Op-Ed: When Did Slayer Start to Suck?
The axis of timing between today’s anniversary of the passing of Jeff Hanneman and last week’s premiere of a brand new Slayer song, the first without Hanneman, provides a good opportunity to reflect upon the output of Slayer’s later years. Ever since Hanneman’s death the court of public opinion has been declaring loudly that Slayer cannot possibly continue to put out great (or even good) material without Hanneman in the picture. I agree with that statement. But here’s the thing: Slayer haven’t put out anything good in a long, long while anyway.
That’s not a slight against Hanneman. It’s been scientifically proven that he penned or had a part in writing nearly all of Slayer’s greatest tracks. The man was a great guitarist and a talented writer, no doubt, Metal Royalty amongst mere mortals. The band’s live setlist still consists of all songs he wrote.
It’s just that people seem to be using his death — and the even more insignificant (in terms of writing) firing of Dave Lombardo — as an excuse to justify what we’ve basically all known for quite a while, but haven’t been willing to admit: modern day Slayer has been extremely tired, boring and mediocre for years already.
The Cult of Slayer is a powerful thing. Yelling SLAAAAYEEEERRR at the top of your lungs has been a real-life meme for decades. Liking Slayer is cool. Not liking Slayer is decidedly uncool, heresy even. Until half of the band was replaced by other guys, and people suddenly had a fall-back to admit that Slayer are just out of gas these days.
We’ve all heard the new song “Implode.” Most of us agree that it’s pretty crappy, or, at the very least, “stock” — mediocre, by the numbers Slayer. Is that a direct effect of the absence of Hanneman (and Lombardo)? Well, maybe. But maybe not. Tom Araya said in an interview last year that the next Slayer album would include songs written by Hanneman. What if “Implode” turns out to be one of them? That’d be mighty embarrassing for all those shouting at the moon about the supposed heresy that is this band continuing to call themselves Slayer without two key members.
Even if it turns out that “Implode” isn’t one of the Hanneman-penned tracks, consider the following: no one writes great music forever. Everyone, and every band, has a shelf-life. John Lennon’s latter-day output was all over the place. Pink Floyd’s The Final Cut was a wash, to say nothing of David Gilmour and Roger Waters’ erratic and uninspired solo output. Is Coda anyone’s favorite Led Zeppelin album? A little closer to home, Metallica’s past two decades of output aren’t even worth discussing here. Slayer’s life as a relevant metal act seemed remarkably long — whereas most bands get two-three albums in their prime and the very best get four, Slayer’s coolness seemed to last forever simply because of the culture surrounding the band and what it meant to be a fan of theirs. To some they were and are the very embodiment of metal.
I know it’s taboo to speak ill of the dead, but we should all at least contemplate that maybe Hanneman’s best writing days were over long before his untimely passing. Again, the Cult of Slayer is a powerful thing. Listen to World Painted Blood and Christ Illusion without your SLAAAAAAYEEEEERRR-blinders on and tell me that these songs are really THAT much better than “Implode.” You can’t! Sure, we haven’t heard the full album yet from which that song comes, and it could well turn out that it’s such a steaming pile of crap that it makes Christ Illusion look like Reign in Blood. But I kind of doubt it. It’s going to sound like the same Slayer we’ve known for the past decade or so. This band has been repeating themselves and repeating themselves for quite a while now, and it’s been old and boring for as long.
Again, this is not to speak ill of Hanneman. The man was a metal genius, a metal GOD even. Yes, he was absolutely crucial to Slayer. Further, he wrote some of the best metal songs ever recorded by anyone. But everyone has their moment in the sun, and that moment inevitably fades as the world turns. Let’s reasonably judge Slayer’s recent output without the aggrandizement that a death provides.