Angel of Death (Slayer song)

Last updated
"Angel of Death"
Song by Slayer
from the album Reign in Blood
ReleasedOctober 7, 1986 (1986-10-07)
RecordedLos Angeles, California, 1986
Genre Thrash metal
Length4:51
Label Def Jam
Songwriter(s) Jeff Hanneman
Producer(s) Rick Rubin
Audio sample

"Angel of Death" is the opening track on the American thrash metal band Slayer's 1986 album Reign in Blood . The lyrics and music were written by guitarist Jeff Hanneman. They detail the Nazi physician Josef Mengele's human experiments at the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II.

Thrash metal is an extreme subgenre of heavy metal music characterized by its overall aggression and often fast tempo. The songs usually use fast percussive beats and low-register guitar riffs, overlaid with shredding-style lead guitar work. The lyrical subject matter often deals with criticisms of The Establishment, and at times shares a disdain for Christian dogma resembling that of their black metal counterparts. The language is typically quite direct and denunciatory, an approach borrowed from hardcore punk.

Slayer American thrash metal band

Slayer is an American thrash metal band from Huntington Park, California. The band was formed in 1981 by guitarists Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman and vocalist and bassist Tom Araya. Slayer's fast and aggressive musical style made them one of the founding "big four" bands of thrash metal, alongside Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax. Slayer's current lineup comprises King, Araya, drummer Paul Bostaph and guitarist Gary Holt. Hanneman and drummers Dave Lombardo and Jon Dette are former members of the band.

<i>Reign in Blood</i> 1986 studio album by Slayer

Reign in Blood is the third studio album by American thrash metal band Slayer, released on October 7, 1986 by Def Jam Recordings. The album was the band's first collaboration with producer Rick Rubin, whose input helped the band's sound evolve. The release date of the album was delayed because of concerns regarding the lyrical subject matter of the opening track "Angel of Death", which refers to Josef Mengele and describes acts such as human experimentation that he committed at the Auschwitz concentration camp. However, the band's members stated numerous times that they did not condone Nazism and were merely interested in the subject.

Contents

Although the lyrics describe Mengele's abuses rather than endorsing them, "Angel of Death" led to accusations of Nazi sympathizing and racism against the band, which they vigorously denied but which followed them throughout their early career. Despite the controversy and the resulting delay in the release of Reign in Blood, the song remains a live favorite, and has appeared on all of Slayer's live albums.

Racism race or ethnic-based discrimination

Racism is the belief in the superiority of one race over another. It may also mean prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against other people because they are of a different race or ethnicity. Modern variants of racism are often based in social perceptions of biological differences between peoples. These views can take the form of social actions, practices or beliefs, or political systems in which different races are ranked as inherently superior or inferior to each other, based on presumed shared inheritable traits, abilities, or qualities.

The song has been described as highly influential in the development of thrash metal or speed metal, and is highly regarded by some critics; AllMusic's Steve Huey called it a classic and the album "the pinnacle of speed metal". [1] The half-time riff was sampled by Public Enemy in their 1988 song "She Watch Channel Zero?!." [2]

Speed metal is an extreme subgenre of heavy metal music that originated in the late 1970s from new wave of British heavy metal (NWOBHM) roots. It is described by AllMusic as "extremely fast, abrasive, and technically demanding" music.

AllMusic Online music database

AllMusic is an online music database. It catalogs more than 3 million album entries and 30 million tracks, as well as information on musical artists and bands. It launched in 1991, predating the World Wide Web. As of 2015, AllMusic is owned by RhythmOne.

Public Enemy (band) American hip hop group

Public Enemy is an American hip hop group consisting of Chuck D, Keith Shocklee, Flavor Flav, Professor Griff, and DJ Lord. Formed in Long Island, New York, in 1986, they are known for their politically charged music and criticism of the American media, with an active interest in the frustrations and concerns of the African American community.

Composition and origins

Josef Mengele inspired the song. WP Josef Mengele 1956.jpg
Josef Mengele inspired the song.

Slayer guitarist Jeff Hanneman wrote "Angel of Death" after reading books about Nazi physician Josef Mengele while on tour with the band. [2] He said that he remembered "stopping someplace where I bought two books on Mengele. I thought, 'This has gotta be some sick shit.' So when it came time to do the record, that stuff was still in my headthat's where the lyrics to 'Angel of Death' came from." [2]

Jeff Hanneman American guitarist

Jeffrey John Hanneman was an American musician, best known as a founding member of the American thrash metal band Slayer. Hanneman contributed both lyrical and musical material to every Slayer album up until his death in 2013 and wrote the songs "Raining Blood", "War Ensemble," "South of Heaven," "Seasons in the Abyss," and "Angel of Death," all of which have been played at almost every live Slayer performance after their respective compositions. He had his own signature guitar, the ESP Jeff Hanneman Signature model.

Josef Mengele Nazi SS doctor who experimented on prisoners at Auschwitz

Josef Mengele, also known as the Angel of Death and the White Angel, was a German Schutzstaffel (SS) officer and physician in Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II. He performed deadly human experiments on prisoners and was a member of the team of doctors who selected victims to be killed in the gas chambers. Arrivals that were judged able to work were admitted into the camp, while those deemed unsuitable for labor were sent to the gas chambers to be killed. With Red Army troops sweeping through Poland, Mengele was transferred 280 kilometers (170 mi) from Auschwitz to the Gross-Rosen concentration camp on 17 January 1945, just ten days before the arrival of the Soviet forces at Auschwitz. After the war, he fled to South America where he evaded capture for the rest of his life.

The lyrics are written both from Mengele's point of view and from that of a detached observer condemning his actions. [3] They detail Mengele's surgical experiments on patients at the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II. [4] [5] Mengele's explorations were conducted on such groups as dwarfs and twins, and included both physical and psychological examinations. [6] [7] Among the tests he performed that are mentioned in "Angel of Death" are experimental surgeries performed without anesthesia, transfusion of blood between twins, isolation endurance, gassing, injections with lethal germs, sex change operations, the removal of organs and limbs, and abacination. [8]

Dwarfism a condition affecting a person or animal short in stature, caused by slow or delayed growth

Dwarfism, also known as short stature, occurs when an organism is extremely small. In humans, it is sometimes defined as an adult height of less than 147 centimetres, regardless of sex, although some individuals with dwarfism are slightly taller. Disproportionate dwarfism is characterized by either short limbs or a short torso. In cases of proportionate dwarfism, both the limbs and torso are unusually small. Intelligence is usually normal, and most have a nearly normal life expectancy.

Anesthesia State of medically controlled temporary loss of sensation or awareness

Anesthesia or anaesthesia is a state of controlled, temporary loss of sensation or awareness that is induced for medical purposes. It may include analgesia, paralysis, amnesia, or unconsciousness. A patient under the effects of anesthetic drugs is referred to as being anesthetized.

Solitary confinement is a form of imprisonment distinguished by living in single cells with little or no meaningful contact to other inmates, strict measures to control contraband, and the use of additional security measures and equipment. It is specifically designed for disruptive inmates that are security risks to other inmates, the prison staff, or the prison itself. It is mostly employed for violations of discipline, such as murder, hostage-taking, deadly assault, and rioting. However, it is also used as a measure of protection for inmates whose safety is threatened by other inmates.

Controversy

Graphic used by the band in the 1990s Slayer eagle.png
Graphic used by the band in the 1990s

The lyrics of "Angel of Death" delayed the release of Reign in Blood . The band were signed to Def Jam Records, whose distributor, Columbia Records, refused to release the album due to its subject matter and artwork, which they believed were "too graphic". [2] Reign in Blood was eventually distributed by Geffen Records on October 7, 1986. However, due to the controversy, Reign in Blood did not appear on Geffen Records' official release schedule. [2]

Columbia Records American record label; currently owned by Sony Music Entertainment

Columbia Records is an American record label owned by Sony Music Entertainment, a subsidiary of Sony Corporation of America, the North American division of Japanese conglomerate Sony. It was founded in 1887, evolving from the American Graphophone Company, the successor to the Volta Graphophone Company. Columbia is the oldest surviving brand name in the recorded sound business, and the second major company to produce records. From 1961 to 1990, Columbia recordings were released outside North America under the name CBS Records to avoid confusion with EMI's Columbia Graphophone Company. Columbia is one of Sony Music's four flagship record labels, alongside former longtime rival RCA Records, as well as Arista Records and Epic Records.

Geffen Records is an American record label, established by David Geffen and owned by Universal Music Group through its Interscope Geffen A&M Records imprint.

"Angel of Death" caused outrage among Holocaust survivors, as well as their families and the general public. The controversy led to accusations of Nazi sympathizing which have followed Slayer throughout their career. [2] People took Hanneman's interest in Nazi history and his collection of Nazi medals, his most prized item being a German Knight's Cross, [10] as evidence of sympathizing. [2] Hanneman objected, stating:

I know why people misinterpret it it's because they get this kneejerk reaction to it. When they read the lyrics, there's nothing I put in the lyrics that says necessarily he was a bad man, because to me well, isn't that obvious? I shouldn't have to tell you that. [11]

According to guitarist Kerry King: "Yeah, 'Slayer are Nazis, fascists, Communists'—all that fun shit. And of course we got the most flak for it in Germany. I was always like, 'Read the lyrics and tell me what's offensive about it. Can you see it as a documentary, or do you think Slayer's preaching fucking World War II?' People get this thought in their heads—especially in Europe—and you'll never talk them out of it." [2]

The song drew accusations of racism, which the band has denied. [2] The band members are often asked about the accusations in interviews, and have stated numerous times that they do not condone racism and are merely interested in the subject. [12] Hanneman also wrote "SS-3", a song about senior SS commander Reinhard Heydrich, which appeared on the band's 1994 album Divine Intervention . The song "Jihad" from their 2006 album Christ Illusion has drawn comparison to "Angel of Death". [13] "Jihad" deals with the September 11, 2001, attacks, and is told from a terrorist's perspective. Araya expected the subject matter to create a similar backlash to that of "Angel of Death", although it did not materialise, [14] in part, he believes, due to people's view that the song is "just Slayer being Slayer". [15]

Music and structure

At 4 minutes and 51 seconds, "Angel of Death" is the longest track on the album, which is 29 minutes in total. [2] It is one of the most structurally conventional songs on the album, featuring prominent verses and choruses, which most of the songs eschew. Araya's vocal performance begins with a piercing, wordless scream. "[G]uitarists Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman deliver their intricate riffs [and] drummer Dave Lombardo performs some of the most powerful drumming ever recorded" at 210 beats per minute. [16] [17]

When drummer Lombardo left Slayer in 1992, they recruited a full-time replacement in Forbidden drummer Paul Bostaph. [18] Bostaph made one mistake out of the nine songs the band trialled him with, on "Angel of Death". [18] Before the "big double bass part" there is a lead section, which Bostaph could not understand, as he had to learn from live records recorded with Lombardo. [18] Bostaph could not tell how many revolutions the guitar riff goes before the bass sequence. The band members told him there were eight, "perfecting" the song afterwards. [18]

Reception

Although "Angel of Death" did not chart, it was highly praised by critics reviewing Reign in Blood. Clay Jarvas of Stylus Magazine observed how the song "smokes the asses of any band playing fast and/or heavy today. Lyrically outlining the horrors to come, while musically laying the groundwork for the rest of the record: fast, lean and filthy." [19] Adrien Begrand of PopMatters remarked that "There's no better song to kick things off than the masterful 'Angel of Death', one of the most monumental songs in metal history." [16]

Personnel

Production

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