photo & text by nacrowe
following up the REIGN IN BLOOD (DEF JAM, 1986) proved to be a pretty difficult artistic dilemma for celebrated THRASH METAL titans SLAYER. how does one even go about topping one of the most celebrated BRUTAL records of all-time? do you make the next record faster, more concise, more extreme? its very interesting that SOUTH OF HEAVEN (DEF JAM, 1988) instead took the opposite tack, it went SLOWER.
aside from taking the tempo down more than a few BPMs is that fact that they experimented with lower tunings, the end result being a more plodding effort that put more emphasis on the INTRICATE mostly JEFF HANNEMAN-penned riffs, TOM ARAYA's powerful voice and quite frankly, the songwriting. with celebrated tracks like "MANDATORY SUICIDE" and the title track "SOUTH OF HEAVEN" these adjustments created a more ATMOSPHERIC but no less SAVAGE sonic experience for the listener. it very much feels like the remainder of SLAYER's career was a ping-ponging between the relative extremes of REIGN IN BLOOD and SOUTH OF HEAVEN, especially when you consider the next record SEASONS IN THE ABYSS (DEF AMERICAN, 1990) and the relative variety of tracks like "DEAD SKIN MASK" and "WAR ENSEMBLE."
like most METAL fans, i heard SOUTH OF HEAVEN after experiencing REIGN IN BLOOD. i dont believe im alone in explicitly linking those two albums together. originally i was taken aback by the style shift, but then quickly realized that the slower-paced tempos allowed for a deeper appreciation for a wider palette of sonic textures that netted a more BROODING, DELIBERATE and INTROSPECTIVE experience. if REIGN IN BLOOD is just full-bore AGGRESSION, RAGE and MANIC BRUTALITY i.e. the mind of a SOCIOPATHETIC killer in all-out MELEE mode, then SOUTH OF HEAVEN is more akin to the internal machinations and dialogue of a WARPED mind in the process of meticulously planning such. one is an unstoppable force of nature and the other feels all too human. for me personally, the idea of WANTON, RANDOM VIOLENCE (like a volcano, tsunami or hurricane) is ironically less threatening than what goes on in the mind of a MISGUIDED person seeking DELIBERATE action against the world. for me, that is the appeal of SOUTH OF HEAVEN as an artistic statement both sonically and lyrically, as the the two mutually reinforce the other.
definitely check out SOUTH OF HEAVEN, preferably in conjunction with its universally heralded predecessor.