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MUSIC» Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
Yeah, the 6.66 novelty score is nothing new (Pitchfork used it on Rhino's Heavy Metal Box, and LAS has used it in the past), but I was aiming for the mid 6's anyway and wouldn't you go for the gold just the same? Anyway.
With my appetite long whet for Continuum Books' 33-1/3 series of subway readables on influential albums, I specifically dove deep into the series with D.X. Ferris' critique of an album I always liked a lot, knowing there was room for my admiration to peak higher yet. My own metal flirtation climaxed with perfect timing in 2000: the summer after freshman year of high school, some new friends from Cherry Hill East with far more metal expertise invited me along to then-the-thing Ozzfest, where I sunburnt to a pustule yellow and crowd-surfed to Soulfly.
Unfortunately, whether it's Ferris' fault or the band's, the story of Reign in Blood, Slayer's seminal major-label debut, is pretty dull. The boys work some jobs and hate 'em, Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman hate religion more, and rather than stepping outside their riff-heavy box for a moment to really address their fascination with Nazism, the band hides behind some members' Latino blood as an auto-defense of "Angel of Death." More time is spent pondering the-man-the-myth-the-legend Rick Rubin than say, the struggle between singer Tom Araya's Catholic background and those, uh, lyrics King and Hanneman stick in his mouth. A good unasked question, - What did your parents think? - is but peripherally addressed, and then only when a Slayer mom is disgusted by the band's album art. And oh, lots of metal bands project their awe. So yeah, dull.
But Ferris really takes flight when the mold's off and he traces where scene influences intertwine... the shortening of songs to suit their admiration of corkscrew-tight hardcore punk, or being the elephant in the room as the sole rock band on the Def Jam roster (funny anecdote: MC Serch of 3rd Bass phoning Slayer fans and pretending to be Araya). Reign in Blood
s production tricks are interesting too: the drum machine on "Criminally Insane" (not par for a mid-80s metal album) and the story behind the album's opening scream (one of the only instances in which Rubin allowed reverb, so it goes) are at least animated enough to put you there, even if the Slayer songwriting process seems as systematic as their songs.
The author also puts too much stock in deviating from the album at hand to point out, often enough, that Slayer is the most consistent band in thrash rock because they're the only ones who never sold out. Oh. He doesn't convince me to expand my knowledge with Diabolous in Musica or God Hates Us All, though I am curious to know if 2006's big comeback album, Christ Illusion, is as Reign-ed in as it is mythologized. Nevertheless, nothing here convinces me that part of Reign in Blood's genius isn't its 29-minute running time; Slayer as a quick, brilliant shot still makes more sense to me than Slayer: The Career. But my opinion's a grain of salt, as for this reading I am the proverbial - as Sonic Youth once memorably titled something - nonmetal dude wearing metal. I have neither a Camaro nor a skull tattoo.
The contributing interviewees are only as good as themselves: East European Gogol Bordello dynamo Eugene Hutz is revelatory when he describes the harmony of crossfading "Piece by Piece" into a DJ set with Gypsy speed-fiddlers Taraf de Haidouks. Tori Amos remains the real-life version of Bryce Dallas Howard in an M. Night Shymalan flick, describing "Raining Blood" as evoking a "woman's beautiful vulva bleeding over into the mouths of the Taliban." And the metal doods sound like metal doods, awestruck with "fuckin' Slayer rules" and "yeah man" and "those guys can really play."
Ferris falls flattest on his summations, awkwardly ending chapters with extra-invisible invisible oranges of "that's why Slayer's great" over and over, whether it's some guy from High on Fire he gives the reader no particular reason to care about, or himself comparing Slayer to the Terminator franchise (except he cuts his own analogy prematurely by saying they've "never made a Terminator 3"). But he does his job. I can now recount the blur of Reign in Blood better offhand; now, even without the album playing, I can recall the war-march grind of "Postmortem," the every-note-is-wrong-yet-so-right "Raining Blood," and the band's catchiest number, "Aggressive Perfector" (love that enunciation of "knees," Tommy). Hasn't this book done its job if I like the album more after reading it? Maybe I'll even double down on God Hates Us All.
VIDEO: Slayer - "Raining Blood"
VIDEO: Slayer - "Epedemic" 1986
VIDEO: Slayer - "Angel Of Death" 1986 SEE ALSO: www.slayer.net
SEE ALSO: www.33third.blogspot.com
SEE ALSO: www.continuumbooks.com
Dan Weiss is the music editor for LAS. Formerly an editorial intern at CMJ and creator of the now defunct What was It Anyway?, his work has appeared in Village Voice, Pitchfork, Philadelphia Inquirer, Stylus and Crawdaddy among others. He resides in Brooklyn where he enjoys questionable lifestyle choices and loud guitars.
See other articles by Dan Weiss.
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