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Slow? You people thought this was SLOW?! - 85%

TrooperEd, December 19th, 2016
Written based on this version: 2002, CD, American Recordings (Remastered)

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!

Recommended songs:
Live Undead
South of Heaven
Ghosts of War