Slayer’s impact throughout the metal community is undeniable, and if there’s any day other than 6/06 that should be a national holiday, why not extend the 4th of July an extra day and give Slayer a second holiday? That’s the release of their fourth full-length record South of Heaven which was released on July 5th of 1988.
South of Heaven it’s among the most important records in Slayer’s career due to the slight change of sound they needed after the release of their opus Reign in Blood. It was also the band’s first album where they purposely decided to slow down their songwriting just to offset their live set and not play at full speed the entire time.
The album was produced by Rick Rubin, who also helped them produce their previous album, shaping the sound the band has been known for since with their studio albums, even though they’ve stopped using Rubin. At the time the band decided to write a new record, the band discussed closely the creative process of it with full knowledge on the challenge to top Reign in Blood.
“To contrast the aggressive assault put forth on Reign in Blood, Slayer consciously slowed down the tempo of the album as a whole. They also added elements like undistorted guitars and toned-down vocal styles not heard on previous albums. Some critics praised the album as demonstrating Slayer’s desire to grow musically and avoid repeating themselves. But the new sounds disappointed some of the band’s fans who were more accustomed to the style of earlier releases.”
As previously mentioned, the album was met with polarizing reviews by fans and critics, mainly due to the expectations created after releasing Reign in Blood, but that didn’t have a negative effect on its sales. The record made it to number 57 on the Billboard 200 album chart, and on November 20, 1992, became Slayer’s second album to be certified gold in the United States.
Surprisingly, one of the album’s toughest critics was guitarist Kerry King himself, who’s openly expressed his distaste for the album in comparison to their other work:
“When South of Heaven came out, I didn’t like it as much as Reign in Blood, because I think Tom backed off too much with his singing—or should I say, added too much singing. Honestly, it’s one of my least favorite Slayer albums. And we never play “Behind the Crooked Cross” because Jeff hates it. It’s not my favorite song, but I’ve always wanted to play it because it’s got a cool intro. But that’s fine—there are songs that he wants to play that I always shoot down.”
[…]That album was my most lackluster performance. I had just gotten married and moved to Phoenix, so I was probably the odd man out at that point, and I’m sure I didn’t participate as much because of that.”
The album’s influence goes far within the metal scene, particularly with tracks like “Mandatory Suicide,” “Silent Scream,” or its title track which have been covered by bands like Decapitated, Vader and even Korn. While it’s not praised as much as its predecessor, the record is still deemed to be one of Slayer’s “most intelligent” records.
It’s undeniable the impact Slayer has done to metal in the early days and even a record that wasn’t able to top their best, still gets praised as one of the most important albums in American thrash metal and after 28 years out, its recognition hasn’t stopped. Take a listen and see it for yourself.