Sound — 7
Yeah, Slayer were pretty much the big guys in Bay Area in the late Eighties and very early Nineties along with Metallica. They were the fastest band on the planet, and so heavy they could break into a bank. Or, were they? Where "Reign in Blood" was the speed metal album to have, filled with solos and riffs which were so fast it was barely possible to distinguish each note from another, "South of Heaven" is a black piece of art, experimenting with slower, more haunting ideas, namecheck "Mandatory Suicide", "Spill the Blood" and the title track. But what exactlye makes it so terrifyingly scary and eerie? Is it the way the reverb takes effect on the quieter parts? Is it the way that some of the songs deal with afterlife, the apocalypse, insanity and even foeticide? Or is it the pitiful, quiet, weak production? Yes that's right, the production here is pretty poor. Listening to a song from this album right after listening to a song from "Reign in Blood" is like listening to a whisper right after a scream. There is a lower production volume, the guitars seem wry and underdriven compared to the crunch of the guitars on "Reign", and Tom's vocals are more sung on here than his old mediocre growl from the previous album. This effect works in some places, like "Live Undead" and "Spill the Blood", but on songs like "Ghosts of War" it sounds a tad pathetic. But aside from the poor production, some of the arrangements here are pretty mind blowing, "Live Undead" ending up with Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King trading solos after every couple of lines Tom recites, and the fill after the first two solos on "Behind the Crooked Cross". There's even a bit of acoustic on the desolate closer "Spill the Blood" to give it that super eerie feel. Overall though, Slayer have proved they are more than a one-trick pony with "South of Heaven".
Lyrics — 10
As I mentioned earlier, Tom's vocals are more sung here than on his other works, and the lyrics are more evil, dark, and shall I say ruthless than they were on any of their other albums. "Silent Scream" seems to come to mind, with it's cruel tales of the deaths of unborn children. Political correction be buggered, Slayer are holding no punches on their dark fourth album, such as using wierd and wonderful words such as "cunting". "Live Undead" is a trip into the abyss as Tom sings lyrics about insanity. I find the lyrics here quite impressive, because as well as painting horrifying images in your head ("Shredded carcass no spare breath") it also expresses, shall we say, emotion ("A war raging deep inside my head/A split descision that will end with me dead"). "Undead" also shows a range of vocal abilities, such as his original high pitched scream, and a low pitched growl like the one used in the old classic "Hell Awaits". I also want to point out the lyrics to "Mandatory Suicide". I like these lyrics, and they sum up World War I very well, like "Screaming skulls sent out to die" and "Mandatory suicide, massaccre on the front line". The last 12 or so lines are spoke as a poem underneath Kerry's random whammy bar abuse, again giving that eerie feeling. Altogether, apart from the newly adopted singing sounding crap in places, I can honestly say the lyrics side of this album is flawless.
Overall Impression — 8
This is Slayer's "Far Beyond Driven", "And Justice for All", and their "The More Things Change". Their truly experimental side has come out in 1988's "South of Heaven". They knew they could never better "Reign in Blood" doing the same thing, so they did something else instead. This style of descisions would eventually go on to defeat them (check 1994's "Divine Intervention") but for now, it really worked. The obvious album to beat was "Reign in Blood", and I don't think it managed it's goal. "Reign" was just so addictive, but "Heaven" is just one of those albums that you need a mood for. The tracks that stand out to me the most would have to be "Live Undead" (Yes, named after their first live album), "Spill the Blood" and the title track. Don't believe the hype where "Mandatory Suicide" is concerned, the "super eerie" second half is hard to love, and even then it gets boring moderately quickly. The track that stood out the least was the forgettable "Cleanse the Soul". I just can't seem to love that song no matter how much I try. Some other things I would like to mention are the nicely pulled off Judas Priest cover "Dissident Aggressor", and the amazing introduction to "Ghosts of War". A lo-fi steamy inro consisting of supreme drumming courtesy of Dave Lombardo, and the main riff being played underneath a well done solo, which then bursts into action with a quick chord progression. One of the "Woah shit, I need to hear that again!" moments. Also I want to say that the bridge riff for "Ghosts of War" and the main riff for "Read Between the Lies" sound almost exactly the same. Was this done on purporse? I'll never know, and I don't really need to either. All I need to know is this album, and it's brilliance. Flawed? The good bits more than make up for it.