Slayer – Reign In Blood (1986)

The American band Slayer had slowly been gathering momentum. Although their music was in no way mainstream, especially lyrically, Slayer had set themselves up to be the pioneers of Death Metal. It was faster, harder and more aggressive than anything before in music.

This album is the best of Slayer’s back catalogue and began the Death Metal scene that still exists today. It’s a headbanging rush from start to finish.

From the beginning, we have the story of a Nazi butcherer in Angel Of Death. It’s so awesome but scary. You may think that Metallica could not match this, and certainly could not in terms of pace. It’s horrific, but awesome at the same time. It breaks down in the midsection and then rushes into a super fast pace. Good stuff.

The next one along, Piece By Piece, is a brutal sonic onslaught. Hard to believe that this is a metal-based genre. But it’s truly amazing what is done here, and has proper song structures and different tempos. This reveals the variety of Slayer as a band.

Necrophobic reveals the sick and twisted nature of Slayer, at least lyrically. The title says it all but it’s, fortunately, such a short sonic assault that it makes up for any twisted or sick nature lyrically.

Altar Of Sacrifice obviously refers to the hypocritical nature of religion. It’s so catchy that it is easily stuck in your mind for days after. Perhaps these people were Marxists politically? We may never know, but they are Satanists for sure. It slows down towards the end, with our heads still banging away.

The next piece, Jesus Saves, is even more upfront. It starts off slowly, and you can really hear some of the band’s Iron Maiden/Metallica likes influences. It then speeds into a raging track about the hypocrisy of Christianity. A tough pill for some to swallow, but the music still is rocking.

The follower Criminally Insane begins with a basic drum beat, some palm muted riffing, and laughter. It’s so good to hear something that is different than everything on the radio. It is so well arranged by Rick Rubin that it deserves listening on.

Reborn starts off with a sort of jam, before erupting into a sonic assault referencing Satanist activities. Even though the band here gives little variation in their sound, it just is so good. No track sounds out of place on this record. “I won’t be reborn!”.

Epidemic is the next song up, and it is a bit slower than others on the album. The guitar solo sounds like something out of a B Horror film. “Pain results in screams, bleed eternally.” Surely, these guys were on something like meth? It’s a rather sinister song.

The wicked Postmortem is up next. It rolls along nicely in the first half, being very song like and slower than usual for this album. It then bursts into a truly great riff, and screaming galore.

The last song, Raining Blood, is creepier and more evil sounding than anything Black Sabbath ever did. It finishes off the album with more horrific imagery and ultra thrash paced metal.  At the end, we hear the pouring rain of blood. Sounds evil and satanic for sure. The albums ends with one feeling like they have listened to Satan himself talking via music to you. It’s out there, all right.

Remastered reissues of the album have given us two extra tracks by Slayer, Aggressive Perfecter and the Criminally Insane (Remix) which are great additions to Slayer’s repertoire. This album is for anybody who wants to hear really freaky music. If you want to test some heavily religious Christians, play this in earshot of them. You won’t be disappointed with this album, halfway between thrash and death metal. Merely looking at the front cover artwork of this album is to see pure hell.

Awesome.

8/10

Metallica – Master Of Puppets (1986)

The mid-1980s was a terrible era for mainstream music. Music began to sound so artificial and distant from what pop music originally intended to be in the decades before. Horrible synth-pop bands dominated the charts. Metallica needed to make an album to counteract this trend which would have a large and positive impact on the world of music. And they did.

The Master Of Puppets album is seen as Metallica’s best in a long career with many ups and downs. It’s thrash metal, of course. But that is merely scratching the surface of what the album is about. It’s a great album, no doubt and set Metallica on an upward commercially trajectory at the time.

We enter the realm of this album with the fast and furious Battery. The musicality of this album is wonderful. We begin with flamenco style acoustic guitar parts before the song begins, and then we go into beserk mode with James Hetfield screaming “Battery!” It’s a great introduction to a great album.

The title track Master Of Puppets has a quirky musical intro before going into some Black Sabbath style riffs and James Hetfield singing about the blind nature of the use and abuse of drugs. It has some wicked vocals on it. No longer was James Hetfield struggling with his pitch and delivery, here he sounds on top of the singing game at last.

The Thing That Should Not Be is the weakest track on the album, but even so, it’s great to hear even today. It talks about monsters which are likely inspired by Cliff Burton’s interest in H.P. Lovecraft novels and the like. A good song with an interesting guitar solo too.

Welcome Home (Sanitarium) talks about injustice and human mistreatment in the mental health system. It’s a strong message and a slower, more thought out piece. Brilliant to hear regardless. It bursts into a great Kirk Hammett guitar solo towards the end.

The follow up predates Nirvana style stop/start parts. Disposable Heroes refers to the waste of human lives in war situations and provides a gentle reminder of the horrors of war. It’s an epic piece which is super intense, all the way to the end of the song.

Metallica then points out the hypocrisy of organised religion in Leper Messiah. It’s so direct about the issue that some people are likely to be offended by this piece. But then again the statement rings true: “Send me money, send me green. Make the contribution and you’ll get a better seat. Bow to Leper Messiah!” It’s another great piece.

Orion is a great instrumental, so much so that it makes one feel deeply moved emotionally. It is perhaps Cliff Burton’s shining moment here, as he (and the rest of the band, too) put in a fantastic effort here. Essential listening. This track was played at Cliff Burton’s funeral after his tragic death shortly after the release of this album.

Damage, Inc. is the final track and is the fastest track on the album. It never lets up in the five and a half minutes. Metallica, at least at this point, were hugely talented musicians and could make great music.

Historical observers would notice that this album is structured just like the classic Black Sabbath Paranoid album, but for thrash metal fans. Metallica may have made other albums that are different in style and approach since, but none were ever as good as this one. Shortly after the release of this album, bassist Cliff Burton was tragically killed in a road accident. Metallica would never be the same again afterwards. Despite that, this album is a thrash metal masterpiece.

9/10

Metallica – …And Justice For All (1988)

Metallica had been really torn apart after the death of their bassist Cliff Burton in a road accident. They felt as though they had lost the one that they had all looked up to. It was a sad moment in Metallica’s history. They were never the same again.

To replace him, they opted for Jason Newsted who was never as good as Cliff as a bassist but was okay for the time being. He lasted until 2001 in the band but was no Cliff on bass. The insecurity of things lead to the overall sound and mix is very much a scooped sound with no bass guitar on this recording.

But still, wow! What an album. The songs here are masterful and fantastic. They demand repeated listening as it is almost a concept album about the hypocrisy of law and government. But musically it’s the most intellectual and complex Thrash Metal that you will ever hear. It’s absolutely a great listen.

We begin with Blackened which refers to environmental disaster and end times on planet earth. It has a long intro, going into a multi-structured thrash metal song. It’s absolutely a great piece, and so much better than anything on Load or Reload later on in their career.

The title track …And Justice For All refers to a tainted and corrupt legal and government system. The songs on this album are really quite long, this being no different in that respect. It’s an epic listen but all the same doesn’t bore with the changes in tempos and arrangements.

Eye Of The Beholder follows and is a good piece about self-determination to eliminate evil things in society. It perhaps is a little weaker, but still doesn’t at all sound out of place on this awesome album.

One was the group’s first single ever. It marked the beginning of Metallica’s selling out phase, which the band likely regrets going through. It tells a war story and perhaps is pro-Euthanasia in its outlook. It features a mid-section which drastically changes things and is percussive. A great Metallica song.

The next song The Shortest Straw refers to political powers taking away people’s rights in society. “The shortest straw has been pulled for you!” screams James Hetfield. No longer does James Hetfield sound pitchy and struggling to hold notes as he did on Kill ‘Em All and Ride The Lightning. Instead, he has a menacing growl to boot.

The overlong Harvester Of Sorrow continues and does seem very repetitive. It could have been shortened a bit, but then again most of the songs on this album could also have been shortened. Still, it is worth listening to as well.

The Frayed Ends Of Sanity refers to sinking into madness. It’s a better song than the previous two and has a lyrical twist towards the end of it. It’s a good song that combines the headbanging of thrash metal with something far deeper. Good overall.

To Live Is To Die is an unofficial dedication to Cliff Burton who the band clearly missed. It is mainly instrumental, but all the same is so beautiful and well done that it never tires the listener through the whole almost 10 minutes listening. It’s a solid piece.

The fast and furious Dyer’s Eve follows with a menacing attack on parenting standards. It’s a bit different to the longer songs on the album, and it is brutal in its statement. It finishes the album nicely.

Why should you check out this album? It’s a step in the correct direction for thrash metal, with Metallica pushing the boundaries of what was ordinarily seen in the genre. It’s also almost progressive rock like in its orientation. It makes one think as well as wanting to party hard. Fans of Metallica will be delighted to hear the re-release of the album with loads of extra tracks and other outtakes available for listening.

A thrash metal masterpiece. Essential listening.

9/10

Metallica – Metallica (1991)

Metallica needed a fresh start. …And Justice For All was their biggest album to date. The only problem with it was that the songs were so complex that it was difficult for the group to play such songs live, given their length and structure. Metallica knew this after some time and went back to the drawing board for the next album.

To start again, they enlisted famous rock producer Bob Rock. He was successful in creating some of the most widely known rock music of the 1980s. They abandoned their thrash metal style in favour of a more stripped down and slower approach with this album. Known famously as “the Black album”, this album broke Metallica into the mainstream.

Unlike many of their later efforts after this album, this sure is a great listen. It just sounds heavy and metal and totally awesome. Let’s dive in and observe this awesome album, track by track.

The lead-off song is Enter Sandman. This is probably Metallica’s most catchy song of all time. The intro riff leads on into a built-up structure into a party Metal piece, although sounds a little cheesy itself. Still, it’s one of their best songs. Essential listening for someone who does not know Metallica.

The next song, Sad But True has an awesome drop tuned riff and covers one’s fears in life. It’s a great song and wasn’t even one of the more played Metallica songs. This was extensively sampled by Kid Rock for his own American Badass song.

Holier Than Thou is a semi-thrash song about the hypocrisy of religion. “Holier than thou, you are, no, NOT!” It’s a weaker song on the album, yet sounds fast and interesting enough to catch one’s attention.

The Unforgiven is Metallica’s first real ballad. With some heartfelt lyrics about how difficult it is through struggle, it has some nice fingerpicked acoustic guitar throughout. It spawned a huge amount of sequel tracks based on the original, some better than others.

Wherever I May Roam is next, with a sitar intro before bursting into an awesome metal song about the supernatural beings. Perhaps Metallica was thinking along the lines of the Master Of Puppets album with this idea, but it’s still totally sick.

The next song is the weakest on the album. Don’t Tread On Me features stop-start guitar riffs and drums but although it is not out of place, it is definitely a weak track. Trivia fans may note that the song title is linked to the album artwork.

After that Through The Never follows and although it could have also been done better, it has a great midsection riff that gets stuck into your head. The calm before the storm like impact of the good quality song after.

Nothing Else Matters is the famous love song that singer James Hetfield wrote about missing his girlfriend on tour. It’s a brilliant piece and sounds like he really was singing from a deeply loving place. “Never opened myself this way. Life is ours, we live it our way. All these words I don’t just say. And nothing else matters.” A true gem of a song, pop and fantastic.

The trashy Of Wolf And Man comes next about a being who can shapeshift. It’s okay, despite the fact it hasn’t aged well. Interesting subject matter though.

Christians beware, The God That Failed refers to the Christian Science beliefs than James Hetfield’s mother held which prevented her from life-saving surgery when she had cancer. It is an intense and understandable listen in this respect.

My Friend Of Misery is a rather depressing piece about said emotion. It should have been shortened, but the emotion of the whole thing is right there to feel for the listener.

The Struggle Within ends the album nicely. It’s a pseudo Thrash Metal piece that talks about internal struggle, of course. It’s a nice break in length from the previous overlong song, and by now you sense that this album is a classic.

This album is not just a classic album. It is the best introduction to heavy metal that you can get. With a large variety of awesome songs and a clear, crisp heavy metal sound, you can sense why this album is so good. Too bad Metallica never matched this afterwards as money and fame got in the way of the music. Still, this is fantastic to hear any day.

9/10