Friday, December 26th, 2008 | musiX
I always thought it would be interesting to set these two metal titans loose on each other. It’s been written about before, but done very half-assed, usually summed up in one over-simplified conclusion: Metallica are pussies and Slayer fucking rules. Well, not so fast, my fine feathered-haired friend …
First, a little background. There are some interesting parallels in the bands’ careers. Both formed in 1981 in Southern California (Metallica, of course, later relocated to the Bay Area), and drew their influence from British metal bands like Venom, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. Both bands were given their first breaks by founder and owner of Metal Blade Records Brian Slagel, who put them on his Metal Massacre compilations (Metallica on Metal Massacre I, Slayer on III). Metallica and Slayer released their debut records in 1983—Kill ‘Em All and Show No Mercy, respectively. They are both considered part of the “Big Four of Thrash” along with Anthrax and Megadeth. Both bands have a median age of 44. In their respective 28-year careers, both bands have had similar output—Slayer has released 10 albums; Metallica, nine. Both have had records produced by Rick Rubin. The majority of their songs touch on war and death and insanity—with very metallic titles like “No Remorse,” “Criminally Insane,” “Disposable Heroes” and “Expendable Youth.” Guess who wrote which.
So why is Slayer still a critically lauded metal band that can do no wrong in the eyes of its crazed devotees, while Metallica has been relegated to “They were once great, but started sucking ass in the early ’90s” status? That’s easy. Because Metallica was once great, but started sucking ass in the early ’90s. Oh … then there was the whole Napster debacle. Um … and we got to watch in disbelief as the members underwent $40,000-a-week therapy sessions, thus emerging as raging primadonnas in 2004′s Some Kind of Monster. Right.
BUT. There’s always a but. Take Slayer and Metallica’s best records—arguably Reign In Blood and Master of Puppets, respectively—and there’s no contest. Don’t get me wrong, Reign In Blood is a great record that deserves all the accolades it receives, but Master of Puppets is a flawless and deadly combination of musicianship, anger, production, speed and, above all else, the songs are just better. Stand those records side by side and Metallica slays Slayer. Match up their second-best: Metallica’s … And Justice For All and Slayer’s Seasons In the Abyss, and Metallica emerges again. Debuts? Kill ‘Em All is a raw slab of punk rock … kills Show No Mercy dead.
Yes, Metallica cheesed out in the ’90s. In a big way. But let me say this: Dr. Dre was also involved in the Napster lawsuit, but hasn’t caught nearly as much shit as Lars Ulrich. And Load and ReLoad were torpid and mediocre hard-rock records with stagnant production. Then again, Slayer hasn’t changed one bit, essentially rewriting the same riff hundreds of times over, while adopting a pretty predictable insert serial killer/Nazi war criminal name here lyrical template. There’s something to be said for evolving—although in the world of metal, the theory of evolution is as absurd as Intelligent Design is in real life.
Now it’s almost 2009(?!), which means the members of Metallica and Slayer are ancient in metal years. Do both bands still bring it? Of-goddamn-course. Does that mean they’re good? Meh. Metallica released Death Magnetic this year, a return to its former self, and made an eerie video for “All Nightmare Long” about a Soviet experiment gone wrong. The speed and the eight-minute, multi-part songs are back, but it could never be as good as Master of Puppets or … And Justice For All. And Slayer is set to release an as-yet-to-be-titled album in 2009 (I’m sure the title will include one of the following words: “death,” “God,” “die” or “Christ”), and it will sound exactly like Reign In Blood and Seasons In the Abyss, which, in itself, is impressive. But why not just listen to Reign In Blood and Seasons In the Abyss?
Now if you’ve read this far, you a) still give two squirts about these bands, b) are waxing nostalgic on your awkward teenage years, or c) were just morbidly curious as to how this death match would end. Well, the end is here. And both bands are still standing, for better or worse. So how can we settle this? Well, the album title Kill ‘Em All sort of set the stage early on for Metallica (good thing they didn’t go with the original title, Metal Up Your Ass). Guess we’ll just have to see what the fun-lovin’ fellas in Slayer come up with next year. There. I just wrote 800 words about Metallica and Slayer, and it wasn’t half-assed … perhaps three-quarters-assed.
“Psychopathy Red” – Slayer (unreleased, from the forthcoming record)
Video for “All Nightmare Long” from Metallica’s Death Magnetic