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33 1/3: Reign In Blood by D.X. Ferris

The pamphlet-sized 33 1/3 series of books is dedicated to providing exhaustive analyses for a bevy of top-hit contemporary music albums. D. X. Ferris’ account of Slayer’s groundbreaking major label debut, Reign in Blood, enjoys the distinction of being one of the only Metal works in a rock-n’-roll dominated catalogue (specifically, it’s the second–and, so far, last–hesher-approved installment after the one about Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality). Though this hegemony ends up relegating Slayer to be spoken of in the context of common rock, do not make the assumption that this book is just another cash-grabbing slapdash writeup, like an MTV special transcribed to printed form; Ferris’ Reign in Blood is a labor of love, painstakingly hewn together from dozens of personally-conducted interviews, two decades’ worth of media clips, and the general knowledge that comes from a lifetime’s immersion in Metal culture.

“…Reign in Blood, the best heavy metal album, by the best metal band,” declares Ferris in his self-introductory chapter, an “indulgence” that’s actually a well-placed beginning to the story behind one of Metal’s tersest masterpieces. Ferris is a bona fide Generation X’er and part of the old guard of the Slaytanic Wehrmacht: his anecdotes about the early rivalry between the punk and metal circles, the rise of skate-thrash, and the subsequent unitive force that bands like Slayer forged build a completely relevant setting for the rest of the book to follow. From there, the narration proceeds in episodic format, starting from each Slayer member’s earliest history to the band’s formative years with Metal Blade, and then to their fateful switchover to Rick Rubin’s Def Jam Records late in ’85, from whence Reign would be recorded.

Now, the book is padded with interesting factoids right from the very first page, but the the most extensive coverage is obviously given to Reign‘s recording process and the dynamic between all the personalities involved: the four Slayer boys, the young visionary producer Rick Rubin, and the seasoned-if-somewhat-squarish old technician Andy Wallace. Working his research and interview material to a tee, Ferris produces a narrative so lucid that readers can imagine themselves inside the studio, witnessing Hanneman and Rubin arguing over whether to add reverb to a riff; Araya testing out a scream that would become immortal in the beginning of “Angel of Death”; Wallace and Rubin tacking on thunderstorm sound samples in an attempt to stretch Reign‘s running time to as close to half-an-hour as possible. It’s the little details like these that compels one to grab the album from the shelf for the thousandth time to listen again with renewed appreciation.

I give this book a 4 out of 5 stars, and the reasoning is mostly tied up with the formatting of the 33 1/3 series as a whole: they’re all no-frills little packets of information that suffice as great reading material for a long plane trip or something, and then as a reference guide for sundry occasions afterward. Another minor inconsistency is the choice in outside commentary. Of course it was effective to consult the labels’ mastheads and some obvious contemporaries like Gene Hoglan and Katon W. De Pena, but why include people as tangentially related to Slayer as the drummer from Pelican? There’s also no escaping of the usual nu-metal clowns and washed-up grungers, but hessians are likely to appreciate some input by Glenn Danzig, Entombed’s L.G. Petrov, and At The Gates’ Anders Björler, among others. Also, the book ends on an anticlimactic note with one of the lamest movie analogies ever made, ever (it involves the first three Terminator movies and Jurassic Park. That is all that needs to be said).

Having been in circulation since 2008, this book is already old news. This review, however, presently graces The Pit for very relevant reasons: June 6–the International Day of Slayer–will be upon us in a matter of weeks! Why not gear up for a full day of Slayer worship with this neat piece of reading? Order it at Amazon, or check any major bookseller’s music section.

Excerpts of Interest:
Rubin would help make Reign a benchmark, but Slayer had trimmed all the fat by the time he showed up at the garage, eager to sign the band…Asked if Rubin made the songs shorter, Araya says, “No. No. No. No. No. No. Reign in Blood was something we had done. And Rubin wanted us on his label. And Rubin took our material, polished it up, and gave it a nice gold shine.”
When [Lombardo's] energy flagged, Rubin would pump him up with Gatorade and candy. Unlike many a session for metal one-third the speed, King and Rubin’s temperance set the tone for the sessions. Contrary to popular assumption, the studio was not a blizzard of cocaine or crank.
[Larry] Carroll’s snapshot from the abyss is one of the few extreme-music covers that wouldn’t look utterly ridiculous next to a William Blake watercolor.
Slayer’s guitarists used big words. Hanneman says he and King weren’t above cracking open a thesaurus. “Kerry and I–none of us in the band were really stupid people… Back then, me and Kerry would always look for a better word. It was the cool thing to do. We had words banned from our lyrics for a while. I took out fate, like ‘You can never use fate again.’ We thought it was cool.”
“The guitar solos are incredible mini-compositions within the larger framework, and showcase a very fluid notion of melody and harmony against the modal and/or pivot pitch support underneath…Rhythmically, it’s relentless. Melodically, it’s a study in severe refinement.”

-composer Killick Erik Hinds, in praise of Reign in Blood.

“We were sick of looking at albums like people thanking your mom, dad, brother, and my best friend Pete and my girlfriend…’We’ve already done that, let’s leave it all out.’ It was like, ‘F*** everybody.’”

-guitarist Jeff Hanneman, on why Reign in Blood has no shout-out section.

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One Response to “33 1/3: Reign In Blood by D.X. Ferris”

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Review Posse. Review Posse said: : 33 1/3: Reign In Blood by D.X. Ferris http://reviewposse.com/2010/05/33-13-reign-in-blood-by-d-x-ferris/ [...]

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