van­tage to us.’”

Kerry: “The funny thing is that it was al­ready paid for: ‘All you gotta do is mar­ket it, it’s gonna sell.’ The world’s a weird place.”

DAVE: “It turned out that Gef­fen were happy to put the record out.”

RICK: “Gef­fen were anx­ious to be in busi­ness with us be­cause of all of the suc­cess we were hav­ing at Def Jam [with hip hop bands].”

DAVE: “We just fol­lowed Rick and what he wanted to do, and, sure enough, it did work to our ad­van­tage be­cause it cre­ated a lot of mys­tery around the al­bum. Peo­ple were cu­ri­ous.”

Don : “I don’t ac­tu­ally re­mem­ber main­stream mag­a­zines cov­er­ing Slayer at the time at all. The only cov­er­age they got in Rolling Stone was when Columbia Records re­fused to dis­trib­ute the al­bum be­cause of An­gel Of Death.”

The pre-re­lease con­tro­versy only served to ramp up an­tic­i­pa­tion for Reign In Blood, as did the fact that no new mu­sic had leaked out onto the tape-trad­ing cir­cuit in ad­vance. When the al­bum was re­leased in the US on Oc­to­ber 7, 1986, it was like a thun­der­clap.

Don: “I re­mem­ber a few peo­ple voic­ing the opin­ion that Hell Awaits was a bit too pro­gres­sive. Ev­ery­body just wanted pure speed from Slayer, and Hell Awaits got into time changes, longer songs. So there was cer­tainly some reser­va­tion and cu­rios­ity about what about what they were go­ing to do next.”

BRIAN: “I was blown away. It was cer­tainly a lot dif­fer­ent than Hell Awaits. That had slow stuff and heavy stuff, a lot of dif­fer­ent dy­nam­ics. This was pretty much just pound­ing your head in for 29 min­utes.”

Kerry: “At that point, there was no in­ter­net. Peo­ple would say, ‘You gotta lis­ten to this band, you gotta see this band.’ That’s how peo­ple did things.”

Slayer kicked off their Reign In Blood tour on Hal­loween 1986 at The Moore The­ater in Seat­tle. The sup­port band was New Jersey’s Overkill, who’d re­leased their de­but al­bum, Feel The Fire, a year ear­lier.

RICK SALES (SLAYER’S MAN­AGER): “I had just come off an ex­ten­sive tour road-man­ag­ing Dokken and I got a call to go out with Slayer a cou­ple of weeks later on their Reign In Blood tour. I was tired and turned it down. A friend of mine called me the next day and told me I should re­con­sider. As tired as I was, I went out and got a copy of Reign In Blood, and I was hooked. I wanted to be their tour man­ager so I took the job.”

BOBBY ‘BLITZ’ ELLSWORTH (OVERKILL SINGER): “Overkill opened for them on that tour. We show up in Seat­tle, and we’re so ex­cited. And we came out in front of Slayer to a hail of wet pa­per tow­els, Zippo lighters and coins thrown at us. The Slayer au­di­ence is a tough au­di­ence. It’s like, ‘Don’t stop mov­ing and you’re less of a tar­get.’”

RICK SALES: “I saw the frenzy of the mu­sic and of the au­di­ence – it was a re­li­gious ex­pe­ri­ence. It was the most ex­cit­ing rock show I’d seen since I was a kid and went to see Iggy And The Stooges and MC5. Slayer had an en­ergy, a kind of punk en­ergy.”

BOBBY: “We played a place called The Fo­rum in Los An­ge­les, it was this old build­ing from the 1930s or 40s. I re­mem­ber some­body fall­ing out of the bal­cony dur­ing Slayer’s set. It wasn’t a push. It was pur­pose­ful. It was his way of show­ing his ex­hil­a­ra­tion.”

DAVE: “They would clear the venue and you’d take a walk through af­ter­wards and there’d be pools of blood. It wasn’t just a few lit­tle drops here and there. It was like some­body had laid there and bled for a while. It was in­tense.”

BOBBY: “Sure, those gigs were vi­o­lent. But it wasn’t as if the vi­o­lence es­ca­lated – it was as if some­one just pushed a but­ton. You didn’t see the crowd get whipped into this frenzy – the frenzy was in­stan­ta­neous.”

Kerry: “Af­ter that we toured as the sup­port to WASP. Those guys were big­ger than us at that point. They weren’t nice to us. ‘You can’t have lights, you can’t have a smoke ma­chine.’ ‘What? Are you scared of us?’”

Tom: “I think it was on the WASP tour that Dave quit for the first time.”

Kerry: “I don’t re­mem­ber why he quit. I think it was prob­a­bly just a young, grow­ing-up misun­der­stand­ing.”

DAVE: “I had been go­ing on tour and I was com­ing back with no money to pay my ba­sic bills. I was like, ‘Fuck this, man, I’m not go­ing to put all my fuck­ing ef­fort into this if we’re signed to a ma­jor la­bel and go­ing out on these ex­trav­a­gant tours and I’m com­ing home with no money?’

It just didn’t make sense right now. So I de­cided to split.”

Tom: “We got Tony [Scaglione, from New York thrash­ers Whiplash] in for the rest of the WASP tour.”

DAVE: “I re­mem­ber Ru­bin call­ing me prac­ti­cally ev­ery other day: ‘How are you do­ing? Are you go­ing back?’ No, no, man. ‘Come on, Dave, go back. Let’s work some­thing out.’ And then when I fi­nally de­cided – ‘Yeah, let’s work this out’ – Ru­bin flew down and he picked me up and we went to re­hearsal and he rein­tro­duced me to the guys. We swept what­ever was un­der the rug and car­ried on.”

Reign In Blood peaked at No.94 in the US Bill­board charts – an im­pres­sive feat for such an ex­treme record. It might not have had the same ground­break­ing com­mer­cial im­pact as Metal­lica’s

“THERE WERE POOLS OF BLOOD IN THE VENUE”

DAVE LOM­BARDO

block­buster Mas­ter Of Pup­pets, but it took thrash metal to a new level of un­com­pro­mis­ing bru­tal­ity. More than 30 years on, it stands as an eter­nal bench­mark for what metal can and should be.

Don: “Reign In Blood didn’t feel so much like an evo­lu­tion­ary step as set­ting a new bar for ev­ery­thing that was go­ing to fol­low. You’re ei­ther go­ing to try and match it or top it, or you’re go­ing to go in other direc­tions.”

Tom: “Why was it suc­cess­ful? I can’t an­swer that. Maybe it could be that Rick Ru­bin did it and it came out on a rap la­bel. Maybe it was the con­tro­versy. Maybe it was be­cause it was only 28 min­utes – ev­ery­body else was do­ing re­ally slow stuff. I don’t know.”

RICK SALES: “They were com­mit­ted to their art, it was 24/7 for them. It wasn’t, ‘How do we be­come fa­mous and get Gold records?’ It was strictly, ‘We’re go­ing to make the mu­sic we want to and if peo­ple don’t like it, fuck ’em.’”

RICK RU­BIN: “It’s so ex­treme and at times non-mu­si­cal… it’s like an as­sault. I can’t think of an­other al­bum that does what this al­bum does.”

Don: “My sense is that other bands knew they couldn’t top it and were just go­ing to try to do their own sort of vari­a­tions on in­ten­sity and speed.”

BRIAN: “That record, even more so than Metal­lica, took ex­treme and su­per-heavy metal out to the main­stream kids. It led the way for Pan­tera and so many other bands who had suc­cess. But that was the most ex­treme record that ever had a mas­sive com­mer­cial suc­cess. It paved the way for ev­ery­body from Can­ni­bal Corpse to Pan­tera.”

Tom: “My par­ents were al­ways telling me that I should find a job, maybe go to school, learn some­thing. That way, if all this failed, I wouldn’t find my­self out on the street do­ing noth­ing. By the time Reign In Blood came out, they re­alised that we were ac­tu­ally get­ting some­where. They were proud.”

DAVE: “Peo­ple come up and talk to me about Reign In Blood in the most ran­dom places. Peo­ple yell out, ‘Slayer!’ or come up and say ‘Reign In Blood saved my life.’ That’s one thing I hear a lot. Although the mu­sic may have been in­tense and vi­o­lent, peo­ple have told me that it’s helped them nav­i­gate the most hor­ri­ble times of their lives. That’s just spe­cial.”

they prob­a­bly sell those bracelets in river Is­land now, to be hon­est

“Just the eight pints for us last night…” Slayer and me­gadeth get merry

ab­so­lute dis­grace they didn’t get a head & Shoul­ders en­dorse­ment

tom was so poor at this point he couldn’taf­ford a full vest

tom tries his best mean face for a Reign In Blood promo shoot in au­gust ’86.

In the 80s, you had to grow your hair ex­po­nen­tiallywith your wrist spikes

a le­gend be­ing a le­gend-in-wait­ing: Jeffhan­ne­man shreds in chicago, Novem­ber ’86

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