Angel of Death (song)
|"Angel of Death"|
1992 bootleg release
|Song by Slayer from the album Reign in Blood|
|Released||October 7, 1986|
|Recorded||1986, Los Angeles, California|
"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 Slayer guitarist, Jeff Hanneman and are based on Nazi physician Josef Mengele, who conducted human experiments at the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II. "Angel of Death" led to the band facing accusations of Nazi sympathizing and racism throughout their career.
Despite the controversy surrounding the song and its contribution to the delay in the release of Reign in Blood, "Angel of Death" is featured on all of Slayer's live albums and DVDs and has appeared in several movies. The song was well received by critics; Steve Huey of Allmusic described it as a "classic."
Composition and origins 
Slayer guitarist Jeff Hanneman wrote "Angel of Death" after reading books about Nazi physician Josef Mengele while on tour with the band: "I remember 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 head—that's where the lyrics to 'Angel of Death' came from."
The lyrics detail Mengele's surgical experiments on patients at the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II. Mengele's explorations were conducted on such groups as dwarfs and twins, and included both physical and psychological examinations. 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.
"Sewn together, joining heads. Just a matter of time 'til you rip yourselves apart", a line from the penultimate verse, is a reference to the allegation Mengele stitched together twins, one of them deformed; "the hunchback was sewn to the other child, back to back, their wrists back to back too." This claim was first made by Auschwitz survivor Vera Alexander at the 1961 trial of SS-Hauptscharfuehrer Adolf Eichmann the "architect of the Holocaust", where it was asserted that Mengele "sewed the veins together" and turned "them into Siamese twins." This allegation became more widely known when Vera Alexander was featured in the 1985 documentary The Search for Mengele, which has been cited by several authors including Gerald Posner, an expert on Mengele.
Towards the end of the song, there is a line "Feeding off the screams of the mutants he's creating", which was taken from the film The Boys from Brazil in which Dr. Mengele was the villain.
The lyrical content of "Angel of Death" contributed to the delay of the release of Slayer's 1986 album Reign in Blood. The band were signed to Def Jam Records whose distributor, Columbia Records, refused to release the album due to lyrical themes and artwork concerns, deeming the artwork "too graphic". 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.
"Angel of Death" caused outrage among survivors of the Holocaust, as well as their families and the general public. The controversy led to accusations of Nazi sympathizing which have followed Slayer throughout their career. People took Hanneman's interest in Nazi history and his collection of Nazi medals as evidence of sympathizing – his most prized item being a German Knight's Cross. Hanneman counteracted asserting:
"I know why people misinterpret it – it's because they get this knee–jerk 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."
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."
The song drew accusations of racism, although the band denied these claims. In addition, the band's producer and close friend Rick Rubin has Jewish ancestry, their vocalist/bassist Tom Araya is Chilean, their drummer Dave Lombardo is Cuban, and King had a guest appearance on the Jewish hip hop group Beastie Boys' song "No Sleep till Brooklyn". 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.
In 2006, the song "Jihad" from Slayer's 2006 album Christ Illusion drew comparison to "Angel of Death". "Jihad" deals with the September 11, 2001 attacks, and tells the story from a terrorist's perspective. Vocalist Araya was expecting the subject matter to create a similar backlash to that of "Angel of Death", although it did not materialise, in part, he believes, due to peoples' view that the song is "just Slayer being Slayer".
Music and structure 
"Angel of Death" is the longest track on the album Reign in Blood, spanning 4 minutes and 51 seconds, where the total duration of the album is 29 minutes. Additionally, it has one of the most conventional song structures on the album, featuring prominent verses and choruses, where most tracks on the album eschew them. Hanneman and King deliver their 'intricate riffs', which offer the few hints of melody on the album according to Pop Matters reviewer Adrien Begrand, and Araya bursts out his piercing scream, with Lombardo performing beats of 210 beats per minute.
When drummer Lombardo left the band in 1992, due to conflicts with band members and his desire to bring his wife on tour, the band chose T.J Scaglione (from Whiplash) briefly, before giving the task to Forbidden drummer Paul Bostaph as his replacement. Bostaph made one mistake out of the nine songs the band trialled him with, on "Angel of Death". 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. 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.
Although "Angel of Death" did not enter any charts, it received strong praise from critics in reviews for Reign in Blood. Clay Jarvas of Stylus Magazine noted that 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."
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, where guitarists Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman deliver their intricate riffs, drummer Dave Lombardo performs some of the most powerful drumming ever recorded, and bassist/vocalist Tom Araya screams and snarls his tale of Nazi war criminal Josef Mengele."
In the documentary Get Thrashed, the song is referred to many times as the best song ever written.
"Angel of Death" is ranked number five on Digital Dream Door's "100 Greatest Metal Songs".
Capitalizing on the publicity generated by the controversy, the band utilized Nazi imagery by adapting a logo to one similar to the eagle atop swastika, during the Seasons in the Abyss period. Hanneman placed SS stickers on his guitar, and wrote "SS-3" a song about Reinhard Heydrich, the second in command in the Schutzstaffel organization.
"Angel of Death" has appeared in several movies, including Gremlins 2; in a scene when the gremlin Mohawk is turning into a spider. It appears in Jackass: The Movie during a car stunt, and features in the 2005 Iraq War documentary Soundtrack to War, which details the role of music on the contemporary battlefield. The half-time riff was sampled by Public Enemy in their 1988 song "She Watch Channel Zero?!", sampled by KMFDM on their 1990 single "Godlike", and featured in the multi-platform video game Tony Hawk's Project 8. Nolan Nelson, who selected the soundtrack for the game asserts the song is "one of the greatest heavy metal songs ever recorded. Don't know who Slayer is? I feel sorry for you."
A Slayer tribute band called Dead Skin Mask released an album with eight Slayer tracks, "Angel of Death" being one of them. The death metal bands Debauchery and Monstrosity covered the song, and the track was featured on "cello metal" band Apocalyptica's 2006 album Amplified // A Decade of Reinventing the Cello. Sgt. Discharge, a thrash metal band with members from Morbid Saint, has also covered this song. Al Sur del Abismo (Tributo Argentino a Slayer), a Slayer tribute album compiled by Hurling Metal Records, featured sixteen tracks covered by Argentina metal bands, Asinesia covered "Angel of Death". The song was once again covered by deathcore band Carnifex and appears on their third album Hell Chose Me as a bonus track included on the vinyl and iTunes editions.
The song recently appears in the British teen drama television series Skins.
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