This week, Slayer announced their final world tour, which will presumably lead to the band being laid to rest. I have written in the past about my feelings toward Slayer, and this announcement has not stirred in me a change of heart. I am not so distraught over their impending exit that I have forgotten how the years since Jeff Hanneman's death have been the band treading water, trotting themselves out on the touring circuit to give a sanitized version of what Slayer once was. I am still of the opinion they should have hung it up a few years back, so I applaud them for at least choosing to bow out before they become a true embarrassment.
We can argue about the quality of Slayer's recent music, or their live shows, but there is no denying they have become something their younger selves would have never allowed; safe.
Slayer was always the one band that had name recognition who were not safe to share with family, who couldn't be talked about in polite company. They were the embodiment of evil through music (discounting black metal - a different conversation), the band you only whispered about in case anyone was listening in. Being a Slayer fan was a statement, a brotherhood of the underground.
But now, Slayer is a corporation, one that has sanded the rough edges off enough that they are as mainstream as any metal band can be. They go on corporate-sponsored tours, they sell their shirts in trendy stores for teenagers, they brand their name on any number of questionable merchandise items. Slayer is not a name that is feared anymore, they are not disturbing, or dangerous, or even edgy. The last time they wrote a song that made anyone the slightest bit uncomfortable was more than a decade ago, and Kerry King can't claim to have had any part in that.
So while it might be sad to think about Slayer leaving the stage, I contend it sadder to think about them staying. When I was younger, and was first hearing about Slayer, they were almost mythic in terms of how they were talked about. Slayer wasn't just a band, they were the living, breathing example of everything metal was supposed to do to corrupt the youth of the world. Now, parents take their kids to Slayer shows, and everyone bobs their heads and has a good time listening to "Angel Of Death", whose meaning has been all but lost.
I don't want to see Slayer carry on if all they are going to do is go through the motions. Kerry King cannot carry on the band on his own, which "Repentless" showed us very clearly. Slayer was always at their best when you had the push and pull of his writing and Hanneman's in competition. And let's be honest, Hanneman wrote far more of the Slayer songs anyone cares about than King ever did. With only King and his fifteen year-old's vocabulary (the man has seriously gotten dumber over the years), Slayer's new music might as well be made out of air. So if new music can't drive them, the only reason to go back out on tour after tour is to give the fans the old hits.
That would be a pathetic ending for Slayer. For the band that told us "God hates us all" to spend their last years pandering to crowds would betray everything Slayer once stood for. I want to think they're better than gouging their fans for expensive tickets tour after tour without delivering anything new to the experience, but I'm too cynical to say that. Not when Billy Joel still sells out MSG every month despite not having written a song in twenty-five years. Music is a business, and that's true for Slayer too.
So what I ultimately feel about the end of Slayer are two things; 1) The time is right, and 2) They are going out with a whimper. The end of Slayer should be a huge moment in metal history.
I don't see anything feeling different once they're gone.