My friend and I had an argument. It started in the bedroom, as some arguments do. I was listening to my friend talk about a band called, simply, Death. He was telling me how very good and fine their execution was, in particular their guitar solos: "they come out of nowhere," he said. "And they're just like-" he handed the little smoking pipe to me and with his freed hands air-thrashed a violent air-riff, "and then they go right back into the song like nothing happened, like where did that come from?"
That, I said, after exhaling a balmy cloud of blue smoke, was exactly the reason I hate guitar solos. Nothing does happen. Is it time for a guitar solo yet? Yeah? Beedly-dee-beedly-dee do, big whoop. Who cares if the solo in this song is sick, or that one ill? Is it the fact that it feels like it comes out of nowhere (uninvited, if you ask me) what makes it so good? Should I like it because it doesn't cohere with the rest of the song? I'm confused; guitar solos confuse me. And (like I do whenever I'm faced with anything that I don't understand) when a musician launches into a solo I start fidgeting uncomfortably until it stops. What I end up hearing is the distorted electric guitar equivalent of the muffled nonsense schoolteachers sound like in Peanuts cartoons. It's all just boring noise - and this is from a guy who loves boring noise (I unironically adore KTL).
The exceptions, however, prove the rule. As a latchkey child who came home every afternoon at two-thirty to good 'ol aunty Netscape Navigator, I am petrified of discord. Respectful disagreement is a new concept to me, since the only conflict I'd ever witnessed had been BBS flame-wars fought with "fag"-calling and pictures of grotesquely manipulated human orifices. To ease the tension that only existed in my mind between my friend and me, I cited Iron Maiden's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" as a song whose major solo moves the arc of the song forward, this being a perfect compromise between our two viewpoints. With that, our argument was over, but it ended weakly: because of its very nature, anything good said about "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" is inherently true. It's your typical conversation-ending truism, like, "this butter is oily," or, "long cat is long."
So what does this have to do with Slayer, you ask? Well, they have guitar solos too, so I - uh, well - I don't get paid to write great segues, ok?
Blah, blah, blah, big four thrash metal bands: Slayer, Anthrax, Metallica, Megadeth. As far as guitar solos go, metal as a genre practically exists for them, particularly this early generation of thrash-metal bands. What these four bands have in common, and what makes them great, is (besides being seminal, at the beginning, if not the avant-garde of the genre) they dialed in all the elements of the style to a precise and unified point of view. Basically, they're memorable. In the particulars, they've branded themselves in the way that artists do: even if you're not their biggest fan, you can recognize a Slayer song. Say, for instance, maybe you fall into a hole, and when you climb out again it's 1987 and there's a boombox playing and you're totally like, "shit, is this Slayer?" And then you do the metal-horns thing with your fingers, headbang once or twice, and go about your business. Your business in this case would probably be figuring out how to get back to the future-present. Maybe you decide not to go back. Instead, you decide that the past, with its unlimited cocaine and acid-washed jeans, is a much better place to be than the future-present with its drug-awareness and its casual yet functional fashions. You figure you'll totally blow some minds with your uncanny prescience and ability to consistently pick winning Super-Bowl teams. And you're not all that concerned about the space-time paradoxes you're creating, since you're a freewheelin' kinda dude. At the very least, you figure, you'll have a chance to see The Grateful Dead with Jerry still alive, because that's the kind of thing that appeals to idiots like you. Now there's a band that makes no case for guitar solos.
Two things come to mind when talking about Slayer: first, how headbangingly awesome they are, and second, weirdly enough, how much they suck. We know which side the band stands on, at least. Listen to this guy, Tom Araya:
The hardcore kids are the ones that are - they're thrash, they like the fast stuff. And Reign In Blood was just like, they consider that like THE thrash album, the ultimate in thrash. How much further can you take that? If you took it any further, it'd be stupidly fast, and it wouldn't make any sense. We've set - I feel, well actually me and Jeff feel, and the rest of the band - we've set the standard for a thrash album. Ten songs, twenty-eight minutes long, an album in twenty-eight minutes. That's like the ultimate in thrash.
It's not quite "more popular than Jesus" on the rock-icon scale of arrogant soundbites, but it's pretty good. It's true that Reign in Blood is generally considered a cornerstone of the thrash metal genre, but come on. Araya continues, “we've set the standard. We don't want to out-do ourselves or really just go overboard. Because then you're crossing the line between metal, and thrash metal, and punk.” Sounds pretty, um, safe. But safe is cool, right? Like wearing seat belts, or condoms? Also, I'm pretty sure crossing over genre lines is a lot like crossing streams: decidedly gauche. Still, it's not the kind of forward-thinking attitude one might expect, but what you're getting with Slayer isn't the bleeding-edge of musical innovation -- it's dependability.
Despite Araya's confidence, music didn't just come to a full stop after Reign in Blood. Instead of a killing blow, this statement was, predictably, taken as a challenge by countless other bands that followed, who in their turn made music that was even faster, harder, and darker; and branching off into increasingly inspired subgenre niches like “powerviolence” and all the sundry -cores.
In the end, history will probably side with the face-melting camp, and ignore the “let's color inside the lines” attitude of the lead singer (who wasn't even a founding member anyways). Case in point: Reign in Blood begins with a nerve-tweaking banshee scream, it doesn't let up until "Jesus Saves," where it only gets harder and faster, and ends in the infamous "Raining Blood" which requires no description. If the album doesn't move you - either running screaming from the room, or straight into the pit (or hell, even an appreciative head-bop from you stoics), then you're probably dead.
If, like me, you're the type of snob who mostly accumulates a catalogue of time-weathered and critically-accepted figureheads across the musical spectrum instead of relying on your own taste and taking risks occasionally, then calm down and check out the real estate the big-four Thrash Metal bands lord over on the Map of Metal: http://www.mapofmetal.com. Still not convinced? Go get a 40oz of King Cobra, smoke a joint to the face and put on Reign in Blood loud enough to startle your elderly landlady. When she comes upstairs to complain about the noise you should totally hotbox her. Stoned granny? Hilarity itself!
Anyways, my friend is complaining that I suddenly stopped talking to him, so I should probably conclude this and get back to listening to his bullshit about how Megadeth is still better than the rest, but not before an obligatory and emphatic, "SLAAAYERRR!"
Nathaniel Hoyt is an inconceivably complex system of sentient organic materials dedicated to eating poorly and playing video games frequently. He has a Tumblr account that he doesn't quite know how to use, which you can view at dedolence.tumblr.com, although admittedly there's probably better ways to waste company time. As a do-er of many things, feel free to seek Nathaniel out if you have any things that need doing, like bicycle fixing, coffee making, artwork drawing, or opinion giving. END COMMUNICATION.