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Slayer: South of heaven

27/07/12  ||  Smalley

Before a certain staffer bugs me about double coverages again, yes, I’m aware that GlobalD may already have a review for “South of heaven”, yeah. But, the original write-up may have been a bit… “skimpy” on certain songwriting details, so I thought we could use a different take. Not just because of that though, as there’s another major factor at play here; you see, the reactions to “South” are a bit weird, since, while the general consensus on Slayer’s first few records is a bit mixed, just about anyone who enjoys the band at all agrees that the records surrounding “South”, Reign in blood & Seasons in the abyss, both kick motherfucken ass. However, “South” itself generates a bit of divided response; some swear by it as Slayer’s finest hour, but others were let down by it, for a number of reasons. Me? I like it, but fall somewhere inbetween those two extremes nonetheless…

First off, the lovers love “South” because, well, it’s just classic Slayer, but also because it introduced an intriguing new element to their style (more on that later). But, a different new element here is part of the reason why “South” nets indifference from the haters, an element even the lovers never seem to defend, and that is Tom’s new-found efforts at clean “singing”. While I do appreciate his risk-taking, and this change isn’t a disaster, it’s still blatantly inadequate, especially on “Behind the crooked cross” (the “singing” on that one is a big part of why it’s such a tepid track, as a matter of fact). Sorry Tom, but you’re no Dio, so just stick to the hardcore-inspired shouting, and those occasional, awesome falsetto shrieks you do.

But, as for the other new element I spoke of, I’m actually pretty positive toward it, though it is a divisive one, and another part of the reason why the SoH haters don’t dig this record. Of course, I’m speaking of Slayer’s experimentations with more mid-tempo songwriting, and while I get why some find that boring, especially when compared to the relentless thrashjaculation that was “Reign in blood”, I still appreciate the particularly ominous, creepy mood it gave to certain tracks, a mood that just wouldn’t be possible at a more in-your-face pace. I mean, that’s obvious just from the first 30 seconds of this record, with the way the title track starts with a slow, clean, echoing guitar line that’s almost leisurely in its tempo, but what it lacks for in heaviness, it more than makes up with sheer spine-chilling.

It’s like Slayer intentionally set out to write an opener that was the complete opposite of “Angel of death”, but it doesn’t feel like a self-conscious change for them at all, but rather, is completely natural and unforced; fucken nice. While not all the mid-tempo cuts here work as well as that (like the aforementioned “crooked cross”), I still have to admire the greater maturity and patience Slayer shows with them, and the way they’re able to keep a compelling tension and pressure to the pacing, keeping from fully “opening the valves”, so to speak. Not to act like all of “South” is mid-tempo, however, as cuts like “Cleanse the soul”, “Ghosts of war”, and “Silent scream” scratch the itch for traditionally fast, thrashy material; hell, “scream” is one of the most relentlessly intense songs of Slayer’s entire career!

Oh yeah, and then there’s “Live Undead”, one of my fave Slayer songs, with a first 2 & 1/2 and a half minutes that are mid-tempo, which gradually (and brilliantly) keeps adding in new layers and constantly cranking up the tension, until it finally all boils over into a relentless shredfest for its final minute; best of both worlds for the fucken win!!!

Anyway, to sum up, “South of heaven” has a few superbly creepy slower tracks, a few really good all-out shredders, a few good-but-not-great cuts, and a few disappointments, but still works rather well on the whole. The cover of “Dissident aggressor” is quite unnecessary, and again, Tom’s singing is an occasional prob, but at least Lombardo’s drumming is the first real example of that highly fluid, unpredictably groovy style that has made him such a skins legend. And of course, you also have the undeniably iconic, classic Slayer songwriting here, the kind you just can’t hear anything like from anywhere else.

Again, I do get why some Slayheads are let down by this one, but the band would never be able to out-do “Reign” in terms of intensity, so as far as unexpected sound changes go, I’d have to say “South of heaven” is one of the better ones in the realms of metal, and a pretty suiting one for them at the time. It may lack the raw, relentless aggression of RiB, nor is as sure-footed as the near perfect fast/mid-tempo balance on “Seasons”, and is the weakest effort from Slayer’s classic period, but “South of heaven” will still always have a special place in my heart as Slayer’s ugly little duckling that could. Wait, I just mixed up my kid’s stories references, didn’t I? Oh well, fuck it; SLAYYYYYYYYYER!!!


  • Information
  • Released: 1988
  • Label: Def Jam
  • Website:
  • Band
  • Tom Araya: vocals, bass
  • Kerry King: guitars
  • Jeff Hanneman: guitars
  • Dave Lombardo: drums
  • Tracklist
  • 01. South Of Heaven
  • 02. Silent Scream
  • 03. Live Undead
  • 04. Behind The Crooked Cross
  • 05. Mandatory Suicide
  • 06. Ghosts Of War
  • 07. Read Between The Lies
  • 08. Cleanse The Soul
  • 09. Dissident Aggressor
  • 10. Spill the Blood