1986 was an amazing year for metal, and with the speed metal/thrash scene peaking, three masterpieces of the genre came out that are all currently celebrating their 25th anniversaries.
Metallica released what many consider to be their finest album with Master of Puppets, Megadeth released their best album, Peace Sells, and Slayer released their greatest album, and the peak of thrash, Reign in Blood.
Where Metallica left L.A. because they didn’t fit in with the make-up and hairspray of the time, Slayer liked being outcasts in a hair band world, and they were steadily building and building their following until it exploded with the Reign album.
Like former Megadeth guitarist Chris Poland said about Master of Puppets, Metallica became Metallica with that album, and Reign was absolutely Slayer at the peak of their power. (To help celebrate the Big Four shows this year, and the album’s anniversary, ESP guitars even made a special limited edition strat with the Reign In Blood cover art on it).
No one in the band realized at the time they had reached such a pinnacle. As Kerry King told Guitar World, the band was “just a bunch of angry punks making a record we thought was cool. We thought we made up a real good record, and that we’d outdone our last one. That’s all it was about back then.”
In GW, Kirk Hammett recalled meeting Rick Rubin back in ’86, and Rubin, who signed Slayer to his Def American label, showed up backstage at a Metallica gig with the master tape of Reign in Blood. “We were thinking, oh wow, he has the new Slayer album,” Hammett said. “We gotta hear it. And I remember once we heard it, we were just like, holy crap, that’s the best thing we’ve ever heard.”
As a long time Slayer fan, I can still recall the night I bought the Reign in Blood album, and the first time listening to it from beginning to end. Like metalheads everywhere, I was completely blown away, but I also felt sad because even then you had a feeling that was as good as it was gonna get for Slayer, and the thrash genre.
Metal’s gotten much more extreme since ’86, often to the point of ridiculousness, but the power of Reign in its day, like Mmaster of Puppets and Peace Sells, was really something else if you were lucky enough to be there when the albums were new, and were changing metal as we knew it.