Song: "Raining Blood"
Album: Reign In Blood
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One of the most frustrating, yet consistent trends within the heavier, louder styles of music is that as bands age, their music almost always loses its edge and becomes softer and more mellow. Additionally, many of these same bands find their themes moving from those of more aggressive and frustrated ideas to more sentimental songs, with some bands even going as far as writing love songs. While many of the bands in question attempt to justify these changes as the band "growing" or "exploring new musical ideas," the fact of the matter is, very few bands can perform with such aggression over a long period of time. Thankfully, there are bands like Slayer that stand as a reminder that not only is it possible to stay true to such a sound, but if a band does, they can get better and more focused as the years pass. Without question, Slayer stands as one of, if not the most important thrash-metal band in history, and they also stand as the pinnacle of a band that refuses to compromise any aspect of their music. Boasting a number of truly phenomenal records, it is their 1986 release, Reign In Blood, that stands as nothing short of an absolute classic. Packed from beginning to end with the ripping guitars and stunning vocals that have defined the band for nearly thirty years, there is perhaps no better definition of the band and their sound than one finds on their monumental 1986 song, "Raining Blood."
Much like a majority of their songs, "Raining Blood" wastes absolutely no time setting the mood, as there is really no introduction to the song, as it begins with an aggressive, distorted guitar piece, and within moments, drummer Dave Lombardo kicks in at top speed. It is this aspect, combined with the guitars of Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King, that defines both the song and the band, and the aggression found therein is truly unlike anything else ever recorded. Within seconds, "Raining Blood" whips into an unprecedented frenzy, with the band walking the line between music and chaos in absolutely perfect fashion. The final musical element of bassist Tom Araya pushes the song into a musical space that can only be defined by the song itself. It is due to this unequaled sound that one can easily place Slayer at the top of the list of thrash metal bands, and one cannot deny the fact that the large shift in sound from their earlier efforts was likely due to the presence of producer Rick Rubin. Throughout all of Reign In Blood, but most clearly on this song, Rubin's deep understanding of the sound the band was trying to achieve becomes clear, and after this album, Slayer would almost exclusively work with Rubin as their producer. It is perhaps due to this long-standing relationship that Slayer has been able to retain their vicious, decimating sound, and there are few songs that better represent their sonic assault better than "Raining Blood."
While the music certainly knows no match, one can also make the case that Tom Araya is the greatest metal vocalist in history. Rarely presenting anything close to what one would consider "singing," Araya's aggressive, straightforward vocals are arely anything short of perfect. Furthermore, one can look to Araya's work as the definition of the "heavy metal scream," as countless artists since have copied his high-pitched wail, yet none have come close to matching it in terms of either tone nor emotion. On "Raining Blood," Araya is in perfect form, as he almost raps the lyrics over the break-neck pace of the music. The intensity in his voice is truly unparalleled elsewhere in music, and the lyrics which he sings are about as perfect as one could imagine for the type of music which Slayer plays. Written by Hanneman and King, "Raining Blood" speaks of a person who has been kicked out of heaven, and whilst in Purgatory, he plots for revenge. As the song progresses, the character's power builds, and this can be heard when Araya states, "...return to power draws near..." The band leaves nothing to question, when a bit later, Araya delivers the line, "... abolish the rules made of stone..." Eventually, the character succeeds in his overthrow, and the final line of, "... now I shall reign in blood!" serves as one of the most evil, yet not cliché moments in music history. The way in which Araya delivers every line helps the song to stay more on the side of dark and brutal, and there are simply no songs since that can match its intensity and impact.
Truth be told, along with the lead track on Reign In Blood, it was this song that vaulted Slayer into the most elite groups in the entire history of heavy metal. The way in which the mood on "Raining Blood" is punctuated by the interludes of a thunderstorm manages to work perfectly, and it adds to the overall intensity of the song. One cannot overstate the importance or lasting impact of "Raining Blood," as over the decades it has been covered a number of times, as well as making appearances in television, movies, and video games. Perhaps the most unique re-appearance of "Raining Blood" appeared on piano-songstress Tori Amos' 2001 release, Strange Little Girls, and it is instances such as this that prove the long lasting and wide ranging impact of the song. Yet one can also make the case that "Raining Blood" is a bit off from Slayer's usual musical approach. Within the song, one can find a bit of a slower pace to the music, and there is also a bit more of a sense of melody on "Raining Blood." However, while this cannot be denied, the overall intensity and aggression that defines Slayer as a band is in top form, and this is largely why the song stands out among the bands' finest moments. Setting the standard for what could be achieved within the genre of thrash-metal, there is simply no other song in music history that carries a similar punch and aggression than one finds in Slayer's 1986 masterpiece, "Raining Blood."