I’m sure by now every metal fan has heard about Slayer’s recent update. On January 22nd, the band announced that “the end is near”. One of the most iconic metal fans was going on tour for one last time. Yes, this was it. Slayer was retiring… The same day, it was announced that Lamb of God, Anthrax, Behemoth, and Testament were going to join the tour. But, according to Slayer, after this tour is done, so is the band. Some people took this news as “expected”, but I was a little surprised. I thought they might go on to do at least one more record.
It goes without saying that all good things must come to an end. Furthermore, all of our metal heroes are aging; and as much we don’t want to admit, relentless touring schedules become harder and harder on these guys. Some folks in the metal community, like Eddie Trunk, supported the idea, saying it’s better to know when to say when rather than “stay too long at the party”. It’s a good point to bring up. Two things here; you don’t want any band to become a parody of themselves, and you also want your musical heroes to take care of their health first and foremost! But I was bummed nonetheless. I really liked Repentless, I thought Kerry King was writing some good music, and I was excited about the possibility of Gary Holt contributing riffs to the next Slayer record. All the signs were pointing to Slayer making another album. So… what happened? And why wasn’t this that shocking?
One comment that I kept seeing from people who knew the band was that they were talking about retiring Slayer for a long time. And even without knowing the band personally, so did I. I knew because it was clear in interviews! Check out any interviews with any member of Slayer since Jeff’s passing, and you’ll notice a question about retirement and the band having to address the question one way or another. And if you do look at how differently they answered, you’ll also know that the decision to retire now might just be one person’s decision…
No one has definitive proof, but I get the sense that this decision came from Tom Araya more than anyone else. Kerry King made it clear time after time that he wanted to continue. I saw no sign from Paul Bostaph to indicate he wanted to stop. And Gary Holt, who has been filling in for Jeff Hanneman for about seven years now, was saying as recently as September 2017 that he had some riffs he could use for Slayer if Kerry King ever asked him to contribute. Of course, any band can make any decision anytime… but it just didn’t seem to me that Slayer was going to make it so soon. I expected at least one more album from them. What happened behind closed doors, I believe, boiled down to Tom’s decision to not continue.
As much as I wanted Slayer to continue, obviously I respect their decision. I’ve been a huge rock/metal fan since 1998 and have been following news about all these musicians for a very long time. The touring life takes a toll on you! Especially as you get older. And health has to come first! If you don’t have your health, physical or mental, you won’t have your music! It is for this reason that when a band or musician announces that they are calling it quits and they cite the touring cycle as the main reason, I totally get it. This goes for Slayer too. This article won’t be about criticism. It’s their band, their health, and their decision. I’m just thankful for the music they’ve been able to release over the course of more than 35 years! So, instead of talking about what we would have preferred Slayer did, let’s talk about why this decision came when it did and why it’s not a total surprise.
It is no secret that Slayer went through a really tough time starting around 2011. I wrote some of these in more detail when I reviewed Repentless. Jeff unfortunately contracted necrotizing fasciitis, a bacterial skin infection that kills the body’s soft tissue, on his arm. Gary Holt joined, at first temporarily, to fill in for Jeff. Unfortunately, complications from this disease brought more alcohol consumption to Jeff’s life and we lost him in 2013 from cirrhosis of the liver. A huge blow to Slayer and to heavy metal music in general. Consider this: Jeff wrote a huge chunk of Slayer’s music. Think of most of your favorite Slayer riffs, it likely came from Jeff!
As upsetting as Jeff’s passing was, Slayer had a decision to make. Were they going to continue and finish the studio album they’d started? Even around then I remember online rumors that the band could call it quits. Some fans actually thought they should because of how instrumental Jeff was in their sound. Kerry King definitely wanted to record the album, Gary Holt agreed to do some solos (Kerry didn’t think fans would accept riffs from Gary just yet), Paul Bostaph, who again replaced Dave Lombardo after the latter was fired over financial disagreements a few years prior, was also okay to proceed with the album. But even then, Tom said he needed to have a chat with Kerry to decide whether he was going to do the album. It wasn’t as easy of a “yes” from him as it was from the other members. Tom, of course, is a founding member, so Jeff’s passing arguably affected him a lot more than it did Gary and Paul. But Kerry was also upset over Jeff’s passing. So, why did it take longer to convince Tom to do what eventually became Repentless?
Jeff’s passing changed a big dynamic in the band. One aspect of this change was the fact that Jeff was one of the main songwriters and now his input wasn’t going to be there. This much was obvious to us all. But another change was how his absence was going to affect Tom. To his credit, Tom has never made it a secret that he was concerned with Kerry having all songwriting control. Would it still sound like Slayer if Jeff was no longer there? What direction would Kerry take the band? Would the fans accept it? These are all questions Tom publicly pondered on. He also went further than that… It’s pretty clear to me, after reading so many interviews, that Tom and Jeff had a great relationship when it came to collaborating. But Tom and Kerry was a different story… This was one reason why Tom had to have a conversation with Kerry before Repentless was recorded and released. He wanted to make sure that his ideas wouldn’t get dismissed. Jeff, his main collaborator, was no longer there and Kerry had almost all creative control. It didn’t seem to me that Tom had a lot of input despite the fact that he is one of the founding members of the band. He focused on his singing on Repentless and made sure he at least had some control over the vocals. But it just didn’t seem like he enjoyed his working relationship with Kerry all too much. It sounded to me like while Jeff liked collaborating, Kerry was the kind of person who liked to work on his own.
For a while, I thought this lack of collaboration on songwriting was just for the Repentless sessions, but after digging some more information, it sounds like Tom wasn’t always “allowed” to contribute. I use that word because that’s exactly how Tom put it! In an old online chat he did with ESP Guitars in 2006, he was asked to name his favorite Slayer album. His answer was Seasons in the Abyss. He said it was because he was “heavily involved with that album” and he was “allowed to participate”. I thought it was really telling that he would choose the word “allow” when describing his role in songwriting. It’s crystal clear to anyone who reads all these interviews that Tom cared a lot about his input being considered but it doesn’t look like he was always given an audience. It was pretty upsetting to me as a fan to read all that. And I like Repentless and enjoyed Kerry’s input, but as you can imagine, Tom’s concerns about not being involved with Slayer records probably got worse after Jeff’s passing because now Kerry had even more control on the band’s creative output.
So, this is one reason why I think the retirement idea was mainly Tom’s. But there’s another one and it’s another reason that I think is completely understandable: family.
Obviously, all musicians care about their families, and the touring life takes a toll on all of them. And now think about having to do it for more than three decades. It’s a lot! Like I said, it’s hard for everyone, but it’s harder for some than others. Nothing shows this as openly as the interview Tom did with Noisey back in 2015. The touring was becoming more cumbersome, more exhausting; and to add to all of that, he wasn’t getting time with his family. You can tell the regret he feels for missing out on so much. One thing I’ve always appreciated about Tom Araya is that the dude hides nothing. He truly wears his feeling on his sleeve. As I read his thoughts on how much he misses his family, I couldn’t help but feel really bad for him. I think the thought of doing one more album and doing tour after tour just wasn’t appealing for him anymore, considering how little input he’d be able to have and how much he’d miss his family. Again, this isn’t to say other members of Slayer don’t miss their families, but they certainly don’t word their regrets as openly and strongly as Tom does.
The other founding member currently in the band is Kerry King. I know he had every intention to record one more album under the Slayer name and continue to tour because, just like Tom, Kerry is also very blunt in interviews. He even said he already had a few songs ready from the Repentless sessions. So, I don’t think that retiring after this last tour was his idea. But it would be a really difficult, if not impossible, sell on his part if he tried to use the Slayer name as the only founding member. Plus, a vocalist change is probably the hardest member change a band would have to go through – Tom is the voice for Slayer. You can’t really replace him. So, if Tom’s not going to go along with it, Kerry doesn’t really have a choice. Like I said at the beginning, Paul and Gary probably would have done their best to be available for whatever Kerry was planning, but you need Tom Araya to be there.
I’ve sacrificed a lot of my life. You miss a lot. People don’t even realize that, but you miss a lot. I have brothers and sisters, so I have nieces and nephews that were born and had birthdays, and they’re full grown now. And I missed a lot of that. Even my own family—I’ve been married 20 years. I have a daughter that just turned 19, and a son that just turned 16, and I missed a lot of their growing up. I was around for the first month of my son’s life, but I saw him next when he was walking, making sounds and talking. The same with my daughter; after my daughter was born, I left, and didn’t see her for almost two months. When I saw her, she was walking and talking. That’s why I wanted to take them on the road with me, I wanted to be able to at least witness them growing and being a part of their life to some extent.
One last thing I’ll add here is that as much as I love and respect where Tom is coming from, I also see Kerry’s angle. I’m not being diplomatic here, I just think Kerry gets a lot of blame about so many things in online discussions that it’s gotten pretty ridiculous. Disagreements always happen in bands and some band members aren’t really close friends outside of their professional relationship. I think Kerry did a good job with Repentless. It’s not my favorite Slayer album but I liked it a lot more than World Painted Blood. He had a difficult task and he did it as best as he could. I think because he is blunt and has a chilled attitude on most topics, some people are too quick to throw insults at him. But if you listen to fellow musicians who know him in real life, like Chris Jericho and David Ellefson, they all say that he’s one of the nicest guys in the industry. I asked this question on a different article, if he was such a terrible person, why would Gary Holt, who was already an established and respected guitar player in Exodus, choose to play with him all these years and say as recently as last year that he had riffs to contribute to the next Slayer record if Kerry needed them? There’s always two sides to everything. It’s unfortunate he and Tom couldn’t find a way to collaborate better and perhaps Kerry could have done more to make Tom feel more involved over the years. But it’s unfair to put all “blame” on Kerry. You don’t have to agree with him, you don’t have to like what he did with Repentless, you don’t have to agree with the direction in which he took the band, but that doesn’t make him an asshole or other insults people throw at him online. I’m sure Kerry will make more music, perhaps a solo album or he’ll come up with a new moniker, and I, for one, am looking forward to it. I don’t always agree with him either – but I have a lot of respect for people who work as hard as he does.
So, here we are. Slayer is about to embark on their final tour. I’m bummed about their decision but I respect it and I completely get it. Nothing can last forever. As I said before, I’m just glad they existed in the first place and we got some great songs. And just because Slayer is retiring doesn’t mean Kerry and Tom won’t make music anymore. I’m sure they will; maybe together again or maybe separately. But we’ll certainly hear from them!
Sources & Additional Reading:
- Tom Araya Sold His Soul to Slayer, But Was It Worth It?
- Slayer Plot Retirement With Final Tour
- Live Chat with Tom Araya (ESP Guitars, archived from 2006)
- Kerry King Remembers Slayer’s Jeff Hanneman (2015, Loudwire)
- An Exclusive Oral History of Slayer (Decibel Magazine, archived from 2006)
- Slayer Guitarist Gary Holt – “There’s No New Album”
- Gary Holt Has Slayer Riffs Ready, New Exodus Material Written
- Slayer’s Kerry King: “If Things Go Well, I’d Like to Record Next Year”
- How Slayer’s Kerry King and Tom Araya Focused Their Fury Into a Crushing New Album, “Repentless”