Sep 242019


(This is the sixth installment in an extensive series of posts by TheMadIsraeli devoted to a retrospective analysis of the discography of Slayer, and today’s subject is the band’s 1988 album South of Heaven. Links to the preceding installments are at the end of this post. Our plan is to continue posting the remaining Parts on a daily basis until the series is completed.)

After the commercially successful Reign In Blood shoved Slayer into the limelight of blasphemous metal recognition, I think a lot of longtime Slayer fans, the OG’s, wondered what the band would do next with their newfound widespread recognition.  Would they keep making albums like Reign In Blood, focused on the aggression, the endurance, and the speed that album seized upon so hard?  Apparently much to the shock of a lot of people at the time, South Of Heaven would see the band do a complete 180.  This album proved to be controversial among those who jumped on board with Reign In Blood, but I’m under the impression that the fans who’d been around since Show No Mercy loved it.  I also love this album.



South Of Heaven is Slayer returning to their roots, and in a lot of ways it’s their best song-writing record.  It’s not the band’s fastest album, but it includes many of Slayer’s best riffs and best songs, and showcases the guitar talents of King and Hanneman at just about their all-time best.  It’s technically impressive, ambitious, and even epic in some parts, and hooks you from beginning to end.  The album is tempo-diverse, and diverse in other ways as well, while still maintaining that militant and surgical brand of ferocity the band had become known for.

“South Of Heaven” is one of my favorite opening songs up to this point in the band’s discography.  It and “Hell Awaits” are just about equal.  “South Of Heaven”, though, breaks from Slayer tradition.  Instead of being a ferocious, fast-as-fuck assault with tempo changes and tons of riff exhibitionism, it’s a fantastic riff-driven, mid-paced, gloomy kind of song.  The intro riff is iconic, and justifiably so — dark, foreboding, and sinister. It’s much of what Slayer wanted to accomplish in one riff.  The song is a mid-paced death march full of that intro’s same moodiness and brooding.  I fucking love it.

Despite being a fantastic song, “South Of Heaven” almost serves more like an intro itself, because the transition into “Silent Scream” is flawless.  “Silent Scream” is a classic Slayer track for a reason, and the reason is that distinctive verse riff.  It’s so deliberate, evil, and to-the-point, as well as memorable both in melody and in rhythm.  It’s one of my favorite Slayer songs of all time (and I’m also a huge fan of the killer Vader cover).  Further, “Live Undead” calls back to the song-writing style of Hell Awaits with its killer groove, snappy riffing, and a climax speed explosion to mark its solo section that would ignite any moshpit.

I didn’t want to do a song-by-song here, but it’s almost impossible not to.  “Behind The Crooked Cross”, with its more hardcore/punk kind of pacing and a grimy main riff, is a joy, and something different from the band, while “Mandatory Suicide” is a fantastic revisiting of that militant, mid-paced, moody kind of writing found on the title track which opened the record.  And don’t even get me started on “Ghosts Of War”.  The callback to the outro of “Chemical Warfare” (it’s the exact same riff)… that ugly, mangled, evil-as-fuck verse riff, full of small technical flourishes… and that climactic mid-paced riff flex/solo section and breakdown… it’s PURE fucking Slayer.  It’s so definitive.

I know a lot of people tend to malign this record because of how much slower it is in its pacing, but I wholeheartedly believe South Of Heaven is one of Slayer’s S-tier records.  There isn’t a forgettable song on here, it’s all killer no filler back-to-front, and is unapologetically bleeding piss-and-vinegar attitude, radiating darkness and hatred in equal measure.  This album slays.

Also, that cover of Priest’s “Dissent Aggressor” is too good. It’s Slayer channeling their attitude into the classic pioneers that inspired them so heavily.  It’s a cover done right.

Oh yeah, and “Spill The Blood” is a top 3 Slayer album closer.


For previous installments in this series, check these links:

PART 1 (Intro)

PART 2 (Show No Mercy)

PART 3 (Haunting the Chapel)

PART 4 (Hell Awaits)

PART 5 (Reign In Blood)




  1. This old guy who got into the band for Hell Awaits was terribly disappointed by this slower album with less aggressive vocals. It’s grown on me over time for having some amazing songs (silent scream, live undead) but Mandatory Suicide and Spill the Blood still get the skip button after all these years. For me South of heaven is the only great slow song the band ever did. Songs like those two and Dead Skin Mask just bore the crap out of me. But this album is Dave Lombardo’s finest hour. The drum fills on this thing just ripple down my spine. That new guy is ok but Dave was pure magic.

    • A little more context. Reign in blood (also Darkness Descends and Pleasure to Kill) showed us 1986 metalheads that music could be faster and more aggressive than we’d imagined. We just loved it. Some of us went further and discovered grindcore in 1987. So to me “Scum” by Napalm Death was the coolest most extreme thing out there. Then Slayer follows up “reign in Blood” with…a slow record. It felt like a sellout at the time though obviously was a great move by the band. As stated in my first post it’s grown on me. But maybe this better explains the disappointment many of us get when “South of Heaven” hit our record players.


  2. This is a VERY underrated Slayer album, easily one of my top 10 albums of all time

  3. Love this album, but it had flaws. Production was a little off kilter. The guitars were not loud enough. Araya’s singing lacked intensity here and there. The Priest cover was not good; the original version of “Dissident Aggressor” blows the Slayer version away. Other than that, it’s all good, full of classic Slayer. The title track, “Mandatory Suicide”, “Spill The Blood”, “Ghosts Of War”, “Live Undead”, “Silent Scream “… all brilliant.

    • Great review.pretty spot on..i do agree that this is Lombardos finest work…fills and rolls for days on this album.fuckin Slaaaayerrrrr!!!#

  4. Great review.pretty spot on..i do agree that this is Lombardos finest work…fills and rolls for days on this album.fuckin Slaaaayerrrrr!!!#

  5. Fucking SLAYER IS THE BEST I’ve listen to them ever since I was 7 years old . SLAYER DEATH SCREAMS FROM THE SKIES

    • Whenever I hear shit like, “It sucks” or “it’s too slow.” Remember this, you run the risk of sounding the same (AC/DC anyone?) on every album and I would never try to appease to the douche bag metal elitists in any be way in going that route. If I was Slayer, of course. If you don’t like it, then go somewhere and find something you do like. Nobody be cares, South of Heaven is Great. Go listen to Baby Metal

  6. South of Heaven really surprised me at first with it’s slower tempos, more melodic riffs, and Araya actually singing on some songs. But I was loving the album by my second listen. There’s some classic Slayer songs here, like the title track and Mandatory Suicide.
    Another great album that I still thoroughly enjoy.

  7. South of heaven was great unfinished philosophy. Would play record anytime. Thanks 🙂 HeHe

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