When Slayer released its 4th studio album South of Heaven in 1988 it came at what could be considered the height of the Thrash Metal movement, with Metallica (…and Justice for all), Megadeth (So Far, So Good… So What), Anthrax (State of Euphoria) and Testament (The New Order) all releasing records that year.
South of Heaven initially did not resonate with fans that were salivating for the next chapter in the “Slaytanic” Bible following Slayer’s groundbreaking record Reign in Blood. Guitarist Kerry King and Drummer Dave Lombardo have echoed some of the sentiments of the fanbase and shared their feelings on the record with Lombardo stating that he was left wanting “something else” following the completion of recording and King discussing how the track “Cleanse the soul” was too “happy” sounding for a Slayer cut and cites the album as one of his least favourite albums
From a sonic standpoint, South of Heaven features some of the best-sounding drum production of the era. Lombardo puts on an absolute drumming clinic and the band sounds extremely tight. The guitar work from King and Jeff Hanneman sounds as ferocious as ever and there are plenty of whammy bar dips and solo trades to keep the most hardened Slayer fan happy. I do however wish the vocals were a tad higher in the mix and that some of the backing vocals/harmonies were blended a bit more.
Another strong aspect of the album is how the band found the perfect mix of breakneck speeds bone-crunching riffs and tempo changes across the songs, offering a more balanced record.
Lyrically Slayer continued to stray away from the satanic themes that were at the forefront of their earlier records and blended evil themes, with messages centred on anti-religion (Read Between the Lies), funeral rites (Cleanse the Soul), abortions (Silent Scream) and zombie transformation (Live Undead). If you ask me, this is when Slayer truly became the evilest band on the planet.
While South of Heaven is sandwiched between other great Slayer records (Reign in Blood, Seasons in the Abyss). It ranks high among their releases for me, the title track with Tom Araya’s depiction of hell on earth is one of my favourite metal songs and lays a solid foundation for the rest of the record.
Other notable tracks for me are Behind the crooked cross, Ghosts of War, and Slayer’s interpretation of Judas Priest’s Dissident Aggressor. Oh, don’t forget to check out the album’s closer Spill the Blood for some sweet acoustic passages.
Until next time friends, keep it loud!
Awful shout-sing vocals, word salad political lyrics about guns and abortions, low gain guitars, lots of underwhelming riffs. A terrible turn for Slayer who were at the height of their career with Reign in Blood, the band literally said “we can’t top Reign, we should just change our style” and this mediocre album is the result. Really wish they would have stayed the course with Hell Awaits and Reign in Blood as their guide. Everything post-1986 is unlistenable imho.
Great write up of South of Heaven. I concur with your sentiments. Huge year in metal. South was Greatly under rated. Looking back it was a massive bridge between, in my opinion, Slayers 2 best albums. Loved the grind and tone from front to back.