South Of Heaven was Slayer's first stab at slowing down their blistering thrash sound and creating a more sinister record. Unfortunately, that 'first stab' part is evident. The boys wouldn't perfect this sound until Seasons In The Abyss, which is hailed by many as the Slayer masterpiece. This is definitely the weakest of Slayer's peak outings (Hell Awaits - Seasons In The Abyss), but it is by no means bad. This is a fine thrash album; but it has its share of holes.
The most noticeable change is Tom Araya's vocal style. Instead of the gruff, psychotic delivery that became synonomous with Angel of Death and Raining Blood, he now sounds like a poor man's Rob Halford. A very
poor man's Rob Halford. That no doubt coincides with, maybe even causes the album's lessened intensity. At times it works well, but Silent Scream and Ghosts Of War (by far the two best tracks here) would have been made even better if the old Tom Araya was on the mic. However, drummer Dave Lombardo (as if he really needs that prefix) puts on his best performance yet. Every song features extremely proficient drumming from Dave, and a couple of the songs (Ghosts Of War in particular) are just jaw-dropping. Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman seem to have gained more skill with their guitars. The riffs are as good as ever, mostly, but now, not every solo consists of blazing yet incoherent notes. Hell, Hanneman even plays a melodic guitar solo in Spill The Blood.
The only song on here I can really label as terrible would be Mandatory Suicide. That track is just a disaster. The song is monotonous, the riffing packs zero punch, and there's a completely unnecessary spoken bit near the end that sounds nothing like Slayer. That's something Judas Priest would do, no offense to them. A couple of other bland ones are Spill The Blood and Behind The Crooked Cross. Spill The Blood is good for the first few seconds, as the acoustic intro is very cool. Then it sinks into mediocrity. Slayer tried their best to make this track eerie and disturbing, but the only feeling they successfully conveyed was boredom. BTCC is just weak. Not awful, but weak. Nothing stands out.
I tend to like the faster songs the best here. Silent Scream and Ghosts Of War are excellent, excellent cuts. Both probably in my top 5, the former arguably the band's best work. Cleanse The Soul is another fast track, and is highly underrated. An album highlight, for sure. Live Undead starts out rather slowly, and builds to a speedy solo-fest about halfway through, but maintains a good intensity the entire time (although it also features a cringe-worthy scream from Araya... no wonder we haven't heard it since). The title track is pretty decent, and probably Tom's best vocal outing, but I can't help but feel like it would have really benefited from amping the pace up and closing the track out with some flying solos, or maybe inserting them in the middle somewhere.
In a nutshell, that's the main issue with this album. I know the band wanted to slow down in order to give their music some variation and avoid repeating themselves, but when warp-speed songs like Silent Scream, Ghosts Of War, and Cleanse The Soul are so well executed and seem to fly by so effortlessly, the toned-down style seems more and more forced. The shortage of raw speed - an intentional change - is ultimately what holds South Of Heaven back.
Ghosts Of War
Cleanse The Soul