Friday, November 11, 2016

Slayer - South of Heaven (1988)

With the success that Slayer has gotten over their first albums, bringing a fast and demonic attitude to the growing thrash genre, many were possibly surprised when they listened to "South of Heaven". Unlike its brethren, this album is notably slower and not as heavy, which is actually a intended move by the band. Jeff Hannemann himself has said that the band knew they would not be able to top the predecessor "Reign In Blood", so they wanted to try something different, change up the pace of the band's career. An odd move indeed, but a successful one none the less.

Because while "South of Heaven" may not have the same anger and fury as "Reign In Blood", it still has enough fire power within to make the listener bang its head relentlessly. With songs like "Ghosts of War" and "Silent Scream", you can't really go wrong, it is classic Slayer in its best kind of form. Pure thrashing madness.

The rest of the songs though are kind of hard to melt down, mostly because we are not used of hearing Slayer playing like this. The beats are slow and moody, and Tom Araya is rarely screaming, toning down his voice by a lot. It is a lot to take in for the fans of the band, and it even might act as a divider, but there is no doubt that this is a Slayer record, a different one. The title track is evidence enough of that, being just as evil as you want the band to be.

My main concern over the album is the guitars, mostly because there seem to be no energy to them. We get some good riffs here and there, and some cool solos as well, but Hannemann and King is not delivering their A game here. It is not that I think that they cannot slow things down, I just think they did not put their hearts out here, not committing to the music fully. The same could be stated about Araya, but I think it is more that his vocals just do not fit in here properly. Simply put, he held back a little too much here, should have loosened up a bit.

In fact, the only one that seems to be fully on point in this record is Lombardo and his drum beats, but that could be a mirage since the drum track is pretty high in the mix. Maybe it was a good choice because it gives these slower songs some more impact, without drowning the guitars all too much. Songs like "Mandatory Suicide" and "Live Undead" take full advantage of this production, sounding a lot fresher than what they might have been with quieter drums. Still though, I do not think that is the make or break point of the album, it is just there as a nice added touch.

Speaking of nicely added touches, we got a cover in this record, and while it is not necessary at all, it is still an interesting one. Slayer have covered the Judas Priest classic "Dissident Aggressor" from "Sin After Sin", a great song that Slayer transforms to their own, and while it does not steal the show, it is a valiant effort that gives the song a new character. I like it, and it fits neatly into the album.

Overall, "South of Heaven" is a disappointment, with some lows and some highs in just over 35 minutes. We all knew that it would not reach the same heights as "Reign In Blood", that was given, but one would hope that it still would hold a high quality. It is a challenging record, one that tests the patience of the common Slayer fan, but there is enough interesting stuff in here to keep it from being boring. I like the fact that the band tried something different here, but let us be honest, we want the faster stuff instead of this. So move on over "South of Heaven" and let me get to the next album in the discography already.

Songs worthy of recognition: Silent Scream, South of Heaven, Ghosts of War

Rating: 6,5/10 Mandatory Suicides

More reviews of Slayer
Show No Mercy
Hell Awaits
Reign In Blood

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