South Of Heaven
Def Jam / London (1988)
When Slayer said back in Metal Forces #23 that they were going to take a more experimental direction with their next record, they weren’t kidding. Although South Of Heaven is still undeniably Slayer, it’s perfectly clear that the band have made an effort to vary their sound a bit from past material, and in the process they have created one of the more original sounding thrash / speed metal albums I’ve heard in a long while.
The record opens up with the title track, a slow to medium tempo cruncher that features some of the heaviest riffs Slayer have ever written. While ‘Silent Scream’ is typical Slayer at their high-speed best, with Dave Lombardo’s intense double-bass pounding providing most of the songs face-ripping punch. ‘Live Undead’ starts kinda slow, but quickly builds up its pace before ending in a high-speed frenzy that sounds like something left over from the Reign In Blood recording sessions. ‘Behind The Crooked Cross’ is probably the most “different” track on side one, with Tom Araya actually singing for a change, instead of his usual growling. While the sides closing cut, ‘Mandatory Suicide’, is a mid-tempo grinder that lacks a little in overwhelming intensity, but makes up for it in sheer heaviness.
Side two opens up with the ending of ‘Chemical Warfare’ (the band’s 1984 classic) before bursting right into ‘Ghosts Of War’, another blazing scorcher that slows down about halfway through for some serious crunch in the traditional Slayer vein. ‘Read Between The Lies’ is very ‘Raining Blood’-like in its riffing style, except that it never gets any faster than just uptempo. Whereas ‘Cleanse The Soul’ is yet another high-speed ripper that wouldn’t have sounded too out of place on Reign In Blood. Slayer’s version of Judas Priest’s ‘Dissident Aggressor’ on the other hand sounds a bit pointless and kind of un-Slayer, although it’s certainly one of the better covers I’ve heard in recent times. While the album’s closing cut, ‘Spill The Blood’, is by far the most adventurous track on the whole album, featuring clean guitar picking at the beginning, as well as in the middle of the song, and showcasing some more of Tom Araya’s “singing” talents that remind me somewhat of old Ozzy in the Black Sabbath days.
Overall, I would have to say that I prefer the faster, more traditional sounding Slayer cuts over the slower, more plodding numbers, but I must give the band credit for at least making an effort to try something new and not being afraid to experiment at such a crucial stage of their career. Naturally, there will be the usual number of morons accusing Slayer of “selling out” upon getting an earful of this record, but the fact is that the band are simply expanding their horizons without steering away from the old sound, and if anything, they’ve gotten even heavier in the two years since Reign In Blood.
If you’re a diehard Slayer fan that doesn’t mind hearing something a bit less speed-heavy from time to time, you will love South Of Heaven, but if you’re expecting to hear Reign In Blood Part Two, you’ll be in for a major disappointment. Buy or die!!!
Review taken from Metal Forces, Issue 28 (1988)
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