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MANDATORY - 100%

Erin_Fox, October 28th, 2006

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.