Slayer ‎- South Of Heaven CD


Picture this: you're Slayer. You've just released Reign in Blood. It is an extreme metal classic and is recognised as such on release. It is commercially successful, too, and has attracted tons of controversy. It is fast and lean, under half an hour long, and contains instantly iconic and recognisable songs. How the hell do you follow that up?

The answer, of course, was to slow down. After pushing thrash to such limits, Slayer had no choice, else suffer from making the same album twice (which they did end up doing, but that's for another time). Rick Rubin is back on the boards, Dave Lombardo is back after a very short absence, Jeff Hanneman has written most of the riffs due to Kerry King's absence - he moved house and got married - and Tom Araya steps up his lyrical game. Oh, and his vocals are still manic and crazed but in a more measured way.

Just to make this clear, South of Heaven is not doom metal. There are too many faster, thrashier moments for it to qualify. It does, though, have a sense of doom and dread running throughout which is arguably more potent than Reign in Blood. Whilst Reign is a blink and you'll miss it slideshow of atrocity, disease, murder, death and agony, South of Heaven is that same slideshow but with a crippling inevitability. As a result, it's pretty intense, as song by song you get the feeling that something horrifying is about to happen, and there is nothing you can do to stop it.

Compared to the anti-reverb machinery of Reign in Blood, the production of South of Heaven focuses heavily on Dave Lombardo's drumming. They're fucking huge on this album. They never sounded better on record. As a result, Tom Araya's vocals are a little buried in the mix which could put off listeners who love the more upfront approach on Hell Awaits or Reign. The guitars are a bit drier than previously, which again is an acquired taste, but one I have acquired.

The title track opens with an iconic riff, eventually building with the addition of divebombing harmonics, drum strikes and fills. When Araya's vocals come in, you can hear the bomb ticking, about to go off; "before you see the light, you must DIIIIEEEE!" And with that, the slowburning opener is off. The riffing, mostly courtesy of Hanneman, alternates between being doomy and ominous to outright attacking in the verses, whereby the drums come out of their mid-tempo groove and into more familiar thrash territory. The lyrics, intriguingly for Slayer, do not actually consider South of Heaven to be about Hell: it's about Earth.