That Reign In Blood is one of the greatest metal albums of all time is beyond dispute. Forever the benchmark against which all ‘extreme’ music will be measured, Slayer’s savage, noxious and unflinchingly visceral album is a recording of such ferocity and focused physicality that it instantly put a full stop on the thrash metal scene when it was released in 1986. If you’re into the heavier end of metal, chances are you know the album inside out, every Tom Araya scream, every whinnying Kerry King solo, every Dave Lombardo snare beat. But if you listen to Jeff Hanneman’s demo recordings for the album, you’ll hear the core of Reign In Blood as you’ve never heard it before.
Recorded solo by Hanneman in 1986 with just a drum machine for company, the instrumental demos for Criminally Insane, Altar Of Sacrifice, Reborn, Jesus Saves and Raining Blood are at once instantly familiar and yet startlingly fresh. Reborn has an alternate intro and a 45 second coda which producer Rick Rubin would trim when the LA quartet settled into Hit City West studio in Los Angeles in the summer of 1986, Raining Blood is missing Kerry King’s harmony guitar riffs and that apocalyptic opening, Altar Of Sacrifice (which dates back to the sessions for 1985’s Hell Awaits album) sounds chunkier and dirtier when heard without Rubin’s bone-dry production. But all the raw ingredients are here.
“Jeff was the least musically educated and least musically trained in the band,” Dave Lombardo told Metal Hammer in 2018. “He was a novice when he joined Slayer, it was his first band. He didn't know much, but he slowly developed and played and taught himself. It was, like, ‘Wow, dude, you forged that path, you did it yourself’.”
“He was the one that would create the demos. He would write the parts, he'd program his drum machine: he was a multi-instrumentalist, he would have the parts in his mind already figured out, which was different than how Kerry would come to the table and present his songs. He would present us with cassettes, and it was it was awesome, because it gave us a clear picture of where he was going musically.”
“Towards the last years, probably the last six months he was touring with the band, I remember him reflecting,” Lombardo recalled. “There was a moment on the bus, where he would reflect and say, ‘Damn, man, Angel Of Death, that turned out great’ or Raining Blood. After a couple of drinks, he’d be, like, ‘I wrote that shit Dave. I wrote that shit.’ He was having this real proud moment, with these classic songs that he had written.”
For Slayer fans, and indeed anyone interested in the development of metal, Hanneman’s RIB demos offer a thrilling insight into the genesis of an inarguable masterpiece. But don’t just take our word for it…