Great Metal Albums of 1988: Slayer- South of Heaven

For some, Slayer’s “South of Heaven” album was controversial back in 1988. Some of the die-hard Slayer fans were put off because it was slower than the previous three thrash-fest albums while others were impressed that Slayer was able to slow it down a bit. Reading a little of the history, I can see where the band was coming from when they recorded this album. They didn’t want the album to sound exactly like their previous “Reign in Blood” album, no matter how fantastic that album was. Therefore, they slowed it down quite a bit.

That slow down comes through with the opening title cut. Doom metal wasn’t a thing back in 1988 but if doom metal bands wanted something to base their music on, then the song “South of Heaven” provided the perfect blue print. In spite of it being many miles an hour slower than what Slayer fans were used to, it has this hypnotic vibe which you can’t help bobbing your head along to. While not as slow, the best known song from the album follows along this path. However, the fact that they played “Mandatory Suicide” three of the four times I saw them live and they might have played it the fourth time but I only caught twenty minutes of Slayer at Download 2017. The post on that day explains why. Anyway, while not quite as slow as the opener, it still draws you in with those hypnotic chords and while it might not sound like thrash metal Slayer, the lyrics let you know that it is indeed a Slayer song. Not many other bands would sing about such topics back then. While not as spectacular as “Mandatory Suicide, ” “Live Undead” is in the same vein although the speed does increase in places, especially at the end.

With everything said, Slayer don’t totally abandon the sound which made them a household name in thrash metal. “Silent Scream” bears witness to that and while I wouldn’t call “Behind the Crooked Cross” a thrash song, it is still faster than many of the other songs and it’s a good metal tune in it’s own right and the King-Hanneman guitar solo trade off is fantastic. They do go more full thrash on “Read Between the Lies,” which is another song which takes a dig at TV evangelists. Well, they made themselves a prime target for metal bands. I do love the guitar work on this song and Dave’s drumming is noteworthy here as well.

Now it’s time for the song which I not only consider the hidden gem of the album but the hidden gem of the entire Slayer discography. I’m talking about “Ghosts of War.” Most people associate anti-war songs with a hippy type playing an acoustic guitar but Slayer proves that you can use thrash to get your point across. “Ghosts of War” is the thrashiest, headbanging song on the album and I love everything about it. From the cool intro to the pounding chords, Tom’s vocals being as good as ever, the guitar solo tradeoff and even when they slow the song down toward the end, that power is not lost. Okay, it’s my all time favourite Slayer song and I admit that I was a little disappointed, (I stress a little), when they didn’t play it any of the times I saw them live.

For me, the final three songs, while all good song, aren’t as strong as the rest of the album. Saying that, “Cleanse the Soul” has a cool intro before going more traditional Slayer thrash metal. Following that is a cool cover of Judas Priest’s “Dissident Aggressor.” They do it justice. The album closes on a slower note with “Spill the Blood.” It opens with a very un-Slayer like acoustic intro before heading back into the realms of doom metal. Believe me when I say that it’s a smashing way to end the album.

Track Listing:

  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
Slayer

Tom Arraya- vocals, bass

Kerry King- guitar

Jeff Hanneman- guitar

Dave Lombardo- drums

Here’s a little hint when listening to “South of Heaven:” Forget “Reign in Blood” or any of their previous albums and listen and judge it on its own merit. While not a thrash fest, I think it’s a great album, even if Kerry King doesn’t think so.

Next post: Mass- Take You Home

To buy Rock and Roll Children, email me at: tobychainsaw@hotmail.com

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11 Responses to “Great Metal Albums of 1988: Slayer- South of Heaven”

  1. Well, of the albums posted for 1988 so far, this is one I am eminently familiar with. You’re totally right about them doing well not to try and copy Reign In Blood, that wouldn’t have worked out. This newer, slower sound was very good and very sinister, still just as evil as them going at a million miles an hour. There’s some really good stuff on this one and this sound served them well into the 90’s.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I really like this one although a lot of hard core Slayer fans hated it, apparently.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I have to admit, I don’t know anything by Slayer. Maybe will check them out someday.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. SLAYER!! \m/ \m/ Heck yeah. Love this one. Let’s go!

    Liked by 1 person

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