Chances are, the most metal thing that’s ever been screamed out loud is the word “Slayer!” You can hear it on stage, see it etched on classroom desks or bathroom walls, and plenty of other completely unexpected locations. Anyone who truly understood just how brutal Slayer was didn’t even have to listen to the music first – their artwork and their fans did all the talking.
My earliest memory was seeing a pixelated video of a fan carving the band’s name onto his hand and then setting it on fire. My second memory, though, was seeing bassist-vocalist Tom Araya smile into the camera and talk about an album like God Hates Us All. He told Sam Dunn in 2005’s Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey, “God doesn’t hate… It’s a great f***ing title, all right?”
Since the early 1980s, thrash metal had found its footing in America and around the world for its raw, abrasive sound that was also an attitude. More than 30 years later, the band is about to call time after striving, despite loss, pain and occasional criticism from fans and critics alike. Although not too many words were shared through interviews or statements about the reason why they are bidding farewell with a year-long worldwide tour, the signs have always been there.
The first obvious sign to any fan would have been their constant ups and downs with drummer Dave Lombardo — an important figure in not just the band but also thrash metal’s signature aural assault. He was out of the band thrice in 30 years, and was finally fired in 2013. By then, the band had pretty much put out their best material – right from 1985’s bludgeoning Hell Awaits and the seminal Reign in Blood to 2001’s God Hates Us All and everything in between – and they were already dealing with guitarist and principle songwriter Jeff Hanneman’s health problems, including a flesh-eating bacteria. Hanneman, an endearing figure in the band’s history, passed away in 2013 after a prolonged battle, but Slayer decided this would not stop them.
In terms of their sound and perhaps even in their business acumen, a friend rightly described Slayer as thrash metal’s AC/DC. They made sure every album didn’t stray too far from their original sound, and they were making decisions based on the future of the band, booting out Lombardo over his concerns regarding being paid more, carrying on almost without a hitch after the absence of Hanneman (they called in Exodus guitarist Gary Holt). But the signs were there for everyone to see, after the release of their 12th album Repentless in 2015.
In an oft-quoted 2016 interview with Loudwire, 56-year-old Araya jokingly said it was time to collect his pension, but then he chalked it down to something as essentially metal as headbanging, which neck surgery had ruled out. King, too, known to regularly express his displeasure, said touring “sucks” in an interview from 2015. When you’re over 50, one assumes that things do get easier, but the most important rigours of touring as a musician remain – playing at breakneck speed night after night. Considering the reasons we can piece together so far, 2018 seemed like a decent enough time – three years after the release of Repentless and many more after the death of Hanneman – to quit.
Slayer is certainly going out in fashion, booked to play arena shows across North America until August (supported by heavyweights such as Anthrax, Lamb of God, Behemoth and Testament) and then heading back to Europe one last time between 1 November and 8 December. It’s not much of a 'world tour' if you’re forgetting the metal population of South America and Asia (maybe even folks in Australia), so a few more dates might just find their way in. Slayer may have played to thousands and raised hell in India in 2012, but you’d have to be quite optimistic about the possibility that they will stop by the country again.
Meanwhile, at the first show of their final world tour in San Diego, Slayer were at their ballsiest best, opening with ‘Relentless’ and bringing out rarities such as ‘Blood Red’ and ‘Dittohead’. Of course, the likes of ‘Raining Blood’ and ‘Seasons in the Abyss’ made the night, even as a minor crowd issue at the venue was resolved while the band stopped performing. Araya signed off with a hint of sentimentality, “You’ve gotta make memories, right? It if wasn’t for you, we wouldn’t have been here all these years. I want to thank you very much... Thanks for every f***king thing you’ve done for us.” As one of thrash metal’s big four fades out, at least we’ll have memories.
Firstpost is now on WhatsApp. For the latest analysis, commentary and news updates, sign up for our WhatsApp services. Just go to Firstpost.com/Whatsapp and hit the Subscribe button.
Updated Date: May 14, 2018 16:28:39 IST