What do you do for an encore when you have released arguably the greatest album in metal history, at the zenith point for the genre? Well if you are Slayer, you blow people’s minds and release South Of Heaven (Def Jam) as the follow-up to Reign In Blood (also Def Jam). Although some of its slower mid-tempo jams threw fans for a loop, Slayer’s fourth album is full of gritty, true to life bangers and classic tracks. Let’s revisit this masterpiece which turned thirty years old today.
For an album marked by a ton of Jeff Hanneman compositions, fans were caught off guard by the newer sound of the band. The production, once again by producer Rick Rubin, has a lot in common with Reign In Blood, although it maybe has a hair better guitar tone and drum sound overall. While there are surely a bunch of thrash metal tracks present, the insane speed metal tempos of Reign.. are just not prevalent. Some of the highlight tracks are these slowed down jams, and the band has admitted as much in past interviews that getting away from the raucous speeds was their goal. Reign In Blood was perfect so no sense in trying to top it. Although some lyrics were typical wheelhouse for the band (Satan, death, war, genocide), there is no denying the growth in this department by Hanneman, Kerry King, and Tom Araya. They didn’t build a better beast, but they challenged themselves to write more memorable, intelligent lyrics and succeeded. The Larry Carrol artwork was also sufficiently evil.
Musically it is a killer with many, many fan favorites. ‘South Of Heaven’ and ‘Mandatory Suicide’ have barely been out of the live set list since they were released in `88. These are indispensable tracks in the bands’ history. The slowed down thrash/doom moments of ‘South of Heaven’, “Live Undead’ and ‘Spill The Blood’ were treading new ground at this time. Some of these more chill passages in songs, just added more heaviness when the speed and the bombast came back in.
Definitely a more carefully paced album, tracks like ‘Behind The Crooked Cross’ and ‘Ghost of War’ are underrated gems and have been covered by other bands heavily. Dave Lombardo was at the pinnacle at this time and you can hear the immaculate tuning of his kit, especially on the remastered version of the album. Some of the bands’ most copied sounds and styles came from this album.
Even the bonus track, the Judas Priest cover of ‘Dissident Aggressor’ is amazing. One of the toughest, NWOBHM songs ever is given the full-on Slayer treatment, complete with an insane solo. Even this track was in the set for a few years after its release.
Countless bands have been influenced by South of Heaven, as much as their work prior and what came after. This album continues to be discovered by new generations of Slayer fans.
“On and on, south of heaven….”