When is a “farewell” the last goodbye?
The godfather of thrash, Slayer, is celebrating 38 years with a “final” tour, which has already lasted the better part of three years upon the release of 2015’s Repentless.
But given how many times the band has lived and died (by the sword), I wouldn’t bet that Tuesday night’s mammoth stop at Nationwide Arena will be the last time they’ll destroy a Columbus stage. And without picking the brains of Kerry King and Tom Araya, I can't know for sure if this really is it.
You could have written Slayer off with the departure of founding drummer Dave Lombardo in 1992 (his return came a decade later, only to quit a decade after that). Or the day guitarist and absolute pillar in the band, Jeff Hanneman, died in 2013. That was it for me. That should have been the end. Still, that year the band played over 100 shows with Exodus guitarist Gary Holt. Slayer adapted and survived.
Thrash metal’s cultural cachet ebbs and flows — much like Slayer's revolving drummer — but the band's legacy is definitive. Still, it's likely the band needed to buttress this show with a comfy line-up of built-in audiences (Primus, Ministry, Pantera).
All that said, the year 2020 is Slayer’s 40th birthday, and now that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame grants some “retribution” to bands that deserve the reverence and ultimate payday, there’s no reason Araya and company shouldn’t keep grinding until they beat Soundgarden and Dave Matthews Band to garner those bragging rights. The group did, after all, define an entire genre.Get news and entertainment delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our daily newsletter
My own history with Slayer has been similarly complicated, a love and hate relationship. I’ve seen all of those lineup changes, and the results have been mixed. As an impressionable youth, it’s hard to overstate the importance of Slayer. Comparable to Metallica, a band everyone could enjoy, Slayer was contraband. The band was dangerous, extreme and questionably evil — a gateway to death metal and black metal and T-shirts that would get me sent home from school for the day.
Even when I saw Slayer for the first time, after the band's peak “decade of aggression” in 1995, in the dank, dark confines of Dayton’s Hara Arena, the experience was visceral, a teenage rite of passage. It was the same every subsequent time after that — a handful of Ozzfest appearances, a particularly steamy night at Cleveland’s Odeon. Slayer's live show is impossible to match.
Despite my reservations with having to sit through a set from Primus (whose fervent fan base baffles me to no end) and known hatemonger Phil Anselmo (those optics don’t bode well for Slayer’s reputation), one would be remiss to not see Slayer at least once in your lifetime. It’s simply that essential. Even if it does feel more like a final cash grab than a proper “farewell.”