Jeff assuring us that he's still in Slayer

Headbanger’s Brawl is a weekly column where Metal Insider’s Bram and Zach take a moment to debate and analyze two opposing sides of a topical issue occurring in the world of metal and/or the music industry.

Last week, we celebrated April Fool’s Day by claming that Slayer broke up after Jeff Hanneman left the band. As you all (hopefully?) know, that was a joke. Slayer are still together, and the band has some pretty dope replacements for Hanneman while his arm heals. But that, not to mention Chimaira and Opeth splitting with their keyboardists,  got Bram and Zach thinking – what musicians are truly irreplaceable?

Bram: My immediate thought is ‘any singer,’ but that’s kind of been proven wrong. Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Motley Crue all survived singer departures, but it’s not like their fans really loved Blaze Bailey, Tim “Ripper” Owens and John Corabi, and most fans didn’t really pay attention until the previous singers returned. And if bands replace their singers early on, like Iron Maiden did the first time with Paul Di’Anno and Dream Theater did with Charlie Dominici, then it has no impact. And if you’re a band best known for your music, like Periphery, a vocalist replacement doesn’t have the same impact as if Misha left the band. Hell, Van Halen have had three vocalists and look how popular they are now! Oh wait…

Zach: I’d definitley agree that a singer is not as hard to replace as one would originally think. Granted, you mentioned some big examples of it not working, but it does work in a lot of cases as well. Take for instance Anthrax…well, maybe they aren’t the best example at the moment… But even though they are back with Joey Belladonna, there are many fans who actually prefer John Bush (Belladonna’s replacement). Hell, even Scott Ian prefers John Bush. Let’s be honest, the only reason why Belladonna has returned to the group after first leaving in 2005 is cause Bush turned Anthrax down. And you also mentioned Van Halen. Sure, people “prefer” David Lee Roth, but the group actually had more success with Sammy Hagar in the early 90s.

I feel that replacabilty depends on an individual basis. The bassist usually gets flack for being the “less loved member,” but could Motley Crue seriously go on without Nikki Sixx (not cause he’s a great bassist, which he isn’t, but cause he’s a key songwriter in the group)? Each musician brings a lot to a group, and often more than just their talent, which is part of the reason why so many were shocked when Mike Portnoy left Dream Theater. Then again, Portnoy is an example of how maybe even the extra stuff you bring to a group isn’t enough to make you irreplacable.

I started to think of a single musician who, though maybe not “impossible,” would be extremely difficult to replace in a group. One name that popped in my head is Tom Morrello in any project he does. This is mainly because Morello has such a unique sound in his guitar playing that any replacement would either be a) trying to replicate him verbatem, or b) try to make his own sound but in the end sacrificing what made the original sound stand out. Both scenarios in any case would be a mmaajjoorr risk and probably annoy the core of a group’s fans.

B: Right – I think you touched on it by mentioning Nikki Sixx. If someone’s the lead songwriter in a band, it’ll make it pretty hard to replace them. Motorhead without Lemmy? Never happen. And that ties into something else. If you’re an icon or the complete signature of your band, that makes it damn near impossible to replace you. There’s no way Type O Negative could have carried on without Peter Steele. For better or worse, Disturbed wouldn’t really be able to carry on without David Draiman and his neverending animal impression vocals. But Slayer without Hanneman? I could imagine it happening.

Z: But could you imagine Slayer without Kerry King or even Tom Araya? While on the subject of other Big 4 bands, Scott Ian will be missing a bunch of dates with Anthrax this Summer (a first for the band I think). Could Anthrax live on without Ian?

B: Anthrax without Scott Ian would be like going on a bender drinking Coors Cutter. Sure, you could do it, but why bother? That’s no disrespect to Rob, Charlie, Frank and Joey/John/Dan, but it’s just not the same without him. Joey Belladonna will bring back a bit of the nostalgia, but without Scott’s goatee moshing around the stage, it’s hard to imagine. I guess the only real conclusion to this is that just about everyone’s replacable.

So what do YOU think? Is there a musician that’s irreplacable in a band, or can everyone be replaced? Let us know below in the comment section.