Sunday, May 6, 2012

Song of the Day: Slayer, "Angel of Death"

The news that Jeff Hanneman had caught a flesh-eating disease from a spider bite has elicited far more media awe than sympathy. It didn't help than Hanneman seemed to be recovering, or that he told a magazine "It turned out OK. Satan had my back," but over all he seemed too invincible for the disease to be a threat.

However, with a band statement making the case out to be worse than we originally thought, an appropriate amount of public concern is finally rising. Jeff Hanneman, his family and the most dangerous band in the world all have my best thoughts this week, plus the Song of the Day for Satanic Sunday.

Hanneman is probably the least-recognized member of Slayer. Dave Lombardo is the god, Kerry King is the spokesman and Tom Araya is the face, while Hanneman comes across as the least likely interview. But he also wrote Slayer's best song.

There has never been a greater intro in metal history. The opening riff, the invading drum patterns, the fretboard slide and then Araya's banshee howl redefined thrash metal in 30 seconds. With "Angel of Death" and the rest of Reign in Blood, Slayer packed the complexity of bands like Metallica into hardcore-based compositions, resulting in a new standard for loud and fast.

"Angel of Death" is auditory war zone, making it easy to lose track of how much goes into it. In 1986, Dave Lombardo was already using blasts to push the beat, something that's now a given in good metal. The progression starting at 1:39 has been sampled by everyone from Public Enemy to KMFDM. For some artists, it's the basis for an entire song, but for Jeff Hanneman and Slayer it's just a movement.

The lyrics sound improvised, although Columbia Records took them seriously enough to halt Reign in Blood's release. It took Def Jam, a hip-hop label, to give Reign in Blood a home, and its founder to produce the record. Rick Rubin has since found more acclaim, but none of his projects have produced a better song than this one.

Here's Slayer, demolishing every other artist at the inaugural Ozzfest with "Angel of Death."

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