So, it’s farewell to Slayer. The greatest thrash band of them all are packing up the pitchforks and departing to whatever level of hell is reserved for retiring metal provocateurs.
Anybody who says they weren’t surprised by the news is a liar. The announcement came in the form of a 31-second video clip that proclaimed: “The end of days is near… Slayer will make its exit following one final world tour.” Boom! Fuck you and goodnight.
The reactions were instant. Predictably enough, on the one hand, there was much gnashing of hair and pulling of teeth from the Slayer Army. Equally bleedin’ predictably, there were just as many people who think that it’s about 15 years too late.
Those two sides can bitch and moan at each other all they want, but there’s one indisputable fact: the world has been a better place for having Slayer in it.
Exhibits A, B, C and D: that untouchable run of albums they made from Hell Awaits to Seasons In The Abyss. Only Metallica have come close to matching it, and they never made Reign In Blood. Slayer pushed the boundaries of brutality. Just ask Slipknot. Or Napalm Death. Or anyone who has ever floored the pedal and watched the speedometer pass 300bpm.
You can ask Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield, too. Metallica couldn’t wait to throw off the shackles of thrash metal as soon as they could, and rightly so. But one of the reasons they did that was because they knew they couldn’t compete with Slayer. No one could.
Even then, Lars Ulrich was still keeping an eye on their rivals, just as anyone in their right mind would. Every time Metallica drifted too far from their comfort zone, it was the thought of what Slayer would do that pulled them back in. They weren’t just the compass for Metallica. They were the compass for heavy metal.
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Unlike their peers, Slayer have never felt the need to branch out or experiment or fuck with the formula (well, they did once, on Diabolus In Musica, and we all know how that shitshow panned out). They’ve been accused of being too conservative – a batshit crazy thing to say when you consider a) what they sounded like (a flight of stairs being thrown down a flight of stairs) and b) what they were singing about (death, Satan, murder and more death).
If anything, they weren’t conservative enough. As the albums got longer, the venom got diluted, the sheer contempt for humanity started to abate. But even a partially de-fanged Slayer is more lethal than virtually any other band you’d care to mention.
Their final tour-come-victory lap is telling. They’ll be joined by fellow thrash icons Anthrax, Bay Area bangers Testament (the prime candidates to replace Slayer in the hallowed ranks of the Big Four) and latterday devotees Lamb Of God and Behemoth. There’s not one band on that bill whose game hasn’t been upped by Slayer.
The chances of one final Big Four outing are slim to non-existent. It’s easy to run scared of Slayer. Because onstage, Slayer never let you down. They’ve never had any need of multi-million dollar banks of lights or novelty collapsing stage sets. A drizzle of red dye from the roof during the Reign In Blood anniversary shows a decade or so ago was as extravagant as it gets. The black cloud that hangs over them at every single gig is enough. That and the fact that you leave a Slayer show feeling like your very soul had been battered to within an inch of its life.
Sure, no one is pretending that Slayer minus Dave Lombardo and the late, great Jeff Hanneman is anywhere near the real thing. And if we’re being brutally honest, their last end-to-end classic was Seasons In The Abyss waaaaay back in 1990, though every album since has had its moments (except Diabolus In Musica. Especially not Diabolus In Musica).
But a world with Slayer in it – even a Slayer whose bones creak as they spit out Angel Of Death on the way to the retirement home – is preferable to one without them in it. We’re gonna miss ’em like hell when they’re gone.