Words on Songs: Slayer, “Reborn.”

Death means nothing, there’s no end, I will be reborn!”

1986 is arguably the seminal year in the history of thrash metal. It is the year that gave us Metallica’s Master of Puppets, Megadeth’s Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying?, Nuclear Assault’s Game Over and Kreator’s Pleasure to Kill. The year would also give us the world’s preeminent thrash release, Slayer’s Reign In Blood, 29 minutes of a brutally blistering 10 song assault that is still unsurpassed almost 30 years later.

Released in the aftermath of tragedies like the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, Chernobyl and the debut of the Oprah Winfrey Show, the arrival of Reign In Blood saw Slayer staking their claim as the most extreme band of the most extreme genre of metal that existed at the time.

There is absolutely no filler on Reign In Blood. Every second of the album is filled with power, sound and fury. While songs like “Angel of Death,” “Altar of Sacrifice,” and “Raining Blood” have all gone on to enjoy anthemic status, “Reborn” is often overlooked, considering that it appears on an album that many metalheads consider the Holy Grail of thrash.

Presented from a woman’s perspective, “Reborn” is about a witch who has been sentenced to death by burning at the stake. Composer Killick Erik Hinds (who recorded instrumental covers of each song on Reign In Blood) is on record saying of “Reborn,” “There’s an uncommon-for-Slayer vulnerability in the lyrics, due to the presumably female witch as narrator.” I respectfully disagree with Mr. Hinds. I view “Reborn” as a two minute tale of revenge, laid out in the most brutal scenarios, that sees a woman exercising her power and domination over her male tormentors. The lyrics may portray a sense of delayed gratification on behalf of the witch, but she is anything but vulnerable.

The song kicks off with thunderous riffing by guitarists Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King, with Dave Lombardo (drums) and Tom Araya (bass, vocals) providing a throbbing and pounding backdrop, before the lyrics kick in and we hear the first words from the narrator:

Convicted witch, my life will end

At midnight on the stake

My dedicated life was spent

To insubordinate

Secured by lock inside a cell

Imprisoned for no crime

These shackles will be useless

When your life is out of time

The witch has presented us with her grim circumstance: unjustly imprisoned, sentenced to death and locked in shackles, yet already hinting at the vengeance that awaits her. The second verse informs us of why the witch is so confident that she can turn the tides against her captors:

Incantation spell gone by

I’ll see life again

My deals will made eternally

I signed the book of red

My rage will be unleashed again

Burning the next morn

Death means nothing, there’s no end

I will be reborn

Like many of the songs in the Slayer catalogue, “Reborn” has the dark arts at the center of its subject matter. Our witch has signed a pact with the devil or some similarly demonic force, and in return, she is given the powers to seek her retribution, for not even the confines of death can hold her back from returning the pain that has been inflicted on her by her enemies.

The third and fourth verses are filled with warnings, “Proclaim my death, to end my wrath, it takes more than one try.” “There’ll be nowhere for you to run when hatred comes to life,” “Condemned to fill the prophecy, allowing no first born. Defy your morbid declaration, leave you ripped and torn!” Clearly the witch has made a declaration that no quarter will be given when she comes back to life to confront her enemies for burning her at the stake.

A Jeff Hanneman guitar solo peppered with a splenetic outburst of rapid fire notes leads the way to the fifth verse which attacks the hypocrisy and inauthenticity of organized religion: “Count your blessing would be priest as I burn upon the stake. You’d be forgiven endlessly,but your values are all fake.” The final verse ends with Tom Araya giving a voice to the witch one last time to proclaim, “Death means nothing, there’s no end, I will be reborn!” Hanneman steps in with a solo even faster and angrier than the first, providing a sonic expression of the witch’s wrath and rage before the song stops on a dime, ending just as quickly as it began two minutes and twelve seconds earlier.

The subject matter of “Reborn” is not unique in and of itself. The images of black magic, blood, fire and bodily dismemberment are common in speed, thrash, death and all subsequent forms of extreme metal. However, in 1986 (and even now) the presentation of the song from a woman’s perspective was certainly unusual. Kerry King may not have had the intention of establishing a statement of feminine power when he originally penned the lyrics, but a deconstruction of the song puts the witch in the role of a heroine. The social constructs of male dominance and privilege crumble at the hands of a woman willing to sacrifice her life before experiencing a rebirth dedicated to taking the lives of her male oppressors. Given the proclivity of popular music to paint a picture of women as victims or objects, rather than highlighting their strengths and virtues, “Reborn” is to be celebrated not only for its artistic merits, but also for its empowering message.

*This post originally appeared on wordsonsongs.com

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