Just prior to departing for the airport last Monday, I jogged over to Shakespeare & Co. on Broadway to grab something to read for my five days at DisneyWorld. I didn't have a huge amount of time to peruse, so I went right for the selection of Continuum's 33 1/3 series. I've spoken about this series before, but I completely love these books. Having already read their editions on My Bloody Valentine's Loveless, the Rolling Stones' Some Girls, Television's Marquee Moon, AC/DC's Highway to Hell, Led Zeppelin's IV and the Beastie Boys' Paul's Boutique (among a few others), I settled on D.X. Ferris' trek through Slayer's watershed thrash opus, Reign in Blood. It was arguably an incongruous choice of reading material to complement a trip to "the happiest place on earth," but I relish such dichotomy.
First published in 2008, Ferris' account of the birth of Slayer's stealthy, stentorian masterpiece goes into loving detail about the enigmatic working practices of then-fledgling producer Rick Rubin and percussive juggernaut Dave Lombardo, as well as some surprising insights about hirsute guitar abuser Kerry King (initially a subdued non-partier) and bassist/vocalist Tom Araya (a staunch Catholic, surprisingly). Founder Jeff Hanneman remains the most mysterious, given the bleach-blond guitarist's private nature. My favorite quote about Jeff comes from Kerry who, speaking about his bandmate's distinctive penchant for discordant guitar chuggage, says Jeff "plays notes that are just angry to be together." Indeed.
The book also delves into Slayer's rise from obscurity, their slavishly devout fanbase (the worryingly-nicknamed "Slaytanic Wehrmact"), their uneasy membership on the Def Jam roster (rubbing shoulders with the Beastie Boys and Public Enemy), the album's uncompromisingly grim album cover, the band's debt to hardcore punk and more. If you're even a passive fan of the album, Ferris' take is an illuminating read.
As I said back on this post, I was initially skeptical of Slayer (having already sworn my allegiance to Metallica, my local heroes in Anthrax and thrash metal's grandaddies in Motorhead and Venom), but my first hearing of Reign in Blood in 1986 (I believe it was "Altar of Sacrifice" which came screaming out of my friend Jeff's dormroom, specifically Araya's emphatic command to "PRAISE HAIL SATAAAAAAAAN) made me a true believer. Sadly, I've never seen them live, and I fear that the time to have done so has long-since-passed. I'm dead sure they're still a force to be reckoned with in that capacity, but I wish I'd caught them at this stage of their development (like, say, at this fabled show at the Ritz). Alas, `twas not to be. Nowadays, they're older, beefier and, in Kerry King's case, balder. King looks more like a professional wrestler these days. I'd rather remember them as they were below....