DB HOF NO. 097
The making of Slayer’s “South of Heaven”
label: Def Jam
Before bastard sons begat cunting daughters, flyswatter stakes were driven through chests and pleasures thought unobtained fully experienced, California thrashers Slayer were hell-bent on leveling not just previous milestones, but any band with an inkling of heaviness. When Reign in Blood seeped through the earth’s crust in the fall of ’86, it sent shockwaves through metaldom. Kerry King, Jeff Hanneman, Tom Araya and Dave Lombardo had unwittingly birthed a monster. But in the two short years after, Slayer’s violent, ask-questions-later aesthetic was giving way to something else. The in-band dynamic was maturing, and so too was their Slaytanic awareness. They suddenly knew who they were, and couldn’t possibly forge Re-Reign in Blood. And so Slayer commenced work on what would be South of Heaven, largely without chief riffmaster and intimidator King, who had recently tied the knot and disappeared into the sands of the Copper State.
This time, there was no desire to best the tempo ferocity of “Necrophobic,” “Jesus Saves” or “Angel of Death.” Slayer’s fourth LP was to be something else entirely. South of Heaven introduced Slayer and their ultra-loyal fans to the evils of groove and the Devil’s restraint. When the title track kicks off with sly, dissonant intent, it’s evident the Slayer of ’88 is not the Slayer of ’86. The violent bashing and wanton destruction of yesteryear had advanced into cunning hooks, lurid thematics and wicked songcraft. With the title track stupendous, “Mandatory Suicide” inexplicably awesome, “Live Undead” heart-stoppingly good and capper “Spill the Blood” eerily perfect, South of Heaven was Slayer sophisticated, yet still remarkably visceral.
Twenty-five long years have passed since South of Heaven was unfurled on unsuspecting longhairs. And it was many moons ago that Decibel ritualistically spilled first blood to the travails of the inimitable Reign in Blood in issue #1. But fuck the cruel passage of time and the smog of life ever-changing. Slayer are eternal. Eternal is Slayer. Slayer! Slayer! Slayer!
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