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"South of Heaven" is the 4th studio album by American thrash metal band, Slayer. It was released in 1988 on Def Jam Recordings and produced by the band with Rick Rubin. The line-up for the album was Tom Araya (vocals/bass), Jeff Hanneman (guitar), Kerry King (guitar) and Dave Lombardo (drums).
It was never going to be easy to have to go back into the studio as one of the 'Big 4' of thrash, but even harder to have to do so to record an album as a successor to what many consider the finest thrash album of all time, "Reign in Blood". In 1988, this is what Slayer attempted to do and the result was "South of Heaven". I'll have to be honest here. "South of Heaven" was never going to be as definitive as "Reign in Blood", but that doesn't mean it's a bad album. In fact, it's a very good album.
Right from the opening riff of the title song you know it's Slayer. That haunting melody which drags you deeper and deeper until the power chords and drums hit and condemn you to hell just gives you enough time to think that you're in for a very heavy ride. "South of Heaven" is one of Slayer's very best songs, and the drum sound is just incredible. Lyrically, it's dark, as you'd expect, and I love the first verse:
"An unforeseen future nestled somewhere in time.
Unsuspecting victims, no warnings no signs.
Judgement day, the second coming arrives.
Before you see the light, you must die."
It's typically Slayer of that time and no concert would be complete without this song and it is a huge crowd favourite. Araya and Hanneman have written a masterpiece of a song here.
"Silent Scream" is a song about abortion, whether right or wrong. In fact, I'm pretty sure it's not for or against it but is lyrically about it in general in that sadistic Slayer way. The lyrics deal with how the unborn has no rights because it can't say anything about it, hence the term "Silent Scream". Musically, this is a beast of a song and one of my favourites off the album. Lombardo's drumming is sublime, pounding on the kit while tapping the double bass pedals as furious as I've heard on any record and that main riff is completely insane.
"Live Undead" is another great song that is spoken from the narrator's point of view and he's been bitten by a zombie and is slowly turning into one himself. I love the opening verse which goes:
"Cascaded darkness, walls close in on me.
Nailed shut but my eyes still see.
Severe anguish as my body evolves.
The pain of life after death it resolves."
The music is also really good and Dave Lombardo's drumming is top drawer stuff with many different chops here and there, but it's the twin guitars of Hanneman and King which steal the show with some forceful riffs that are backed up by some majestic solos, and the bridge is venomous.
"Behind the Crooked Cross" is a song that Jeff Hanneman wrote to answer his critics that said he was a Nazi sympathiser, but it's also about German soldiers that questioned what they were doing during World War II, and whether it was morally right to do these things. Musically, it's not one of my favourite songs, to be honest. It's a little too basic in the riffs but that doesn't necessarily mean it's an awful track, because the lyrics are pretty poignant with what happened during 1939-45.
"Mandatory Suicide" is a song about not being given the choice of going to war or not. It's a song about conscription and being forced to fight for your country. I'm not sure if it's about a particular war but there are references, or at least insinuations, to Vietnam and Iraq in the lyrics. There is a poignant ending with the following verse that Tom doesn't sing but speaks. At first calm and then beginning to get more and more frantic after this verse:
"Lying, dying, screaming in pain.
Begging, pleading, bullets drop like rain.
Minds explode, pain sheers to your brain.
Radical amputation, this is insane.
I think he's portraying the victim or victims here. The solider sent to die. The main riff is magnificent and this is one of Slayer's very best songs.
"Ghosts of War" is a song about the war dead that are encouraged to rise from their graves and take revenge on those that slayed them. Hanneman and King have written a moody song here that is still blistering but sincere also. I can't get enough of Lombardo's drumming on this album, and here again he's top quality with the double bass pedals in full flow and smashing a fast beat at the same time. It's not the greatest of songs and I'm sure that no other band could have pulled it off the way Slayer does.
"Read Between the Lies" is a song against the TV evangelists that plagued our screens in the 1980s. It's against those preachers that prey on people to donate their money so that they can lead better lives, when in truth it's the evangelist who leads a better life in luxury. There is a small verse which I like a lot that goes:
"Praise the lord, praise God is what you wish to sell
There is no heaven, without a hell."
What I like the most about that is the way it's delivered. The guitars don't let up on this song, although it's a slower number. There is also a very good bass line and you don't hear much bass throughout the album, so it's a pleasant surprise here.
"Cleanse the Soul" is another Dave Lombardo master class in drumming, with some furious riffs and hooks by the two guitarists. It's really difficult to say anything else really, because this is Slayer doing what Slayer does best. It's a song about human sacrifice, spoken by the death bringer himself as his minions chant for the unfortunate victim's inevitable death. It's a very underrated song and one that is rarely, if ever, performed live.
"Dissident Aggressor" is a cover version of the song which appeared on the British heavy metal band's "Sin After Sin" album which was released in 1977. Whereas Priest still rock with the original version and you absolutely cannot fault Halford's incredible vocals, Slayer has turned it from a poodle to a Doberman with heavier guitars and a slightly faster pace. This is a song about some countries that prey on others to get what they want and make them fall in line.
"Spill the Blood" completes the album in fine style with a song about temptation from the devil and the promises he gives in return for your soul. He's luring his victim into a false sense of security by telling him to kill for eternal life but in the end he's tricked and the devil has his soul, forever to stay with him in hell. This is one of my favourite songs on the album and I love the haunting intro that precedes some heavy riffing. It's a great end to an impressive album.
In summary, it's a Slayer album. It's a very heavy album and a good thrash album... but there's not enough classic Slayer about it; it's missing a piece of the puzzle somehow. There are some live favourites on here, "South of Heaven", "Silent Scream" and "Mandatory Suicide", but there are some songs that Slayer haven't, and probably never will, play live. The final track, "Spill the Blood", brings the album to a melodic close and lifts the listener back out of the pits of hell. Unless you've put it on repeat and "South of Heaven" drags you down once more.
1. South of Heaven
2. Silent Scream
3. Live Undead
4. Behind the Crooked Cross
5. Mandatory Suicide
6. Ghosts of War
7. Read Between the Lies
8. Cleanse the Soul
9. Dissident Aggressor
10. Spill the Blood
My rating: 8/10
Slayer's South of Heaven album was released in 1988 and was the band's 4th album, it was also their commercial peak and having perfected their heaviness on the album Reign in Blood, they tried something slightly new and for me it didn't quite work.
The guitarists were slowed down, not ideal for a band who had so far specialised in speed metal, to a slow doomy style pace on top of which Chilean American vocalist Tom Araya used his trademark satanic shouting style sounding ever so slightly like Sylvester Stallone at the end of the last Rocky film where he's missing some brain cells (not that he was ever Einstein)'
Slowed down, the tracks almost sound like a sermon, originally accused of being satanistic lyrics - I don't think they'd be considered so today, although that obviously depends where. I can't see the album being accepted in Iran just yet.
The tracks for me are the quicker tracks like Mandatory Suicide, strangely enough with Araya sounding like a cool version of Dexter Holland. Apart from that the fact the lyrics are pretty memorable and even dare I say fun lol. A good album but by no means Slayer's best.
1. "South of Heaven" Tom Araya Jeff Hanneman 5:00
2. "Silent Scream" Araya Hanneman, Kerry King 3:04
3. "Live Undead" King, Araya Hanneman 3:50
4. "Behind the Crooked Cross" Hanneman Hanneman 3:12
5. "Mandatory Suicide" Araya Hanneman, King 4:03
6. "Ghosts of War" King Hanneman, King 3:54
7. "Read Between the Lies" King, Araya Hanneman 3:21
8. "Cleanse the Soul" King, Araya Hanneman 3:01
9. "Dissident Aggressor" (Judas Priest cover) Rob Halford K.K. Downing, Glenn Tipton 2:34
10. "Spill the Blood" Hanneman Hanneman 4:48
I was once quite comfortable with my attitude to Slayer. I hated them and I hated their music. Number two, hating their music, came first, after I listened to "Reign in Blood", their infamously heavy early album and discovered that it had all the heaviness of a buzz-saw. That is, none. It was loud, high-pitched, and fast, but it didn't seem at all heavy. Number one, hating them as well as their music, came along after tuning in to the old Radio One to hear them live at Donnington "Monsters of Rock". The sun was shining outside, but as they were announced it was covered by cloud as quickly as I've ever seen it covered, which seemed a portent of something, though I wasn't sure what. Then Tony Araya, their lead singer, gloated about what was going on in Yugoslavia before they launched into "War Ensemble". So I switched off the radio and decided Slayer weren't for me. They really weren't pleasant people and fortunately their music wasn't worth listening to. Alas, those comfortable days are over. I heard them live on the new Radio1FM playing "Angel of Death", their infamous song about Josef Mengele off "Reign in Blood" and damn, this time round I liked it. It wasn't just heavy, it conveyed genuine menace in a way that's rare in a theatrical and overblown genre. Then I heard "South of Heaven", the title track off this album, and I was half-converted. I still think Slayer the band are obnoxious people but I like some of their songs. And three of them are on this album: "South of Heaven", "Mandatory Suicide", and "Read between the Lies". The other seven are loud, fast, and unmemorable, but these three add heaviness to the mix and stop being unmemorable. The lyrics are surprisingly literate too and as an added bonus the picture of the band on the back of the CD enables me to indulge in a little biological determinism. Three of t
he band, Tom Araya, Kerry King, and Jeff Hanneman, look like thugs, with bullet heads and broad faces. One, Dave Lombardo, doesn't: his features look positively delicate next to the other three's. And which members of Slayer 1988 are still in Slayer 2001? The three thugs, Araya, King, and Hanneman. It seems that genuinely heavy, aggressive, nasty music requires a certain dedication. Lombardo, who doesn't seem to have received an overdose of male hormones, didn't have it; Araya, King, and Hanneman, who do seem to have received that, do. And while a reasonable dose of male hormones is believed to be good for spatial and combinatorial abilities, overdoses of them aren't. Compare masculine football, which is a complex and skilful game, with hyper-masculine rugby, which isn't. And compare masculine Lombardo, whose drumming is very skilful and complex, with hypermasculine Araya, King, and Hanneman, whose guitars and bass aren't. Slayer's music is crude, but it's heavy and when it's good, it's very, very evil.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 South Of Heaven
2 Silent Scream
3 Live Undead
4 Behind The Crooked Cross
5 Mandatory Suicide
6 Ghosts Of War
7 Read Between The Lies
8 Cleanse The Soul
9 Dissident Aggressor
10 Spill The Blood