Slayer is one of those bands that is simply great enough to be included in any line-up of greatest bands, yet make it incredibly difficult to pinpoint an album that stands out the most. Sure, the general consensus is that everything from Seasons in the Abyss onward can be washed down the sewers with no one shedding a tear. But that still leaves you with a total of four classic album among which you have to pick out which one is the Slayer album, the one that ascends above the other, the one that soars into the highest heavens of lowest hellishness.
Since you already know my pick from looking a few lines further above, let me give you a quick rundown why the first three did not make the final cut. Show no Mercy certainly has riff after riff (and no mercy) to show for itself, but I must say that, simply put, it is just too upbeat for me. Too "moshing metal maniac" and too "throw the horns and drink the beer(s)". It's fun, yeah, when you're a teenager and just discovered trading recommendations with strangers at concerts where everyone's in leather and spikes, in between the merch stands. That's the kind of album it is, the kind of atmosphere it has to me. A metal party album with not much more behind it. Hell Awaits certainly is evil, and dark, and sinister, and I understand why it is so many people's favourite. But to me it is the polar opposite to Show no Mercy. The first one has all the riffs and none the atmosphere, the second one all the atmosphere but none the riffs. Either of course is an exaggeration, but it gets across my general feeling about the album. Finally, Reign in Blood goes too far on its gimmick to be the fastest thing ever, and aside from select songs has relatively little in the field of memorable riffs or memorable atmosphere. Sure, it's fun to blast and hate the world when you're in the mood, but honestly, because of that one-dimensional character it is my personal least listened to among the classic four.
South of Heaven, in turn, has everything. Everything I ever wanted from a Slayer record, this album has it. Every single note on it seems to be crafted to perfection. The album reeks of riffs, but never seems upbeat. And the album reeks of evil atmosphere, but never lets you down on intensity. Neither is the anger of its predecessor lost on it.
Slayer, here, simply know how to create perfect Slayer songs. It's like they looked at the first three albums and said "okay, we did riffy, we did dark, we did fast, now let's do Slayer." Because if "Slayer" was an adjective, it would describe the entire album. The songs are so incredibly well crafted, taking a good number of different bits for each song and just lining them up as a cohesive and ultimately decimating whole. They do it with such a way that if, for example, a song starts with an evil bit, and it segues to an aggressive one, the evil never fades away. Rather than part-after-part that you'd find on most thrash albums, everything flows into each other perfectly, everything becomes an integral part of a whole. And the whole is ultimate Slayer. The fictional adjective. And the noun.
And it's not like they just did bits and pieces of their previous works into some kind of mosaic of the past. The amazing thing is how the whole thing sounds completely refreshing simply by how much it transcends earlier outings. Here, they create an atmosphere that has never been there before, with a large set of riffs that showed a whole new side of them, and that probably no one expected.
This band's first four album should however be enjoyed as a whole, as each single one is essential. But if you are looking for utimate Slayer, this is your go-to record.