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I mean its slow compared to Darkness Descends, Pleasure To Kill and....Wait, what the fuck am Is saying? No, it's not goddamn slow! It's not a doom album! I could maybe understand the trepidations if Slayer foisted Dance of December Souls on the metal public, but this is not Dance of December Souls. This is thrash; Pure unadulterated thrash. Just because the opening song isn’t a debatable reference to Jewish annihilation does not make it terrible!
In any case, Slayer’s 4th thrash album carries on in the tradition of quality, despite facing heavy competition in the speed department from the likes of Dark Angel, Kreator and just about the entire thrash scene. While they certainly weren’t slowing down completely and going Candlemass on our asses, we did see them expanding their artistic palette. For one, Tom Araya actually sings for the first time since 1983 on Behind The Crooked Cross and Spill The Blood, and we see Slayer start to grasp the idea of tension and release. This is best demonstrated on Live Undead, which deceivingly starts with a midpaced rhythm, Tom delivers a fantastic scream with (THE PAIN) a couple of more lines, a drum roll, then all hell breaks loose. Yea, again, I have no idea why this is the slow album, especially considering there were slow moments on Reign In Blood (the beginning of Criminally Insane and Jesus Saves anyone?). This album is a classic and gives a giant middle finger to critics who say the band can’t be like Metallica and write meaningful slow and fast music. It ain’t my favorite song on the album, but I’d rather listen to Mandatory Suicide over Orion any day.
While the brutality of Reign In Blood itself was great, outside of the context of the album some of tracks felt really underdeveloped. NOTHING is underdeveloped here. Fuck if Angel of Death and Raining Blood were tacked on to the beginning and ending of this album THEN we'd have the greatest thrash album of all time, my friend. That's not a knock on the title track or Spill The Blood either. Both tracks are the key examples of the band slowing down, but they each take the morbid feelings presented by Fade To Black and multiply them by double digit exponents. This is the sound of Leatherface's gallows, folks.
Of course, there is the drumming. Mother of Lemmy that fucking drumming. Not that Dave Lombardo wasn't already the best in the business up to this point but you could tell the man was eager to do more than just speed metal and boy does it show. The title track alone is easily one of his most memorable performances. I (and I imagine most other drummers) could air drum that shit by heart. It's simply incredible how this man manages to top himself with every release, and he even would go on to do it again with Seasons (which is actually really the only thing about that album that's a substantial improvement over this one)!
There are flaws, of course. Who the hell decided that there needed to be a solid minute of feedback after the title track? I looked at its play count once on my iTunes and it was so low because it has to play all the way to the end to register and I would always skip after the song itself was done. Maybe waiting for the next song to start was what really tried the patience of the "Only fast Slayer is real" crowd. I also think that while the Priest cover is solid, it really only serves the purpose of telling their ignorant fans to not say Judas Priest sucks, that without them you wouldn't have your precious Reign In Blood. And admirable stance to be sure, but I always feel like covers should always be B-sides unless they are truly exceptional. Like I said, this one is good, but the original? That has one of those legendary vocal covers that you just do. not. top. ever. Tom's vocal take is eerie in its own way, but again, that was one of those songs that made Rob Halford ROB FUCKING HALFORD.
South of Heaven is Slayer continuing to kick more ass and carve their name in more wrists. An improvement over its predecessor and probably the only Rick Rubin album that stands toe to toe with Show No Mercy and Hell Awaits. Begat your cunting daughters you bastard sons!
South of Heaven
Ghosts of War
Honestly speaking, "South of Heaven" was a disappointment. Back in 1988, it was really hard to accept this fact. Slayer had released three groundbreaking albums, supplemented by the fanatically blasting non-album jewel "Chemical Warfare". They were the absolute kings of thrash metal. From today's perspective, "South of Heaven" marked the beginning of a slow but steady downfall. 30 years after the publication of "Reign in Blood", the vast majority of thrash maniacs is still waiting for a worthy successor of this classic. Only a very few songs like the title track of their last album give hope for the future. What do you say? The terms "Slayer" and "future" do not fit together? Well, I guess that the self-declared experts discuss this topic very controversially.
As mentioned before, "South of Heaven" was a disappointment - but this does not mean that it was a bad album. The menacingly swelling title track clarified the titanic power of well designed mid-tempo tracks once and for all. Its ominous main riff quickly became an icon of slow-moving thrash metal. No doubt, this track had the weight of more than 1.000 tons and it left a gargantuan impact, although it differed from the tracks of "Reign in Blood" significantly. However, it is relatively easy to write a great song, but it is difficult to compose ten songs of the same quality. Furthermore, comparatively clean vocals can work occasionally, but they are no silver bullet. Just check out "Behind the Crooked Cross". In terms of music, this title did not lack of fury and obsession, but Araya's disinterested vocals caused a very ambivalent impression. Nevertheless, the A side of the vinyl proved that Slayer were still able to pen exciting songs. "Silent Scream" built the bridge to the previous works, "Live Undead" scored with captivating riffs and its steadily growing level of intensity, "Mandatory Suicide" offered an apocalyptic scenario, although it was - compared with the preceding eruptions - a rather undistinguished example of the compositional skills of the band. Anyway, one could not ignore a serious fact. The longer the album progressed, the more it became clear that it was not on a par with the first three full-lengths. The cardinal sin of the fourth output was the integration of the Judas cover version, at least from my point of view. To play a song of this fossilised dinosaur was like a very bad joke that gave me the feeling to listen to the following dialogue:
Thrash metal (with an awkward grin): "Hello traditional metal. So far, I hated you. That was the reason why I always wanted to be something different. But now I see that it can make sense to move into your direction every now and then. Commercial aspects, I do not need to emphasize it, do not play a role!"
Traditional metal (precocious): "My dear juvenile loudmouth, I don't understand. Explain to me how "Silent Scream" and "Dissident Aggressor" fit together."
Thrash metal (in a fit of pique): "Don't ask me. It doesn't matter."
Traditional metal: ... (speechless)
Did I already say that "South of Heaven" was a disappointment? It failed to create this monolithic structure which had ennobled each and every of the first Slayer albums. One may explain this situation with the term "development". I don't agree. The first three albums also differed from each other in a remarkable way, but all of them were designed coherently. By contrast, the mixture of the heavyweight title track, the furious attacks like "Silent Scream", the lame cover version and the desperate "Spill the Blood" led to a torn and erratic overall appearance, at least to a certain extent. Apart from this surprisingly ill-defined approach, the tracks of the B side did not reach the exciting level for which the band was well known up till then. No, the songs did not reveal major flaws and yes, they had some good moments and well executed riffs. But any form of magic feeling was missing. Slayer had lost their godlike status from one second to the next. "South of Heaven" was nothing else but a good album that could also have been written by many other bands. Well, the perfect production was still a kind of unique selling point, but this alone did not create a milestone. I don't intend to make a mountain out of a molehill. Anyway, "Reign in Blood" had been a utopian vision which had come true, "South of Heaven" was a very profane product. Its slightly less brutal approach pointed in the wrong direction and gave cause for serious concerns. The worldwide Slayer community was getting nervous. Not without good reasons, as it was to turn out quickly.
Coming off the success of their classic speeder Reign In Blood, Slayer decided to take things in a new direction by slowing down their approach and making their songs heavier. What we got out of that was South of Heaven and how does it hold up?
Honestly, going into this album the first time I thought that I would hate it. I’m of the opinion that Reign in Blood was the best album ever, which I know is as predictable as the sun rising in the morning, but I think people can understand it. Be that as it may, this album surprised me. What I got was a surprisingly good album with many memorable songs and catchy riffs. There were also a few stinkers on there as well but I feel that’s par for the course on any album.
This new approach is immediately impactful on the opening title track, that haunting intro to the album sets it up nicely only to smack the listener in the face with a mid tempo thrasher. As the first song I heard off the album, it sounded great. The lyrics, screaming of an immoral human race, stand out more than anything and it’s really cathartic to sing along with them. And there are many other songs that use this slowed down approach to great effect. “Mandatory Suicide” and “Dissident Aggressor” immediately jump to mind, the former for its catchy riff and vocals, I feel this is the best vocal performance Tom has given, and the latter for being a great cover song overall. Kind of disappointed that Tom didn’t try for the high screams but it’s not a major issue. “Behind the Crooked Cross” can be a fun time if I’m in the right mood, its beat is generic but energising and Tom’s vocals sound kind of bored but I like it because of the heavy guitars, especially in the chorus. Despite these new slower songs, Slayer still are packing that speed that made them famous, but “Silent Scream” is the only song that speeds from start to finish. The rest weave in and out of faster and slower parts of the song, which I feel keeps the songs fresh so one riff doesn’t get too stale.
But don't get me wrong, there are the bad songs. “Live Undead” is a mediocre mess, the intro is nice but the rest sounds tired and bored, especially the vocals. In fact, the vocals in general aren’t great. I like Tom’s performance on "Mandatory" because it’s the closest I’ve ever heard him come to actual singing, but the rest is either hit or miss, and "Live Undead" was a colossal misfire. It sounds more spoken word than sung and even gets to the point where Tom sounds like he’s drooling the words out. But my worst song on this record would have to be “Spill the Blood”. I appreciate trying out new things but this is not what I have in mind when I think Slayer. The melodic nature is nice, but I feel as if it’s too melodic. I know that may be a weak argument and sound like I’m trying to cling to the past, but my point is, if this thing in front of me is being sold to me as a Slayer record, I expect to hear Slayer. I do not hear Slayer in “Spill the Blood”.
The production is… meh. I like how the drums are pushed way up in the mix and the sound of them is nice and of course it’s great, it’s Dave Lombardo performing, he always delivers. His little improvisations between beats are always refreshing, which is especially evident on “Ghosts of War”. The guitars jump up and down in quality. Sometimes they’re loud and keep that Slayer aggression that I love, but every so often I can’t hear them, which for a metal album, is a bit of a downer. I don’t think I need to explain the vocals, I’ve made my opinion on them quite clear. The mix itself is really well done, even on tracks like “Spill the Blood” and “Live Undead” I can tell that this is the best way to mix those tracks, they sound natural and, had they been worked on a bit more, I would probably like them.
All round, South of Heaven is a solid album. It has its ups and downs but the ups easily outweigh the downs. The few problems I have with this album aren’t major things and the bad songs are few and far between. As far as Slayer records go, you can get much worse than this.
Standout tracks: Silent Scream, Mandatory Suicide, Ghosts of War
Weakest tracks: Live Undead, Spill the Blood
Slayer is one of those bands that is simply great enough to be included in any line-up of greatest bands, yet make it incredibly difficult to pinpoint an album that stands out the most. Sure, the general consensus is that everything from Seasons in the Abyss onward can be washed down the sewers with no one shedding a tear. But that still leaves you with a total of four classic album among which you have to pick out which one is the Slayer album, the one that ascends above the other, the one that soars into the highest heavens of lowest hellishness.
Since you already know my pick from looking a few lines further above, let me give you a quick rundown why the first three did not make the final cut. Show no Mercy certainly has riff after riff (and no mercy) to show for itself, but I must say that, simply put, it is just too upbeat for me. Too "moshing metal maniac" and too "throw the horns and drink the beer(s)". It's fun, yeah, when you're a teenager and just discovered trading recommendations with strangers at concerts where everyone's in leather and spikes, in between the merch stands. That's the kind of album it is, the kind of atmosphere it has to me. A metal party album with not much more behind it. Hell Awaits certainly is evil, and dark, and sinister, and I understand why it is so many people's favourite. But to me it is the polar opposite to Show no Mercy. The first one has all the riffs and none the atmosphere, the second one all the atmosphere but none the riffs. Either of course is an exaggeration, but it gets across my general feeling about the album. Finally, Reign in Blood goes too far on its gimmick to be the fastest thing ever, and aside from select songs has relatively little in the field of memorable riffs or memorable atmosphere. Sure, it's fun to blast and hate the world when you're in the mood, but honestly, because of that one-dimensional character it is my personal least listened to among the classic four.
South of Heaven, in turn, has everything. Everything I ever wanted from a Slayer record, this album has it. Every single note on it seems to be crafted to perfection. The album reeks of riffs, but never seems upbeat. And the album reeks of evil atmosphere, but never lets you down on intensity. Neither is the anger of its predecessor lost on it.
Slayer, here, simply know how to create perfect Slayer songs. It's like they looked at the first three albums and said "okay, we did riffy, we did dark, we did fast, now let's do Slayer." Because if "Slayer" was an adjective, it would describe the entire album. The songs are so incredibly well crafted, taking a good number of different bits for each song and just lining them up as a cohesive and ultimately decimating whole. They do it with such a way that if, for example, a song starts with an evil bit, and it segues to an aggressive one, the evil never fades away. Rather than part-after-part that you'd find on most thrash albums, everything flows into each other perfectly, everything becomes an integral part of a whole. And the whole is ultimate Slayer. The fictional adjective. And the noun.
And it's not like they just did bits and pieces of their previous works into some kind of mosaic of the past. The amazing thing is how the whole thing sounds completely refreshing simply by how much it transcends earlier outings. Here, they create an atmosphere that has never been there before, with a large set of riffs that showed a whole new side of them, and that probably no one expected.
This band's first four album should however be enjoyed as a whole, as each single one is essential. But if you are looking for utimate Slayer, this is your go-to record.
--- Originally written for http://droneriot.blogspot.com
...And I'm bored.
I bought this album whilst browsing my local music store along with some other records due to how cheap they were, I never really gave Slayer a real listen before so I thought "why not?" My first impression was that the music was rather entertaining, but after a second listen it started to all sound the same.
The first 4 tracks of the album have immense atmosphere and "presence" but after that all the tracks start to blend together and they all start sounding the same. I've listened to this album from start to finish multiple times but the album continually bores me,and I always wonder why people think this album is so great.
The slower parts of the album are where it succeeds because of the groove and emphasis on the vocals which Tom Araya delivers brilliantly, but once the songs start with the thrashy riffs it begins to lose the power it had. And let me say this, the guitar work whilst technically adept is also very boring, all the faster paced riffs sound as if they're a record on a loop playing a recycled thrash riff. The music in the album often lacks a certain "texture", it seems to be missing something quite often, and to me the missing component is innovative bass playing. Whilst Tom is a great bassist, he never has any room to shine and show his skills, if a few songs had intricate bass solos or even some slapping and popping the music would be far greater.The album does tend to have some stand out tracks that stray from the average Slayer songs, Ghosts of War is the star track that allows one to rock out with their c*ck out, but sadly this and the few other memorable tracks fail to redeem the rest of the dull and mundane music on the album.
All in all the album is worth a listen or two but the music is generally rather boring and gets stale quickly.
After the overrated mess that was "Reign In Blood", Slayer got back on track. 1988's "South of Heaven" was what should of happened right after "Hell Awaits". Slayer has progressed further on this record, maturing their lyrics and song structure albeit in a nice, condensed format with that technical flair a number of thrash bands like Heathen, Metallica and Testament were doing in the late 80's. Though the speed of the last album is toned down somewhat, the heaviness is still there and then some, giving way to what I think is Slayer's best album.
If you wanna know the truth, I used to hate this album. But, that was mostly because of the production. I had MP3s of the original recording, which sounded awful, like the songs were quietly recorded in a tin can. The easy to find remaster is makes a huge difference; a bit loud, but far superior. Slayer themselves are back on top here, save maybe for Tom Araya. His bass may not be invisible like it was on "Reign in Blood", but it's still pretty buried. His vocals too are a slight step down here. "Reign" was also probably the last album with true Araya shrieks, as starting here and practically on every other subsequent Slayer record, he uses a somewhat strained yell and half-assed growling and shouting. King and Hanneman are still going strong as ever though. On here they let loose with an array of chillingly intricate solos and a load of really memorable riffs. Thanks to them, this is probably Slayer's most riff-laden album. And lastly, Dave Lombardo still makes his poor drum set look like a fresh prison bitch. He too jumps on the technical train, hammering out loads more double bass, lots of little solos and fills.
As I said before, the speed of "Reign In Blood" is (somewhat) played down in favor of a greater focus on big riffs, solos and more concise, condensed song structure with a still very heavy nature. Hell, not even a single song on here hits the 5 minute mark, but at least they're not spastic half song like on "Reign". Sorry, I just can't get over that.
Well, superficially, just about every song kicks ass on here in one way or another. The title track opens a moody riff that almost sounds like the beginning of a bad dream, and then it just keeps building and building in aggression and speed until the song explodes into a piercing single-note outro. "On and on, south of heaven!" The cool "Silent Scream" is a bit generic, but it's still has pretty catchy riffage, a nice break and it's one of the speedier numbers on here. We also have what I believe are the album masterpieces: Behind The Fucking Crooked Cross and Mandatory Fucking Suicide! "Behind" has a totally unforgettable main riff, the drumming is totally relentless and the King-Hanneman solo will fucking RIP YOU APART! "Mandatory Suicide" is a tense mid-paced crusher with moody near-chanted vocals and more ripping intricate riffage. After song 5 the album takes a slight nosedive in quality but never once sucks ass.
Well, maybe except for one thing: the cover of Judas Priest's "Dissident Aggressor". No...just...just no. You never, EVER cover Judas Priest. I don't care if you're Slayer, Helloween, Testament, or Death, you CAN'T beat the original! Araya can't even begin to hit those highs, the guitars sound lazier with less punch...whatever. Why did they even bother?
Overall, while Tom Araya's musical skills have taken something of a nosedive and the "Dissident Aggressor" cover is totally useless, that's not nearly enough for me to not realize that this is a thrash masterpiece. The songs are kick ass and quite well-composed and written, particularly the first half of the album, and the other members of Slayer are still heading on strong. While this isn't my favorite Slayer album (that oh so prestigious honor belongs to "Show No Mercy"), I will readily state that it is easily their best.
The progression of thrash metal away from its lightning speed orthodoxy is a touchy subject for some, and perhaps this is most the case insofar as Slayer is concerned. Being the band that set the standard for how extreme thrash metal could get, and also paving the way for the emerging death metal scene alongside Sepultura and Possessed, any notion of the band changing direction is sure to meet with resistance. It would thus seem ironic that the band’s 4th LP “South Of Heaven” is mostly well received by the diehard faithful, but a full listening of the album quickly reveals that for all of the heraldry of Slayer allegedly slowing down or getting intelligent, this doesn’t really venture too far off the reservation.
It is easy to get caught up in the band’s influential place in history and lose track of the fact that like most bands, Slayer’s evolution from a faster and wickeder version of NWOBHM to where they are today was a gradual and consistent one. When taking the melodic contours of the creepy, chromatic riff work, it would be better to assert that Slayer’s biggest stylistic shift occurred between “Show No Mercy” and “Haunting The Chapel”, rather than between this one and “Reign In Blood”. Actually, when considering the musical themes at play here, this could almost be regarded as a sequel to the band’s wildly heralded and frequently cited 1986 LP, with perhaps a slightly more elaborate approach.
From the eerie prelude of the opening title song, the atmosphere is grim, yet a bit more supernatural and looming as opposed to violent and bludgeoning. The occasional employment of acoustic sounds, coupled with some minimalist track layering to bring further depth to a feeling of slow descent into obscurity paints a much more vivid, yet equally horrifying picture to this album’s predecessor. The slowed down tempo does paint the landscapes with a forward looking death/doom brush, though Araya’s vocals are still pretty well locked into the typical Metallica meets Satan shout. In essence, this band’s ventures into continually darker territory, in no small part because of the dark and swampy guitar tone, marks the closest flirtation that the band has come with death metal, with the vocals literally being the only thing that keeps this from being in the same genre as “Leprosy” and “Slowly We Rot”.
As the album unfolds, the familiar combination of rapid paced beats, punishing riff work and terrifying imagery that is more suited to the earlier material returns with perhaps a slightly greater helping of slower breaks here and there. “Silent Scream” and “Ghosts Of War” might as well be holdovers from “Reign In Blood”, minus that the riff work is a little bit less blurred and more clearly defined. The former, in particular, showcases a unique ability for scaring the living daylights out of the listener while hitting socially sensitive territory in an intelligent way, perhaps even more so than in the case of “Angel Of Death”. But among the more intricate and politically motivated songs is “Mandatory Suicide”, which takes things down a bit in the tempo department and ups the heaviness factor, though it’s hard to pay much attention to all of that as the lyrics lay out the gruesome imagery of 18 to 25 year old men laying in pools of blood on some unnamed battlefield.
As things draw to a frightening close, there are two lasting impressions left in the closing couple of songs. The cover of “Dissident Aggressor” sees the band all but crossing over into traditional doom metal territory as their sludgy, dreary guitars culture the arcane Judas Priest number into something murky enough to challenge the material on Black Sabbath’s debut, though it also shows the vocals clashing a bit as Araya’s almost monotone yells fall short of emulating Halford’s nimble notes. But with the conclusion of the album in “Spill The Blood”, an even more haunting yet very similar feel to the one that kicked off the album in “South Of Heaven” emerges, first as a dark, droning acoustic guitar line, and then manifesting in yet another chromatic doom sequence, but this time giving off a sense of marching to an impending fate rather than falling into oblivion. In much the same sense as “Hell Awaits”, this album proves to be something of a loose conceptual work musically, with a closing that heavily resembles the opening, though here it’s a bit less obvious.
It can’t be said enough that there were no major missteps made by Slayer in the 80s or up to the mid 90s even, though the total body of work from these eras is not quite flawless, despite how massive influential it is. Of all the members of the Big 4 who made their mark on mainstream culture in the name of metal, Slayer will most likely go down as the most unlikely of the bunch given their relevance to underground metal. “South Of Heaven” could be seen as a tame venture in that its approach is a bit more consumable to those who can’t get into the thrash until you die attitude of what came before. But truth be told, this is an album that will pull most hipsters out of their comfort zone as much as “Reign In Blood” will. But still, the greatest accomplishments of this fold are to be found in their younger days, where the band is perhaps not as easily identified with present day metal conventions.
I can easily guess what metalheads of that era had been expecting from Slayer when this came out. Probably, it was something heavier, faster and in general more aggresive than the band's uncompromising previous full-length releases. However, it takes a lot of guts and great songs to do what Slayer did. No one had expecting this: an album featuring much slower songs in comparison to 1986's "Reign In Blood", yet riffs even more evil and heavy-as-fuck.
"Reign In Blood" was an incarnation of destruction: limb-cutting, neck-breaking, straight-forward thrash metal. Violence unleashed at all directions, the aftermath of hatred that has been inhibited for ages. "South of Heaven" sounds to me like an attempt to display what a corrupt, meta-apocalyptic world would be like. Just as Raining Blood ends with the sound of the falling rain, South Of Heaven begins with an ominous riff, and the unsuspecting listener might even think "it can't be much heavier than Black Sabbath". And it's not, but it's just as dark and sinister as Sabbath's s/t or Paranoid, but this darkness is presented through the prism of 80's contemporary extreme metal.
Sick riffs and tempo changes all over the album give the listener a feeling of uneasiness, whereas the atonal solos seem to be a little more melodic than those of previous albums. Lyrical themes are just what you would expect from Slayer, but did you really want anything else? Pain, torment, Satan, anti-Christianity, afterlife, war, death... all those good ol' Slayer themes. Tom Araya is still one of the best vocalist in thrash metal, perhaps the only one who has ever literally yelled in a melodic way, which is his performances both here and in the "Seasons in the Abyss" album, and his contribution to the lyrics is really reinvigorating for Slayer.
Only flaw of the album is that the melodies are sometimes too apparent, to the point where one would wish for more atonality or a slightly higher tempo.
All in all, if you don't own this album, you should definitely buy it. But, I would definitely choose "Reign In Blood" or "Seasons in the Abyss" over this. That is, because "Reign In Blood" has a certain quality that Slayer has never managed to achieve ever since and "Seasons..." is the perfect combination between the routes that "Reign In Blood" and "South Of Heaven" took. Dig!
PS: the cover of Judas Priest's "Dissident Aggressor" is one of the best covers ever recorded for a studio album.
This release was Slayer's 4th full-length studio effort. Though not as fast and speed oriented as their energized predecessor, "Reign in Blood", the songwriting still showed a different approach by the band. Their tracks focused more on a slower and more diverse riff structure to them. The lineup consisted, once again, with Tom Araya on bass/vocals, Kerry King on guitars, Jeff Hanneman on guitars and Dave Lombardo on drums. These were the first founding 4 members. This lineup seemed to work the best for the band. They all reflected a more mature writing strategy, which focused more on constructing solid songs minus the craziness that occured during the bulk of "Reign in Blood." They slowed down to construct a solid, more mature release than on their previous 1980's releases.
Their genre still stays in the thrash metal category. That hasn't changed, only their musical focus was different. They seemed to show more catchy songs as opposed to a more blitzing array of riffs which were featured on their predecessor, "Reign in Blood." Araya's vocal efforts were way less intense though there still were some screaming that he portrayed on the track, "Live Undead." With "Mandatory Suicide" there were some spoken parts near the end of the song. This wasn't featured on any of their previous 1980's releases, only on this one. Araya focused more on belting out contents that were mixed well with the music and were easier to understand. However, he seemed to lack some intensity to his outputs. It meshed better, because as was previously mentioned, they wanted to create a better constructed musical approach with this release.
The music contained crunch tone guitar riffs that seemed to accompany Araya's vocals more fluently. Tempos varied to some extent but the guitars reflected a more mild form of Slayer than on previous efforts. The music was wholly original and noteworthy. Songs such as the title track, "Silent Scream", "Live Undead", "Ghosts of War" and "Spill the Blood" were very catchy. Despite slowing down so much, these tracks carry with them an array of intriguing components. They still focused on an underground sound, which displayed the album's concept. Slayer's technical side of the riff-writing was shown on "Silent Scream", "Read Between The Lies" and "Spill the Blood." There was an actual clean tone introductary guitar piece during "Spill the Blood" which occurs towards the middle of the song. Something like that didn't accompany any of their past 1980's releases.
The production was solid and the mixing for each instrument came together well. Rick Rubin was, once again, involved on this end as well as the band. The playing, especially during the guitarists lead guitar works, were less technical than Hanneman's. If you look on the insert, it shows who the lead belonged to. This was mainly done because Hanneman didn't want the public to get confused and think that his leads were King's. He has stated this in previous interviews. Lombardo's drum efforts were phenomenal and was right on cue with the music. His playing was greatly conducted and quite technical. Not every track was entirely fast, however. Araya's bass guitar work was also right on top of the main rhythm guitar works.
Song contents focused more on warfare despite the album title. They were really intelligent and well thought out. The songs shyed away from Satanism though they did contain some bits of anti-religion topics. They didn't form the bulk of writings. Though "Behind the Crooked Cross" steered away from warfare to reflect the downfall of religion. The bulk of their lyrical writings are a gimmick anyway. They're not professed Satanists. There is a cover song on here entitled "Dissident Aggressor." It was originally sung by Judas Priest. Slayer executed this cover very well and it fit well with the album's concept.
Even though Slayer's playing slowed down here, they still were able to concoct a solid and original form of writing to their songs. The music was quite memorable because of the unique guitar riff structures. They seem to get embedded easily into the listeners brain. The leads weren't as crazy as on "Reign in Blood" but that didn't take away from their wellness in execution. The band's overall playing demonstrated much talent. They focused on better conducted riff structures and time signatures much more so than with previous releases. This release was, by far, not stale or boring. A definite classic release by them which shouldn't be excluded in your Slayer discography. Worth picking up and it won't dissappoint.
I could go on rambling about how important Slayer were during the eighties and how redundant they had become during the turn of the millennium. Or even how divided the fans now are since the return of Lombardo and Slayer’s attempt (?) at reliving their eighties thrash metal days. But I’m here to discuss 1998, the year in which Slayer had a wild mood swing.
With each album during the eighties Slayer did things differently. But let’s be honest they actually only became less and less melodic on their first three albums and each time a bit faster. NWOBHM orientated speed metal on the debut, full-on satanic thrash on Hell Awaits, culminating in Reign In Blood where the in-your-face-and-skip-the-long-songs crossover attitude almost took over the group entirely. By 1988 Slayer felt the need to incorporate some real melodies. Or was it just Hanneman?
One can clearly hear the uneasiness in Araya’s voice having to ‘sing’ all of a sudden over these melodic songs. And from time to time he does a good job and manages to even give the melodic songs some energy and balls. The title track would be the best example. The catchy melodies and vocals work out fine here and it can be considered a very cleverly composed and convincing song.
Mandatory Suicide finishes second in the great mid-paced-songs-department. This song focuses more on riffs than melody and works out nicely.
It’s with songs like Behind The Crooked Cross, Read Between the Lies and Spill the Blood that the band truly sounds tame and uneasy. Groovy parts and a horribly failing Araya being stranded between singing and shouting monotonously. No matter how great some parts of these songs might be on paper, the performance here not only sounds uneasy but it becomes obvious some band members are really holding back because they simply don’t ‘feel’ this new approach yet and make the songs sound rather tame.
Silent Scream, Live Undead and Ghosts of War sound like Slayer of old again. Ghosts Of War, despite its incredibly powerful beginning, slowly dies out. All three are good songs but a more focussed Araya and especially a more vile production could have given these songs that bit extra which made their previous albums so superior.
It was of course the surprise that Slayer, right after their most furious and groundbreaking album, dared to come up with this, which made South Of Heaven such a fascinating album back in ‘88. And of course it truly is. They did not play safe and really deserve some credit for that. However the uneasiness, especially vocals and production, have always prohibited me from really enjoying this album. Araya’s singing on the verse of Behind The Crooked cross probably is the best example of an experiment going horribly wrong.
Because of the daring attitude, dynamic diversity and a handful of pretty good songs, this album is good enough to keep in my Slayer collection. South Of Heaven is considered a landmark by many just because it was their first album on which they pulled off something like this. But in fact the group improved this approach on ‘Seasons in the Abyss’ with intrinsically better songs and much, much better vocals. I’ll leave it at that.
This album saw the light two years after the incredible thrash metal masterpiece, Reign In Blood and it is quite different. Somebody, in my opinion, said to Slayer’s members: “Ok guys, with Reign In Blood you’ve reached the top in speed and violence…do you wanna start a third world war??”. I was joking…well, it’s useless to say how important was (and still is) that album but they preferred to change a bit. It’s always fucking heavy thrash, but there are more slow songs here, starting from the great title track.
This album can be considered as a mix of the masterpiece before with the obscure Hell Awaits. As I said before, the title track is slow and evocative and something new for every fan that used to listen to the "old" Slayer. This song, anyway is great and a piece of the group's history.
The whole album alternates fast songs to slower ones. In fact, immediately after the first song, it’s time for Silent Screams to raise hell. Lombardo is incredible at the drums, while the guitars are fast as usual, alternating fast solos too. The following Live Undead is a masterpiece: it begins slowly ‘till growing in intensity with a great solo made by King. Tom Araya’s vocals are less screamed because the songs sometimes required a different tone, according to the new rhythmic session.
The following Behind The Crooked Cross is another example of this new way of doing thrash: the songs are more complex and technical, like also the obscure hit Mandatory Suicide.
The brutal thrash assault of Reign In Blood still lives in few songs or in some parts of them; as I said before in Silent Scream, Ghost Of War and Cleanse The Soul, this one characterized by one of most beautiful solos ever done by Kerry King. In this album, Slayer's personality grows in a different way and they learnt to mix a lot of influences from their early albums to create a solid ball of thrash.
If you look at the lyrics there is something new too. In the past they used to write about religion an the lyrics were mostly antichristian. Those lyrics were written by the two axe men. In this album, instead, was Tom Araya to write lyrics about war and its violence.
Dissident Aggressor is a Judas Priest cover, always mentioned by Slayer as their most important influence in metal music. They played it incredibly, filling it with their music personality but without changing its feeling. Simply great. The last song Spill The Blood begins where the title track ended: slow and obscure, closing a new masterpiece done by the true Gods of thrash metal.
With the following great Season In The Abyss, Slayer continued in this way, musically and lyrically. The finest hour for them.
When you mention the name slayer to a metalhead the word "intelligent" is not the first world to spring to mind. "Intelligent" springs to mind when you speak of bands like Iron Maiden or Dream Theater. The reason intellect doesn't spring to mind with Slayer is because for the most part their first albums are kind of silly and childish when it came to lyrics. Though musically their debut Show No Mercy was a wonderfully written thrashy NWOBHM-style album, the lyrics were still for the most part hooky and silly with childish references to Satan and Hell. Their second album Hell Awaits was a darker more serious release but lyrically it was still far from aw-inspiring (the song Necrophilia comes to mind). Even their most popular album Reign in Blood for the most part has silly lyrics. Not that I don't love these first albums but I'm just speaking the truth that the lyrics were mostly just written for shock value. However Slayer's fourth album South of Heaven is when Slayer became smart.
The lyrics on South of Heaven are FAR more intelligent and actually allow the listener to reflect upon their meaning. The best example of this on the album is the track Behind the Crooked Cross. The crooked cross in the title refers to the swastika symbol of Nazi Germany and the lyrics are about Nazi soldiers who realize that they might be fighting for the wrong cause. For some reason most people view all Nazi soldiers as "evil" but is not the case. The Nazi soldiers like any other soldier for any other nation were "brainwashed" to believe their cause was right and I commend Slayer for pointing that out. Sadly even though this song does not promote Nazism (it's actually against it) it still made people think Slayer were "Nazis" because they have written multiple songs on the subject. I am a historian and I have an interest in Nazism but that doesn't mean I am or agree with the views of the Nazi party. It's just an interesting subject to learn about and for Slayer tow right about. Right after Behind the Crooked Cross is another intelligent monster called Mandatory Suicide about how soldiers are forced to die in combat. Actually Tom Araya would dedicate this song to the American soldiers this summer while they were on tour. Another monster of a track is the title track (one of my all-time favorite songs) with good lyrics (not without Slayer's likeable nastiness) about all the hell that goes on Earth 'south of heaven'. This song shows Slayer's disagreement with Christianity but instead of saying childish lyrics like "Jesus Sucks" they do it in a well thought-out intelligent manner. Slayer would keep this intelligent lyrical manner of writing all the way through the Diabolus in Music album (yes even though they experimented with their sound on that album they still were able to write intelligent lyrics).
Actually the whole album is just a killer. What most people seem to bitch about is that Slayer is too "slow" on this release. Compared to Reign in Blood this album is "slow" but it's mot like they turned into Black Sabbath. There are many speed metal monsters here such as Silent Scream and Ghosts of War. Still these speedy numbers however and much better written than the material on Reign in Blood. Reign in Blood had some good songs but many of the songs felt only like portions of songs, songs that didn't get finished. Not here on South of Heaven as the song writing is tops and every song sounds complete and well thought out. Everything from the foreboding intro to the title track (which still gives me goose bumps) to Slayer's signature chaotic guitar solos. For songwriting this album is in top form and it competes with even better known and more popular albums like Megadeth's Rust in Peace and Metallica's Ride the Lighting.
The production on this album I also found to be perfect. Though it has a big name producer (Rick Rubin) it doesn't feel overproduced. It's also not under produced (ala Metallica's ...And Justice for All) but a perfect medium. Tom Araya even attempts singing on this release as opposed to shouting which is rather interesting.
On a closing note I should mention that I am not a Satanist, atheist, sadist, hate-monger or anything remotely like these things that are usually attributed by the public about fans of dark metal music like Slayer. I however love my music very dark and bleak. I also prefer my dark and bleak music to be intelligent lyrically and also competently written. This is why I not only view South of Heaven as Slayer's best album but also my favorite album of all time. So buy it, turn it up, and prepared to have your face rocked off but also at the same time having your brain wheels turning with the thought provoking lyrics. Yes, you read right, thought provoking lyrics on a Slayer album. SLAYYYEEERRR!!!!
If “Reign In Blood” was the signal that sonic apocalypse had finally come of age, “South Of Heaven” cemented the deal. On this album, Slayer refined their sound, finding their groove and proudly displaying a collection of songs that firmly established them as the dark lords of metal that they truly are. Emerging with an overall sound that is quite tempered in comparison to the all-out chaos of “Reign In Blood”, Slayer initiates here the slower, but no less impacting death-crush that would spawn hundreds of imitators. On this record, vocalist/bassist Tom Araya is more focused in his singing than ever before.
His voice on tracks such as the dismal title track and the absolutely riveting and completely over the top thrasher “Live Undead” has a chilling effect which is anything but subtle. Meanwhile, as a bass guitarist, Araya concentrates on providing a solid backbone on songs like the instant neck-snapper “Behind The Crooked Cross” while the powerful tandem of Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King flesh out the group’s vibe with doomy, evil licks, manic grooves and searing leads. Although drummer Dave Lombardo has been hailed on albums prior for his intricate, speedy work, he concentrates on dynamics more than anything on this album and this combination of talents results in the best performances of his career in terms of sheer creativity.
Popular live cut “Mandatory Suicide” chugs along in diabolical fashion as King unleashes one of his trademark forays into tremolo bar destruction. The real sleeper track on this record is the absolutely shredding “Ghosts Of War”, which is a perfection of the faster-paced material of the group. With an excellently heavy version of the Judas Priest classic “Dissident Aggressor”, Slayer tip a nod to a major influence upon their deadly twin guitar attack. It is on “Spill The Blood” that Slayer are at their most haunting, as this mid-tempoed, hypnotic track hits like an anvil dropped from fifty feet high.
Slayer scores big points for being innovators with this record as it is here that they brought dynamics to extreme metal. What would at first appear as a curious career move is later realized as one of the most powerful heavy metal albums of all time.
This album isn't exactly "heavy," nor is it "lightning fast," like one would have expected. It's unusual for Slayer, but also equally unusual for me to be reviewing this album. However, I am a strong supporter of this album for anyone who enjoys metal. A track-by-track review would be helpful here, so that you could pick out the song to begin with, but I simply don't believe that would do the album justice. This album is best viewed as an anthem - not just a collection of songs. Different melodies, different beats, but a common artistic motif.
For starters, the drums run at a moderate pace, and are somewhere in the production. You can hear them clearly, but at the same time they're not in the foreground, nor in the background. They carry the album along smoothly, and there's a clever usage of the toms here, played in succession for fills that are appropriately and precisely placed, giving the illusion of speed. The cymbals aren't excessive, and are saved for effect. The drums aren't constantly fills, thankfully. It's easy to follow, and often mimics the voice of the guitars, giving proper emphasis where appropriate.
The guitars speak for themselves, playing memorable melodies, such as the opener to the title track "South of Heaven," which is unforgettable. These melodies are never heavy, and are never exaggerated. They're well played, expressing emotions properly, and, as is expected in metal, are the focal point of the songs. The bass is picked out by some, but I never find myself especially interested by it, nor able to find it in any songs. I probably wouldn't know if bands had bassists unless people told me, in most cases. Some might find the bass lines to be nice, though. I'm not one of them, however.
The vocals are discernable, unlike in most metal. I find it appropriate here, as heaviness is in no way emphasized. They don't sound too angry, yet express hatred accurately, as I would imagine was the goal here. The vocals aren't quite monotone, but border on it, so it's similar to the bass's purpose after looking through the tabs - follow the guitars.
All in all, this album is definitely worth checking out.
To begin, let's have a summarised look at what this album is in it's simplest form. This album is in my opinion... the best work Slayer has ever put out. Slayer are.. in many metalhead's opinions.. one of the best and most influental bands in the Thrash genre. Thrash was the first form of extreme metal.. it's STILL one of the best genres in existence (2nd only to what it spawned.. death metal) and DEFINATELY the most original / elbow-grease-requiring genre in the history of metal, the first to bring out true aggression and anger (not teen angst, but true, ass kicking rage).
Slayer are mostly known for their landmark release Reign In Blood, although the actual music in Reign In Blood was fantastic and inspiring for it's time.. it was still a flawed album, with the average song clocking in somewhere around 2 minutes 30 seconds. The album was produced far too quietly, it was very hard to tell the difference between most of the songs, and only those with acute metal ears could truly embrace the feeling and know a riff well enough to get it stuck in their head.
South Of Heaven has all the goods and none of the bads of an incredible album, Reign In Blood. Yes folks.. this album is fucking killer.
First off.. the bass on this album is far more audible. It really adds to the tone of album and gives it a fatter / meaner sound. The drums are produced better.. the bass drum in particular has more 'oomph' (which is what the bass drum is all about) so that's an obvious plus right there, the solos are more audible, the riffs are more audible, the vocals are less audible, production-wise we have a musically perfect balance for the band in question.
Musically.. this album just kicks ass. The introductions to songs like 'Mandatory Suicide' and 'South Of Heaven' are just downright fucking evil and creepy.. and very memorable as well (I've almost always got the introduction to Mandatory Suicide in my head). The music is very well written.. the riffs are brilliant and thrashy.. the tempo isn't so fast it ruins the song, the songs are very memorable.. this is one of the best albums in metal history!
If you don't have this.. then you must get your filthy metal hands on it ASAP, but please undertake a thorough ass-preparation ceremony before daring to place this little piece of hell in your CD player.
After the colossal mindfuck that was "Reign In Blood", Slayer shocked us by declaring that they were--gasp!--SLOWING IT DOWN for the next album! Say it ain't so! But they did, and the Gods of Heavy Metal looked and they saw that it was Good. No, in fact, they saw it was GREAT.
But all is not well with this album. For one thing, Rick Rubin still needs to be hung by his back hair and beaten with a baseball bat for the beyond weak and tinny "production". "Yer kidding me, right? This sounds like shit!" was my initial reaction to this when I plopped it down on my turntable back in 1989 after months of excited waiting. The guitar tone is the worst they've ever had, second only to "God Hates Us All", thin and powerless--may as well be no distortion at all on them at all. The drums sound like milk cartons, for fuck's sake! The bass was never a major part of Slayer's sound, but even on "Hell Awaits" you could hear it better then here--it may as well just say "Araya: Vocals and Maybe Bass" on the sleeve. I digress.
The tunes are what matter here, and Slayer served them up with a heaping portion of that inimitable "Fuck you, DIE!" attitude they used to have back in the day. The title track opens the proceeedings with a mournful and dissonant dual-guitar harmony that is beautifully twisted and when the riffs come crashing in for the buildup to "Before you see the light, you must DIE!!", giving way to a propulsive verse riff that drives the song along relentlessly and some of the best lyrics from Araya's poison pen.
The ending wail of chilling feedback segues right into "Silent Scream" (if you listen closely you can hear where the loop overlaps!), a skull-battering thrashfest featuring Dave's lightning-fast by any era's standards double bass work. Problem is, the production is so weak it renders the opening single note riff salvo powerless due to the lack of bottom end. That is the only thing not worthy about this track.
Another issue I had with this album is Araya getting it into his head that he could sing, with mixed results--when he tries to be purely melodic he suffers from lack of conviction (see the otherwise-decent "Behind The Crooked Cross", which *does* have a good chorus), but when he gets more bollocks into it he sounds better. It doesn't hurt that he lets out one of his trademark "lost soul in hell" shrieks in "Live Undead" too.
Other tunes I really like on this platter are: "Mandatory Suicide" with its repetitive riffs on the chorus (eerie spoken word part at the end too), "Ghosts of War" with its connection to "Chemical Warfare" in the intro, and "Spill The Blood" with its haunting (and unheard-of at the time) clean guitar intro and swift riffing over midtempo drumming.
Overall, this for me was the last really good Slayer album, as after this they began slowly and painfully slipping into the abyss of mediocrity. Everything they released after this LP was just not the same.
This is definitely the best album Slayer put out. After the brutal-as-fuck but nonetheless maddeningly incoherent and underdeveloped Reign in Blood, Slayer released this classic.
And got promptly shat on by the legions of the "tr00" and otherwise brain-damaged individuals who apparently like getting half a song twice as fast. This album is just as heavy as its predecessor, and while it lacks the overall speed, it certainly makes up for it with a fair share of smash-a-guitar-over-your-skull riffs. This is definitely the most overall memorable Slayer album, on a riff level. All of these songs are very distinctive, unlike the general mishmash of some of Reign in Blood.
The title track, which is the opener, is a midpaced, menacing number - assaulting the senses both musically and lyrically (yeah it's fun to run around yelling "bastard sons begat your cunting daughters!"). It speeds up slightly at the end, and finishes at killer intensity. One of Slayer's finest songs. Silent Scream and the first half of Live Undead are a slight bit more pedestrian, but nonetheless have some nice riffs, especially the middle of Silent Scream... "death is fucking you insane!" This is a harbringer of things to come. Same with "the paaaaaaiiiiinnnnn!!!!!!" on Live Undead. You can sense the imminent doom approaching.
Hold on to your esophagi, people, and have the Depends Undergarments ready, for it is halfway through song three where this album really turns to "11" and grabs you by the throat, flips you upside down, and shoves you face-first into a toilet bowl full of burning acid. Insane pain burns through your brain, thorasine eats your veins!! Satan laughs as you eternally rot... and this is just the beginning!
Behind the Crooked Cross is one of those insanely catchy thrash numbers that immediately forces you to get up and headbang and play air guitar and headbang some more and if, after three minutes, your spleen hasn't ruptured, crawled out of your anus, and run off to join the circus, then consider yourself lucky, and HEADBANG SOME MORE, damn it, because here comes Mandatory Suicide!!
Three out of four doctors recommend MANDATORY FUCKING SUICIDE!!! (The fourth likes disco and Slipknot.) The ending little spoken word part is totally fucking insane, as is the rest. "Spikes impale you, as you are forced off the crest..." You like the spikes, damn you.
ARISE!!! Ghosts of War is the sequel to Chemical Warfare, and is just as fucking intense - it doesn't have quite as many riffs, but is nonetheless a worthy followup. Next is Read Between the Lies... "There is no Heaven! Without a HEEEELLLLLLLLL!!!" Probably the best line on there, and by this point your liver has suffered cirrhosis, your kidneys have given you brain damage, and your trachea was last seen attempting to hitch-hike to Saskatchewan. But, it's not over yet. "Cleanse the Soul" is a highly, HIGHLY underrated song, that turns into the most monstrous thrash this album has to offer ... at around 2.10 into the song, I SEE DEAD PEOPLE!!!! Empty altar waits its victim!! One of the greatest thrash riffs of all time here - this one is kind enough to rip your skull straight through your chest before setting it on a pedestal and smashing it repeatedly with a cinderblock the size of Kansas. THRAASSSSHHH!!!!
Next up, the Priest cover. Dissident Aggressor. It's what Judas Priest should've recorded in 1977 - finally, the guitars are turned up to the requisite volume, and the vocals are just plain vicious. This song totally destroys the original, which is not an easy task considering who wrote the original!! Then, a bit of a downer in Spill the Blood, which is kind of another average song, but tracks four through nine, and even the second half of track three, are just about PERFECT - those six stand on a level with ANY other six and one half thrash songs in a row on any album, with the bare exception of those that begin with Darkness and end with Descends.
Yes, of course the album is worth getting. Unless of course you would like to stay alive, in which case, you're a pussy. Go back to The Haunted, thrash needeth you not.