Welcome to Metalhead, Noisey’s biweekly metal column. Twice a month, writer Chris Krovatin will shine a light into the dark, bloody corners of heavy metal culture through his own nerdy, twisted lens.
For most heavy metal fans, it all boils down to one band. Maybe it’s the band whose album started you off when your counselor lent you their album at summer camp, or the guys behind the show that changed your life forever. It might not even your current favorite band—there might be others who since then who dethroned them in your heart. But at the end of the day, this band defines what metal is for you.
For me, that band is Slayer, the nastiest of thrash metal’s classic Big Four. Steeped in Satan, madness, and riffs that sound like the spires on medieval churches, Slayer will forever be the soundtrack for my daily fight against the world. This is because Slayer, like me, is not for everyone; their obsessions with evils both biblical (Hell, damnation, the end of the world) and tangible (battle, serial murder, the horrors of the Third Reich) combine to form a scathing depiction of society that scares away weekend warriors and puts off anyone who considers themselves a grown-up (sucker). Slayer are my heart, still beating in the hands of the armored skeleton who just tore it out and held it aloft over a flaming trash can.
So when Slayer announced earlier this year that they—Tom Araya, Kerry King, and newer recruits Gary Holt and Paul Bostaph, both veterans of fellow Big Four thrashers Exodus—was embarking on one final world-spanning tour before calling it quits, you might think I was crushed.
But actually? I felt relieved. Slayer as a band has done everything it ever needed to do, and has become something greater than the simplistic nature of the music industry allows. More so, the time, space, and money that an accomplished band like Slayer takes up can be used to propel other bands forward. Slayer has done its job. It’s time to go.
On paper, it’s somewhat astounding that Slayer has come this far at all. Slayer is the biggest extreme band in the world, evolving into a juggernaut of success while never courting it. Sure, extreme metal purists will gripe that the riffs and subject matter of 2015’s Repentless weren’t nearly as hostile as those of 1985’s Hell Awaits, but many of these naysayers have been desensitized by the anatomical gush of death metal and the humorless blasphemy of black metal.
The truth is that, over its entire career, Slayer has never written a song about anything lighter than hating someone until the day you fucking die. Slayer has no “Home Sweet Home” or “I Was Made For Loving You;” the closest it came was with “Desire” from 1999’s Diabolus In Musica, which is still about banging a corpse
More so, Slayer has become something better than just a band: it’s become a worldview. Its sound and aesthetic represent a specific feeling that metal inspires in us, a mixture of off-putting darkness and arch-confidence. Slayer is the color red spattered with black, and vice versa, the inherently physical rage that boils your blood and burns away airy emotions like optimism and patience. The band’s very name is a battle cry.
It’s time for Slayer to show those bands it has influenced that it can do the most metal thing imaginable: die.
This will live on in Slayer’s music, art, and history forever, and doesn’t yet need to be clawed back and reclaimed as Metallica’s tough guy cred once did. So why continue making albums to prove something you’ve already earned at the risk of taking some bad advice and creating something that poisons the well? Why not quit without having ever compromised?
Finally—and this might be an unpopular opinion—Slayer needs to make room for the next generation of Slayers. Too often, metalheads drag the genre’s history around with them, refusing to give up their obsessions with musicians who are long past the wild days about which we fantasize. This is why we consider bands like Behemoth and Darkest Hour “modern” bands even though they’ve been around forever; they’re simply younger than the old guys.
These bands need room and resources to become the greats, and then end on their own terms. It’s time for Slayer to show those bands it has influenced that it can do the most metal thing imaginable: die.
Some might say that Slayer died with guitarist Jeff Hanneman back in 2012, and that the band should have ended then. And yeah, as a fan, there’s something to be said for this. Hanneman was not only Slayer’s most prolific songwriter but also the member who most embodied its weird, psychological outsider mentality. Without him, the band’s material—and decisions—felt questionable.
But the guys in Slayer needed to know they shouldn’t continue without Hanneman, and now they do. Ending your career with a ‘What If?’ is the wrong way to go about it. That only invites an inevitable reunion tour, or even worse, a comeback album.
Hopefully, it doesn’t come to that. As with some of heavy metal’s other late great bands—Black Sabbath, Motley Crue—Slayer stands to make a boatload of money from this final tour, which will be long enough that the band members will most likely not want to make eye contact with one another afterwards. T
hat’s a fine way to go out: sitting on a pile of cash with your desire to play live thoroughly quenched. If all goes as plan, the band will prove the cynics wrong by not trying to put together one more set of shows or one final album. Better to bum people out by disappearing than disappoint them by showing back up.
Watching something end is difficult, because it reminds us that we’re going to end, too. Slayer ending means that part of my life is the past, a memory, as are so many other good things that I sometimes wish I could have back. But endings are important, because when something ends, it becomes what it will always be.
On social media, I see plenty of people posting tributes to dead musicians on their birthdays; I, on the other hand, only do that sort of thing to honor the day that person died. This person was born nothing, as we all are, but died something. Any dumbass can be born. How one dies, and the legacy they leave behind, is what truly matters.
Slayer has come to its inevitable end. It has done all that it could, and for that, Tom, Kerry, Jeff, Dave, Paul, and Gary can rest easy knowing they made us all feel less alone. Slayer will always be with us, in the blood and fury surging through metal’s veins during its blackest moments. Let us scream the name one last time, and give it the unhallowed funeral it rightly deserves.
Chris Krovatin is dying by the sword on Twitter.
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