“Epidemic,” for example, has an addictive syncopated gallop riff that’s worth tuning down to Eb so you can play along. “Postmortem” is punchy and powerful, and perfectly leads into “Raining Blood” (the two will be forever linked in the fans’ minds, due to a mastering error that put the first verse of “Raining Blood” at the end of “Postmortem”).
But much of it is an unfocused riff salad, full of tracks that don’t come off as songs but 2-3 minute explosions of energy. “Epidemic” is riff, verse, riff, verse, verse, break, riff, verse, fin! “Criminally Insane” is another half a song that speeds up and slows down in a spontaneous, unplanned way – there’s not really a musical thru-line of tension and release. It’s like it was written by a Turing-incompatible computer.
“Necrophobic” is super fast, but sounds more like four guys trying to set a land speed record than music.
The album’s greatest moment is “Angel of Death”, which has great riffs, a crushing middle break, and lyrics about Nazis. I refuse to believe this was not a marketing strategy. When you’re a female pop duo (think tATu or The Veronicas), you’ve got to have people thinking you’re lipstick lesbians. When you’re a metal band, you’ve got to have people thinking you’re Nazis or Satanists. It worked for KISS and Black Sabbath, so why not Slayer?
The album’s so heavy, fast, and evil that it’s almost overpowering…but I wish it was more consistent. Great riffs share flat space with dull “speed-pick one note until you die of boredom” time fillers. Heavy metal classics rub shoulders with tracks that don’t even sound finished. It’s very uneven moment to moment and minute to minute. Even the vaunted lyrics frequently dissolve turn into shouted tirades about Satan and slashings.
I like Dave Lombardo’s drumming. This is basically the benchmark for metal drumming in 1986. Nobody else was playing this fast or this technically – except perhaps for Dark Angel’s Gene Hoglan. The production is also quite good – sharp and clinical, with clear and crisp allocation of sonic space between the kicks, the rhythm guitars, the what-have-you. The whole affair clocks in at under 30 minutes – say what you will about it, but it does not overstay its welcome.