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Album · 1988

Filed under Thrash Metal


1. South of Heaven (4:58)
2. Silent Scream (3:06)
3. Live Undead (3:50)
4. Behind the Crooked Cross (3:14)
5. Mandatory Suicide (4:05)
6. Ghosts of War (3:53)
7. Read Between the Lies (3:20)
8. Cleanse the Soul (3:02)
9. Dissident Aggressor (Judas Priest cover) (2:35)
10. Spill the Blood (4:49)

Total Time: 36:54


- Tom Araya / bass, vocals
- Jeff Hanneman / guitar
- Kerry King / guitar
- Dave Lombardo / drums

About this release

Label: Def Jam Recordings

Released: July 5, 1988

Recorded: December 1987–February 1988

Studio: Hit City West, Los Angeles, California and Chung King, New York, New York

Producer: Slayer, Rick Rubin

Thanks to Stooge, Pekka, Unitron, UMUR for the updates


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South of Heaven was my first favorite album. The first one I ever listened to while thinking “god damn, this is music for me.” I had never heard sincerely dark or heavy music before that, and I never looked back.

It all started with my first videogame, DOOM. I played that game when I was just 2 years old – I worked the gun while my father did everything else, but it was still an incredibly memorable experience that was burned into my memory. I didn’t play the game for a long span of time because we had to get rid of it after Columbine happened, and then it became kind of a pipe dream to be able to play it again.

It was actually right as I was entering public school in 8th grade (I was homeschooled prior) that we managed to get the game again. Man that was a triumphant moment, and the game was just as great as I remembered. However, one thing that struck me was the music – holy hell, that music kicked ass.

I wasn’t even into music yet at this age. I listened to The Beatles, I listened to whatever the parents had, and I didn’t really listen too intently. I didn’t even know what metal really was, other than hearsay. But I LOVED this game’s music. I went to shady websites to download mp3s of the game tracks, and naturally, I started reading up about it more. Well it turns out a ton of the tracks are based on real songs by real bands – all metal bands I had never heard of save Metallica. I had to get this stuff.

I actually downloaded all of the original songs without listening to any of them first, bought my first mp3 player, and then listened to them all at once. It was a rite of passage of sorts. I loved everything I heard, even the gruff stuff like Pantera, who’s vocals were too much for me but the riffs were good enough to get through it. This new form of dark, aggressive music was striking all my chords, even though I had no experience with it. But at the end of the list – as the bands were in alphabetical order and there were only 10 or so – was Slayer.

Slayer hit different.

The three songs from DOOM were “South of Heaven” “Silent Scream” and “Behind the Crooked Cross” and they instantly became my favorite songs (barring “The Long and Winding Road, which will never not be one of the most beautiful songs ever). Such condensed aggression and evil had never struck me in aural form like that before. I mean, even Pantera, who were just as heavy, didn’t sound nearly as dark and evil as this. And the lyrics! Holy hell, they were actually disturbing at that age. A song about abortion – what the hell was that. And I loved them.

Finding that the songs were all from the same album, I got it immediately – digitally, physically, everything. I didn’t even know what riffs were before this! This was insane to me. The whole album was just as good as the few songs I’d heard. I easily listened to it at least once everyday for probably the rest of that school semester. And it ended up being really important in me finding my identity in a crucial period of life – I now knew that metal was my passion. I knew what kind of music I liked, I could talk about it, I met people through it, and I searched for more.

The funny thing is, though Slayer remains my favorite band, their other material didn’t click with me at first. Turns out this album was Slayer at their slowest and most melodic; if I started with any other album, I may not have been infected so easily. But yes, it was South of Heaven that turned me into a full-time metalhead, and it was the first album I could confidently say was my favorite. Listening to it while writing this review, I’m not surprised in the slightest that it gives me the same feeling of intense bliss as it did nearly 10 years ago, still comfortably sitting among my favorite albums of all time.
When it comes to the “big four” of thrash metal, I’ve always been a huge fan of Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax, yet, for reasons unexplainable, I’ve never been able to get into Slayer. 1986’s ‘Reign in Blood’ is often hailed as one of the all-time greatest metal albums, though, other than it’s absolutely killer opening and closing tracks, I find the record to be mindless drivel (ooh, controversial...).

Yet here we are; 1988’s ‘South of Heaven’, the album where the band infamously “slowed down”. Admittedly, the songs are a bit more polished here, and the riffs are more than just open-string chugging away. Although the album as a whole is still pretty repetitive, and doesn’t sound any different than anything the band have done before.

Still, I’ll give Slayer their due. ‘South of Heaven’ is better than anything they had released beforehand, and if vocalist Tom Ayara could somehow implement just a little bit of melody in his singing, they could really be onto something. Instead, as always, while the musicianship is of a high standard, I find the vocals tend to just sit on top of the riffs, without really fitting in too well.

If I had to pick any highlights out, I’d say the title track, as well as ‘Silent Scream’, ‘Live Undead’ and ‘Mandatory Suicide’ are all decent enough, and there’s ‘Behind the Crooked Cross’, which I instantly recognized due to its use in 8-bit midi glory in the video game ‘Doom’ (a game I played religiously in my childhood, years before I should have been allowed to). But as is always the case with Slayer, I’m just not that big a fan, and would much rather listen to any other member of the big four.
Imagine, after listening to the short, rapid, frantic, and brutal assault of Reign in Blood, picking up the next Slayer album. You expect another fast as hell thrash-fest, but what's this? Something has happened, it's still fast, but not completely. So what is this difference that changes the sound quite noticeably? The band slows it down at the right times.

Huh? You may be thinking that can't make much of a difference, but if you just compare the opening title cut with any songs from Reign in Blood and you'll notice. Just slowing the tempo down makes it sound so much darker and more menacing. The slow and brooding piercing riffs that open up the album really let you know that you've gone South of Heaven. Don't think it doesn't get fast though, Slayer wouldn't be Slayer if they weren't fast. However, the band really makes their music that much darker just by adding in brooding dirges of punishing riffing.

The whole album is a masterpiece, but if I had to pick highlights, those picks would be the title cut, "Silent Scream", "Behind the Crooked Cross", "Mandatory Suicide", "Spill the Blood", and the cover of the Judas Priest classic "Dissident Aggressor". The title cut, as described above, and "Mandatory Suicide" are perfect combinations of brutal thrashings and devilish dirges. "Silent Scream" is pure thrash deliciousness, while The Crooked Cross brings a catchy as hell groove. The Priest cover is faithful but at the same time the band gives it their own sound.

Tom Araya's vocals are as commanding and powerful as ever, Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King's riffs shred and tear, the solos are fast and screeching as always , and Dave Lombardo's drums will kick your ass. Drums roll for the slow passages and go anywhere when it's time for a thrash assault. One listen to this album is proof of him being one of the best drummers out there, and pretty much the Neil Peart of thrash metal. Stark menacing riffs, drumming that packs a punch, and a pounding groove close out the album with finale "Spill the Blood".

South of Heaven shows how just changing the tempo can make all the difference. For me Reign in Blood through Divine Intervention represents the holy tetralogy of Slayer's discography, and truly represent some of the best albums out there. If you haven't heard this album yet and are a metal fan, you must see the light for "Before you see the light, you must listen to South of Heaven". Hope you found this review helpful, feel free to comment!
It was 1984, I believe, when I first heard Slayer. "Haunting the Chapel". I was into Venom and then this whole thrash scene came along and Slayer was just the right blend of thrash with lyrics about Hell and Satan. Thirteen years old and this sounded awesome. "Hell Awaits" was perhaps even better!

I totally missed "Reign in Blood". Yeah, I know!

When "South of Heaven" came out, I bought it right away. But something had changed. Not the band so much. It was me. I just couldn't get into the music except for "Mandatory Suicide". A couple of years later, I sold all my "Satan! Satan!" music cassettes to a girlfriend's older brother.

And now I am back here in 2016, and though "Reign in Blood" made it into my CD collection last year and was quietly left aside after a listen or two, I am perhaps at last back to being interested in Slayer. Ready for Slayer! So I ordered "South of Heaven" on CD.

And I think I finally get the band, or at least get them as they were during their classic run. It strikes me that Slayer need to be heard as Slayer. Not mixed with lots of other stuff. Put on an album. Put on a mixed playlist of Slayer songs. But Slayer are an original band that created their own kind of work space. Tom Araya doesn't even try to sing (unlike Hetfield and Mustaine who actually can and have). He's fine to just bark a string of words like he's trying to give instructions over a jet plane's turbine engines, managing a sudden high scream that is always in the same note but sounds just awesome. I like Tom Araya and I like his vocal style. Many of the guitar riffs are just blistering through but there are plenty of mid-tempo (or at least not supersonic tempo) riffs that allow you to check out the view for a moment or two. Guitar solos shred and wail like an attack. Forget the subtleties of phrasing and smooth style. Slowhand is a nickname not ever given to anyone in Slayer. Guitarists Hanneman and King attack the strings with a force equivalent to trying to torture the instrument and remove its soul with their fingers. And Dave Lombardo seems to do on the drums what other drummers routinely do except that he does it so quickly, you would miss it if your ears could blink. "Was that a drum fill?" "Not sure. It sounded like something falling down the stairs in 4x speed."

Okay, so I've described Slayer's sound as I perceive it. Then what about this album? Well, it's not "Hell Awaits" and it's not "Reign in Blood" but it is still a Slayer album and you can be sure that all the reasons to love the band are here and present. I think that they have tried not to careen through the songs like they did on much of "Reign in Blood" and instead they do take a little more time to craft the music. A little. Like 30 seconds to a minute more per song. For me, it makes the album more interesting though as I can appreciate what is being played more when the tempo is a tad slower. Tom Araya seems to attempt shouting less and singing a bit more though not with the actual singer's ability that Hetfield and Mustaine possess. As I understand it, the band intentionally tried to do something different after the speed burner "Reign in Blood".

Two songs to point out: Slayer's cover of Judas Priest's "Dissident Aggressor", which they cover very well by playing it with Slayer's strengths and knowing when to veer away from trying to copy the song as accurately as possible. The other song is my old favourite "Mandatory Suicide". Now as it so happens, I recently listened to one of my favourite Metallica songs, "For Whom the Bell Tolls". You know where this is going, right?

"Mandatory Suicide" has an intro that seems remarkably as though it was based on the Metallica song. It's faster, higher toned, and more raw than Metallica's bomb-you-out-of-the-water, heavier-than-thou approach. But the intro is really similar. Both songs begin with power chord hits that are followed by a lead instrument melody. Metallica does it with bass, Slayer with guitar, though he melodies are different from one another. After the first four repetitions, the drums go into a regular beat for four repetitions, and then the lead melody is dropped but the power chords and drums continue (in the Metallica song the bass then plays the upcoming guitar riff) for four repetitions. And then both songs deliver an ominous, muted guitar riff that I have always considered (considered of "For Whom the Bell Tolls") as one of the coolest riffs in metal. After this though, the songs diverge. Metallica take a little more time to get to the lyrics and they never repeat that awesome riff. Slayer launch quickly into the lyrics and the riff resurfaces more than once. Both songs are also about war, though the Slayer version is probably lyrically closer to Metallica's "Disposable Heroes".

Curious, I searched the Net a bit but mostly just found squabbles about which band has the better song, the opinions being very subjective. I only found a Danish site where someone pointed out the similarities without any opinion for or against. Does anyone know why the Slayer song resembles the Metallica song? Was it intentional? A statement? A coincidence? Cryptomnesia?

So, in conclusion, I think this is a great album to follow "Reign in Blood" and now I have to order "Seasons in the Abyss" as well to get the trilogy. Slayer are Slayer. They do that extremely well.
Vim Fuego
‘South Of Heaven’ was probably the most difficult album to record ever, not in any sort of technical way, but in terms of what Slayer would face on its release. ‘Reign In Blood’ dropped Slayer right in the middle of a catch-22 situation. If they tried to top that album, more than likely they’d crash and burn. Conversely, if they tried something different, it might be seen as a sell-out. The easiest solution would have been to retire.

History now tells us Slayer didn’t retire, and while ‘South Of Heaven’ was a change of direction, very few saw it as a sell-out. It is an album of contradictions, slower and heavier than its predecessor, at once simpler and more complicated, and overall more challenging.

From the first notes of “South Of Heaven”, it’s apparent Slayer has undergone a transformation. The band controls the title track is like a wild animal handler, reigning in his charge on a short leash. At any moment, this wild beast could break from its bonds, free to rampage uncontrolled on a killing spree. Tom Araya barks with a spiteful vitriol not heard before, placing more emphasis on his vocals than in the past. The King/Hanneman guitar duo grinds and churns, while drummer Dave Lombardo takes the simple rhythm of the song and wrings its neck. The overall effect is like a menacing storm, roiling and brewing, preparing to unleash devastation on the helpless land below.

The lightning strikes on second track “Silent Scream”. It blasts off with all the trademark ferocity of ‘Reign In Blood’. Lombardo’s pummelling double kickdrums underpin a simple main riff, which is adorned with an oddly discordant guitar duel where Jeff Hanneman abuses the tremolo more than Kerry King does. Abortion was never so much fun.

“Live Undead” combines the building menace and thunderous destruction of the previous two songs, leading to an insane thrash-out in the second half of the song, cut up with seven incredible solos. No one else could have delivered a song like this in the 80s.

Tom Araya almost sings melodically on “Behind The Crooked Cross”, without sounding any less threatening. The song describes the life of someone forced to fight or an army or nation, while not really understanding why. While the true meaning of the song is never made clear, the crooked cross is more than likely the Nazi swastika, but it could well apply to any number of misguided crusades or campaigns throughout history, justified by the cause of Christianity.

“Mandatory Suicide” is a dark, brooding anti-war song, where Araya shows more vocal versatility. He punctuates many of the statements with a growl, similar to the style used by Testament vocalist Chuck Billy. It ends with a flat, emotionless monologue which describes a scene of intense horror and death from a thoroughly detached viewpoint.

“Ghosts Of War” sounds a lot like “Angel Of Death Part 2”, featuring a similar riff, but then backs off in intensity, bringing forth a heavier riff and allows Lombardo the space to pound away to his heart’s content.

Television evangelists were fair game for pretty much every thrash band of the 80s, but few ever pinned them down quite so squarely as Slayer, except perhaps Holy Terror. “Read Between The Lies” has a feel of utter disgust at the manipulation and deception employed to fleece the vulnerable and feeble minded. Like the demonic priests of the Inquisition, do the ends really justify the means, if it’s done in God’s name?

The inclusion of a cover of Judas Priest’s “Dissident Aggressor” is a little unusual. Sure, it’s given the full Slayer treatment, and fits the album perfectly, and must surely have scared the shit out of Tipton, Downing and crew, but why not another Slayer song?

“Spill The Blood” is one of the heaviest songs Slayer has ever written. The acoustic intro sounds like it could have come from the soundtrack of “The Omen”, and provides a stark contrast to the crushing riffs and massive percussion of the main body of the song. Araya wails like never before, a soul tormented, becoming the tormentor. The controlled aggression, unleashed with restraint and deadly accuracy, is a fitting finale to an incredible album.

There is a small revisionist sector which sees ‘South Of Heaven’ as a sell-out album. After all, it went gold in the US, and sold thousands upon thousands of copies the world over. And shock, horror, Slayer actually used verse-chorus song structures. What were they thinking? Hindsight is supposed to be 20/20, but it rarely ever is, because the vital context of the time is missing. That ‘South Of Heaven’ sold well was quite a surprise because in 1988, outside Metallica and Megadeth, thrash albums hardly ever broke six figure sales. Real metal was still dominated by the old school of Maiden/Priest/Osbourne, while the glam ladyboys of Guns ‘n’ Roses, Motley Crüe and their ilk were at their peak. Sure, there was harder music than Slayer available at the time, but albums by Necrophagia, Death, Repulsion and Carcass weren’t exactly filling prime space on record store shelves either. As for the song structures, they don’t mean shit. They are a method of putting a song together, nothing more, nothing less, and not a concession to the mainstream.

The shift in Slayer’s sound between ‘Reign In Blood’ and ‘South Of Heaven’ added some much needed variety to the band’s repertoire, without which their output may have become stagnant. A combination of these two albums led directly to the massive success of ‘Seasons In The Abyss’ in 1990. ‘South Of Heaven’ saw one of thrash’s leaders breathe some life back into the genre’s rotting corpse.
Slayer followed up Reign In Blood, their fastest album, with a series of songs exploring the slower side of their sound - an aspect which, apart from a song segment here or there, they had almost completely neglected up to this point. Climaxing with an excellent cover of Judas Priest's Dissident Aggressor, South of Heaven sees the band really unpack their sound, using the slower pace to take the listener deep inside their intricately-constructed riffs to see how they're built. I don't think it is quite as essential as Reign In Blood, but it surely isn't very far behind at all.

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