Slayer released their fourth album, South of Heaven, 29 years ago today, July 5th, 1988. The record marked their second collaboration with hip-hop impresario Rick Rubin (whose earth-shattering production on 1986's seminal Reign in Blood paved the way for the California shredders' mainstream takeover), and their highest-charting effort at the time: It reached No. 57 on the Billboard charts and went Gold in the United States. Of course, at the time South of Heaven was also an album laden with controversy: the songs were slower, the guitars cleaner, the vocals more refined. And yet, despite the knee-jerk reactions of many fans and critics, the LP nonethless stands as a powerful testament to the band's enduring brutality, and more importantly, their willingness to take risks and defy the static expectations forced upon them by thrash metal purists.
While Tom Araya and Co. may have dialed back their tempos on South of Heaven, they didn't sacrifice an ounce of strength: If anything, their mammoth sound merely underwent a growth spurt, leaving us with a lumbering, lethal beast that feels just as deadly almost three decades later. Nowhere is this more evident than in the band's performance of South of Heaven's "Mandatory Suicide" at London's Hammersmith Odeon in 1988, just after the album's release. Along with the title track, the song's been a fixture of Slayer sets ever since its release, and for good reason. Between Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King's dueling riffs, Araya's bloodthirsty screams, and Dave Lombardo's nonstop percussive assault, it remains one of their biggest shows of force, even if it lacks the fleet-footedness of "Raining Blood," "Angel of Death" and the like. See for yourself below, accompanied by Slayer's abrasive run-through of the title track in New York City (also filmed in '88).