'Reign in Blood' (1986)
Reign in Blood, the first and last word on speed metal, starts at 210 beats per minute with the song “Angel of Death,” and it barely lets up for the next 29 blistering minutes. Its 10 songs are built on Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman’s rigid guitar riffs and abstract-expressionistic solos – metal’s equivalent to a Pollock paint splatter – all while drummer Dave Lombardo pounds out Olympic-ready tempos and singer-bassist Tom Araya hails Satan. But what set the band’s third album apart from Metallica, Exciter, Venom and all the other speed demons of the era was the way producer Rick Rubin, who’d made his name in hip-hop working with the Beastie Boys and LL Cool J, stripped the album of the echoey reverb in vogue at the time for a sound that seemed to punch you in the gut. “With their super-fast articulation in a big room, the whole thing just turns into a blur,” Rubin said in 2016. “So you don’t get that crystal clarity. So much of what Slayer was about was this precision machinery.” It’s what makes whirring declarations in the name of death like “Necrophobic” and “Criminally Insane” all the more impactful and the record’s final cut, “Raining Blood” – with its ominous intro – all the more terrifying. And it no doubt did them no favors with “Angel of Death,” a song about Nazi doctor Josef Mengele, which has lyrics that would have been incoherent with the typical rock production of the day; its lyrics outraged Holocaust survivors and cost the LP a distribution deal with Columbia, leading it to come out on Geffen. Writer Hanneman claimed the tune was a “history lesson.” Nevertheless, it solidified Slayer’s legacy of controversy and their need for speed. “We were young, we were hungry, and we wanted to be faster than everybody else,” Araya once said. K.G.
'No Remorse' (1984)
Heavy metal has never been much of a singles genre, as most of its practitioners mark their growth and development in album-length increments. But Motörhead is the exception that proves the rule. Across its 40-year history, the band – essentially singer-bassist Lemmy Kilmister and a string of guitarists and drummers – hewed to a simple formula: vocals barked over the hyperactive throb of a bass line, hell-for-leather drumming, and bar-band-basic rhythm guitar. As Lemmy told Sounds, “Chuck Berry never changed. Little Richard never changed. I’d rather be like that and stick to a formula we’re happy with.” It seems more fitting, then, to represent Motörhead with an anthology. No Remorse may offer 29 versions of what is essentially the same thing, yet every track is singularly amazing: the yelping, bad luck refrain to “Ace of Spades,” the locomotive thunder beneath “Overkill,” the live-wire guitar on “Bomber,” the genius stupidity of “Killed by Death,” or the amphetamine overdrive of the live “Motorhead” from No Sleep ’til Hammersmith. Sometimes, a good formula is all you really need. J.D.C.
'Vulgar Display of Power' (1992)
After spending much of the Eighties as a regional Texas glam band, Pantera redefined themselves as a thrashy, proto-groove-metal outfit with 1990’s Cowboys from Hell. But it was on the aptly named follow-up that they truly hit their stride. “The mindset we took on, going into Vulgar Display of Power … [was] take the money riff and fucking go,” Phil Anselmo once explained, “[and] beat it into the ground.” And that they did. Here, the band shed any last vestiges of their flamboyant past (gone for good was Anselmo’s Rob Halford–like howl, still in evidence on CFH) and distilled their sound down to the essentials – Dimebag Darrell’s serrated rhythms and squealing solos; drummer Vinnie Paul and bassist Rex Brown’s lock-step pummel; Anselmo’s gruff bellow – cementing the approach that they would more or less follow for the remainder of their career. Furthermore, the material itself was incontestable. From the antagonistic thrust of opener “Mouth for War” to the galloping power-thrash of “Fucking Hostile,” the creepy murder balladry of “This Love” to the hulking, two-note stomp of “Walk” (later covered by everyone from Avenged Sevenfold to Disturbed), Vulgar boasts a shockingly high number of tracks that have become more or less standards of the genre. Re-spect! R.B.
'Among the Living' (1987)
Thrash metal wasn’t just about speed, volume and the adrenaline rush of bouncing off the walls and other fans in a mosh pit. It was also about equality. “Metal has always had this larger than life image. We’re more into being real,” Anthrax drummer Charlie Benante told Melody Maker. “We just try to be on the same level as our audience – except we’re onstage.” But what elevated the New York band’s third LP, Among the Living, to a thrash classic wasn’t just the way songs like “Caught in a Mosh” articulated the generational rage (“Get the hell out of my house!”) that made slam-dancing a necessary form of release. It was also the way the music churned and flowed, thanks to the sudden accelerations and rhythmic shifts found on songs such as “One World.” Benante and his bandmates may have been regular guys in other respects, but as musicians there was no denying the technical agility that went into each aural onslaught. Yet the album never lords that over the listener; instead, its best moments – “Efilnikufesin (N.F.L.),” “I Am the Law,” “Indians” – democratize that brilliance by attaching it to some of the band’s catchiest, most approachable material. J.D.C.
Alice in Chains
Before grunge hit the mainstream, the movement owed more to metal than any other rock subgenre. The heaviness of Black Sabbath and Metallica directly informed how the leaders of the Seattle scene approached songs that tackled depression, drug addiction, death and disillusionment. While Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden expanded beyond metal, Alice in Chains remained the grittiest and most true to the genre’s influence, crafting the dark, weighty and foreboding Dirt. From the fierce, nightmarish riffing of “Them Bones” to the eerily anthemic “Would?” (released earlier in 1992 on the Singles soundtrack), the album is an intense listen, with Jerry Cantrell’s steely guitar often melding with singer Layne Staley’s raspy belt. Songs like “Sickman” and “God Smack” lumber forward with jarring art-metal rhythms, while hit single “Rooster” channels the album’s brooding vibe into an unexpectedly poignant ballad about Staley’s Vietnam-vet father. A few years later, the singer would come to regret addressing heroin use and addiction on songs like “Hate to Feel” and “Junkhead,” telling Rolling Stone that the fan response to his lyrics is what caused him to rethink his approach. “I didn’t think I was being unsafe or careless,” he said, before noting that he felt like he was “walking through hell” in the years following his descent into addiction. “I didn’t want my fans to think that heroin was cool. But then I’ve had fans come up to me and give me the thumbs up, telling me they’re high. That’s exactly what I didn’t want to happen.” B.S.
System of a Down
Skittish, temperamental, emotional and purposefully unhinged, System of a Down’s exquisite 2001 sophomore release provided a perfect soundtrack to post-9/11 anxiety. Turn on the LP and a chunky riff drops in between drawn-out pauses before singer Serj Tankian whispers, “They’re trying to build a prison.” The Armenian-American band touched on everything from Charles Manson’s stances on the environment (“ATWA”) to the United States’ faulty justice system (“Prison Song”), as each song creatively explores musical moods, variously evoking jazz, Middle Eastern and Greek music, as well as all known subgenres and mutations of hard rock. Beyond System’s political statements, the ever-entertaining Tankian sang about group sex (“Bounce”) and groupies (“Psycho”), but the band’s unique musical spasticity (on glorious display on signature single “Chop Suey!”) makes Toxicity feel like a cohesive work. “I don’t understand why we have to be just one thing,” Tankian told Rolling Stone in 2001. “If I write on one side of this lampshade, ‘The metropolis is too dense. It causes fear,’ that’s a social statement. And on this side I write, ‘Blow me.’ And then here it says, ‘I’m hungry.’ And here it says, ‘Gee, what a splendid day.’ Now those are four different things. We’re all just turning the lampshade.” B.S.
Korn helped launch the nu-metal subgenre with their 1994 self-titled debut, unwittingly paving the way for bands like Deftones, System of a Down and Limp Bizkit. The band’s seamless integration of beefy, bass-y metal riffs with rap rhythms and Jonathan Davis’ experimental yelps, which sound like uncontrollable spasms of anger and disenfranchisement, spoke to a generation of metalheads that dug Nirvana and Tupac as much as Metallica. “We were trying to sound like a DJ had remixed our guitars,” James “Munky” Shaffer explained in an interview with Rolling Stone. Lyrically, Davis tackles tough, personal subjects, like his addiction to amphetamines (“Blind”) and his experiences being sexually abused as a child (“Daddy”). They didn’t play the latter song live for two decades following the album’s release due to the trauma attached to its creation and only brought it back when the band began to commemorate the LP’s anniversary with live shows in 2014. The type of vulnerability Davis tackled head-on is what set Korn apart from the nu-metal spawns that followed their wake, though none of them ever quite tapped the same intensity as the songs on Korn. B.S.
'De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas' (1994)
Has any metal album been overshadowed more by the circumstances surrounding its making than De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, the debut LP from seminal Norwegian black-metal quartet Mayhem? Dead (Per Yngve Ohlin), vocalist during the album’s gestation, committed suicide before it was recorded. And despite early claims to the contrary, you’re listening to a convicted killer, bassist Count Grishnackh (Varg Vikernes, also of Burzum) playing alongside his victim, guitarist Euronymous (Øystein Aarseth). Yet despite the unthinkable causes for its notoriety, Mysteriis remains a singularly potent document, its expressions of alienation and nihilism lent an icy severity by Aarseth’s lacerating guitar buzz, session vocalist Attila Csihar’s arcane croak and presentation of Dead’s lyrical gothic terror and the pummeling drums of Hellhammer (Jan Axel Blomberg). “We were repulsed by music about love and kindness – we just hated it,” Blomberg told Rolling Stone in February, when the present Mayhem lineup was playing Mysteriis complete on tour. “We wanted to make music that was the extreme opposite of that.” Mission accomplished. S.S.
After Slipknot’s self-titled debut catapulted the mask-wearing, percussion-heavy nonet from Midwest obscurity to stardom, the band nearly imploded in a maelstrom of self-destructive indulgence. Instead of the cathartic release of the first album, singer Corey Taylor told Revolver, “Doing Iowa, I wasn’t letting anything go. It was just rage for the sake of rage. … Luckily, we got a dark, brutal, amazing album out of it.” For all its aural intensity – the breathlessly chugging guitars, the roiling swirls of snare and tom-tom, Taylor’s throat-rending vocals – what stands out about isn’t the emotional negativity but the perversely hook-heavy writing. Sometimes the two are wrapped together, like on the misanthropic chant-along “People = Shit”; sometimes they’re in opposition, as when sweetly melodic vocals float through the chorus of “My Plague.” It’s as if the band wanted a way to make its pain palatable – even addictive. J.D.C.
Source: Rolling Stone
Author: Vozvyshaieva Svetlana