Slayer – South Of Heaven.

Summer 1988 saw Slayer attempt to follow an album that was impossible to better. “Reign In Blood” is one of the best albums I have ever heard. You really should listen to it with the lyric sheet in your hands preferably via headphones and at full volume. I’ve said it before – it’s a masterpiece.

Could they follow-up Reign In Blood credibly. With Rick Rubin again producing they gave it one hell of a good go.

South Of Heaven is probably tied with Hell Awaits as the bands 2nd best ever album. Albums 2 and 4 could never pass Reign In Blood. Come to think of it I can only think of 2 maybe 3 albums that are better than Reign In Blood out of all the music I have ever heard. On a good day I’d still say Reign In Blood is the best album of all-time.  It practically transcends albums proper. It stands alone.

Needless to say I bought South Of Heaven the day it came out. So spellbound by Reign In Blood I was waiting for record shops to open at 9am as an 18 year old to buy South Of Heaven.

The NME proclaimed South Of Heaven as “the true Black Album”. I loved this notion.

South Of Heaven (the first track) is slow. Make that sloooow.

It does sound like a bolder, more sick / deeper Reign In Blood. Hang-On, that’s not possible.

The opener builds to a huge crescendo. SLOW. Shattering blows. It picks up and rattles. The production (again) is totally spot-on. By the time Tom Araya bellows “On and On South Of Heaven” the excitement is already racked up. This maxes as the line “The Root Of All Evil Is The Heart Of A Black Soul, A Force That Has Lived For All Eternity” drops out of your speakers.

Damn, Slayer are giving mission impossible a good go.

Twining feedback gives way with no break into Silent Scream. The speed is back. Pounding rhythm. The vocals aren’t spat at us as they were so perfectly on Reign In Blood. The different gear is still fast. Slayer are maturing beyond the perfect sound of their previous album. It’s clear already that Reign In Blood cannot be surpassed but this still sounds supreme.

Live Undead has a hellish intro. Swathes of heavy controlled sound. Screeching dual guitar from Hanneman and King. The drum kit is torn apart by Lombardo. Feakish guitar solos streak eventually. The track lifts and blazes out in gory glory.

Behind The Crooked Cross builds. Swashing guitar swipes like a boxer that has you on the ropes. A controlled vocal delivery again underlines that Slayer have had to move on from album el perfecto (Reign In Blood). The track bridges then punches straight at its target. The melody then  bounces – but this is as far away from pop as you will get.

Mandatory Suicide closes Side 1 with arguably the best track so far. South Of Heaven is all about attempting to control the force of nature that Reign In Blood is. A death hymn. It’s bleak. Short guitar solos that hit the spine. Solid vocal delivery. Mandatory Suicide washes away with near spoken vocal. Hell of war paints an ugly / beautiful thrash image. This is The Black Album to end all Black Album’s indeed.

Ghosts Of War echoes Chemical Warfare (an early Slayer E.P.) musically. Araya again spews flowing demonic lyrics. Insane guitar battles ensue. Then the sound solidifies for the first time proper on South Of Heaven. Reign In Blood rears its head. The sound locks. Oh, that sound… It then only gets heavier. The lock is hollered over by Araya. Ridiculously brilliant drum rolls, every skin is hit. A great track.

Read Between The Lies has the fury of punk, but this is thrash perfecto remember. The dark controlled sound again twists, guitars split away. Robust lyrics spew. The sparks suggest fire at any moment – it snuffs itself out before any serious damage is done.

Cleanse The Soul now follows for the first time a post “Reign” Slayer sound. This is South Of Heaven and it sounds like the band have accepted misson impossible is just that, they go with it and the sound is still very much of gory triumph. The track checks itself and literally bleeds away.

Dissident Aggressor (a Judas Priest cover) is an odd, brave move. Of course the cover is given full Slayer treatment. A metal anthem twisted into a dark corner. It comes out fighting – just like the lyric suggests. Somehow nodding to the bands roots yet moving on from Reign In Blood at the same time. Slayer admit defeat but fight every last tooth of the way. Admirable.

Spill The Blood wraps up South Of Heaven. SLOW. Control. Power chords. Solid. I have always thought the track sounds like “False Insight” by Concrete Sox (but that observation is too nerdy for 98% of readers surely.) The track comes back at us with more power. Slayer do sound more mature. As Spill The Blood crashes out you still acknowledge they are the best thrash band ever. You can feel the hardcore and metal influences in equal measure. Ku-fuckin’-dos.

So where does the album rate amongst other Slayer albums? It really is a dead heat with Hell Awaits (the bands 2nd album) but benefits from far superior production (to Hell Awaits). If only rick Rubin had got his hands on them in 1985…

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