Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Slayer: 25 years of "South of Heaven"

July 5th, 1988 is the date that "South of Heaven" was released (according to Metal Archives).
Listening to this album what I hear is a more developed sense of songwriting. Dave Lombardo sounds quite freer to do other things besides just trying to keep up with the fast riffs of previous Slayer albums. He seems to have more time to do more fills, to explore other rhythms. This is probably one of the most obvious highlights of the album.
Even though the album is certainly not a slow one, the title track creates that false impression. That, coupled with the fact that it is slower than earlier albums, it does sound toned down.
To be honest, I have never liked this album. I don't remember that I have ever liked it. I did not like the title track when it came out. I probably complained that it was too slow, blah, blah, blah. Being young and stupid, I could not verbalize why I did not like it.
For weeks now, I have been listening to the album, to see how much more I can hear now.
Before getting to 2 main things that I do not like about the album, here are some things I do like: the drumming (as already stated), the guitar work on the title track (the Black Sabbath vibe in the slow melodies sounds good), the song "Cleanse the Soul" is headbanger for sure, "Silent Scream" is alright (despite some bad, cheese ball lyrical lines), and a few other things, such as a lot of the soloing, for instance, and some other segments of songs.
2 things that are not so good, in my opinion.
1. Tom Araya's vocals. He sounds like he is being forced to sing, which is something that the man does not have the talent to do. At times, he sounds half-hearted, and at other times, he sounds awkward, trying to be tuneful. When the music is going faster, he appears quite more comfortable at doing what he does best, but this album does not play to his strengths, which are energetic thrash vocals and screaming.
When he tries to sing, to carry a tune, like on "Behind the Crooked Cross," Araya's limitations are clear, also like on the Judas Priest cover "Dissident Aggressor." He sounds like a punk covering a heavy metal singer. That cover was probably the record company telling them to be more commercial for radio, like Anthrax having success with all those covers, and Megadeth covering Alice Cooper, Testament covering Aerosmith, Exodus covering AC/DC and other bands, all around the same time period.
"Spill the Blood" just does not sound good with the attempts to sing. The man clearly cannot sing, and he's not doing what he does best: energetic vocals. I feel kind of embarrassed listening to him trying to sing. He must have been under a lot of pressure to be tuneful and tried his best, but it does not work out very well, in my opinion.
Not to mention that his screaming has been dialed down a whole lot. Instead, we get this sort of yelling that sounds like a watered down version of Araya screams.
2. the guitar riffs.
Slayer guitar work sounds good when it is fast on this album, but there's a lot slower-than-usual riffing and it just does not grab my attention. Honestly, I space out during some parts of the songs and then I have to go back to them because I realize that this or that segment lost my attention.
It's possible that midtempo, radio thrash riffing is not the band's strength. More than a few occasions sound faceless and kind of just "ok," but it's not a ripping riff. If it's not going to be fast, then maybe it should be more catchy? The play-on riff is easy to forget and hard to remember.
In short, to me, it is a weaker Slayer album.
In that sense, I find the next album, "Seasons in the Abyss," more enjoyable: more energetic, more melodic, more catchy riffs, the Araya vocals are restored in fine form. Regardless of being a pretty polished album, "Seasons" sounds more like Slayer to me than "South of Heaven." (I do prefer the first three studio albums, but that's a different story.)
Some Slayer listeners really, really love "South," and they have expressed their love of the album all over the internet. I wish I could say the same.

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