Rick Rubin: My Life in 21 Songs

From LL Cool J to Kanye West, Slayer to Tom Petty, Johnny Cash to Dixie Chicks, producer reflects on more than three decades of challenging music's status quo

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Slayer, "Angel of Death" (1986)

That was the first record I ever made in California. We recorded it at this little studio. It's no longer there; it's now a flower shop on Vine in Los Angeles.

The technical things about recording that song stand out to me now. They played so fast. If you listen to any of the really fast recordings before Slayer, they sounded like rock records. There are certain things you do to make a rock record. But because Slayer played so fast, those things that you would normally do didn't work so well. If you listened to any other speed-metal, thrash-metal music that was being made at that time — and there wasn't so much of it — it's not clear. The reason is, technologically, people were recording it more like it was traditional rock music, which it really wasn't. It was this new form. People didn't look at it as its own thing that had to be handled differently. So that was my mission: How do you get across the clarity and articulation and speed and energy?

Dave Lombardo is this incredible, unbelievably great drummer. One thing that we did was make the drums louder. The nature of distorted electric guitars is that they sound loud regardless of how loud they are. Whereas drums, because it's a natural instrument, depending on how loud they are in the mix really changes that feeling of how hard they're being hit. If you're in a room with the drums and somebody's hitting them hard, they're much louder. So, psychologically, by making the drums louder, it made everything seem louder.

I also did away with reverb. With their super-fast articulation in a big room, the whole thing just turns into a blur. So you don't get that crystal clarity. So much of what Slayer was about was this precision machinery.

This was clearly a controversial song. Slayer were kind of the first death-metal or thrash band. I don't know what the right title is. Metallica and they were going on at the same time, but Metallica were so different lyrically than them. Slayer were more blood and guts and Satan. Anyway, this was a song where the record company refused to put out the record. So we had to find a new distributor. It was the first record I did with Geffen Records instead of Columbia Records.

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