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Slayer - South of Heaven
Review: The most darkly imposing of the Slayer albums, South of Heaven achieves a demonic sound through a breakdown of music to pure patterning, in which harmony serves a dark spirit rising only occasionally from the ripping chromatic riffs and chaotic solos that surge from one end of the spectrum to the other conducted by ingenious reinvention of inertia. The musical style lingers toward the more abstract end of the speed metal and death metal movements, with fast riffing that presages the work of Morbid Angel and Massacra balanced by intricate lead riffing in which grand visual aspects to a rhythmic sequence of notes are established.
Nearly mystical in its hypnotic surging of rhythm and disturbingly abrupt shaping of sound, this album gains its technicality from the adept rhythmic changes and precision it employs, fashioning its own earful from power chords and forthright fretboard patterns under muffled strum. Tom Araya's spread vocals drape over the percussive foundations of each phrase, expanding as the rapid but detailed in texture drumming of Dave Lombardo accompanies movement in tone and impact. Dual rhythm/lead guitarists not only sketch individual portions of the riffscape but provide a spatial depth to the use of tone in soloing.
The end result is straightforward, extreme metal with a distant hardcore background that is used to construct truly placeless and centerless riffs, in which motion becomes the creator of pattern and pattern defines tonal shape and thus any harmonic characteristics the song will have as arrayed in narrative, making an undeniable rhythm move with a careful and compact integration of drum patterns and guitar motion. A cover of Judas Priest's "Dissident Aggressor" fits in revealingly well among these basic sonic motions in complicated arrangements with an unyielding energy only tamed, not muted.
Slayer were an important connective tissue of metal, bringing together the most disturbed neo-prog NWOBHM concepts and the most extreme minimalist conceptions of music from hardcore and crossover, creating an aesthetic foundation upon which other artists built, most notably in the death metal movement, producing a palette of techniques added to the voices of popular music. Slayer's influence can be found in the choice of classical music presented to young people, the riffs of over 100,000 metal bands, and the pirate radio stations in countries under collapsing democracy.
This album shows a clear lexicon of Slayer styles, but like the later albums from formative heavy metal bands, attempts to pattern in deliberate musical action what in youth had become too emotively uncontrolled music. Dreaded maturity? That and raging spirit toward making songs of Hell.