Headbangers Brawl: Which Big 4 band will retire first?

Posted by on October 27, 2016

2016 will turn out to have been a banner year for the “Big 4” of thrash metal. Megadeth and Anthrax released well-received albums that are high points of their recent years, and Metallica will release what’s probably going to be the best-selling metal record of 2016 in a few weeks. Meanwhile, Slayer are still on the road in support of last year’s Repentless. However, with all of the bands hovering in their early to mid-50s, it’s not like they’re going to last forever. This isn’t meant to be a bummer, as all four bands have had lineup changes (some more than others – looking at you Dave Mustaine) and even deaths affect their lineups in the past and they’ve moved on. However, the day will come where one or all of these bands will go the Sabbath route and decided to call it a day. We’re not hoping for any of their demise, but our question this week is Which Big 4 band will be the first to retire?

Bram: I’m going to go with what might be the obvious choice – Slayer. They’re literally half the band they were in their ’80s heyday. Gary Holt and Paul Bostaph are doing an admirable job, and the four-piece still bring it live. That being said, the death of Jeff Hanneman definitely appears to have taken a little wind out of their sails. A sad article that Kim Kelly wrote for Noisey last year found a road-weary Tom Araya going through the motions and calling Slayer more of a business than anything else, wanting to spend time with his family at home more than his other family in Slayer. If that’s Tom Araya at 55, it doesn’t seem to suggest that there’s going to be a Slayer when he’s 65.
As far as the other bands, Mustaine has essentially replaced a guitarist and drummer every few years to get new blood in there. Dystopia was one of the best records they’d released in a while, and there’s no reason to suggest that he wont record a few more albums and keep Gigantour going for a while. It seems to be doing pretty well for him. Metallica are a cash cow for themselves. They don’t even need to release new albums, but the double-disc Hardwired… To Self Destruct will keep them on the road for a while. Given that they made a record with Lou Reed and jammed with Neil Young, it’s pretty easy to imagine them continuing on for quite some time, still making some kind of music 15 years down the line. Anthrax are at a point where they’re still making music that fans and critics like, and they’ve got themselves a brand new guitarist in Jonathan Donais. They’re another band I wouldn’t imagine going anywhere for a while.
Chip: I think Bram hit the obvious nail on its obvious head. Forget the Noisey article, anyone who has seen Slayer perform live over the last few years has to have noticed that Tom Araya looks like a guy going through the motions at this point. While they still sound great, if you read his body language at all you see a guy who is just kind of over it. When I interviewed Kerry King on that last, ill-fated Mayhem Fest tour he also sounded like a guy who was over it. Granted he never once mentioned retirement or a time where Slayer wasn’t going to be active, but you could tell the touring cycle in general was not agreeing with him at that point either.
Bram mentioned losing Jeff Hanneman taking the wind out of their sails, but I’d add that Mayhem Fest in there too. If you are one of the biggest and most influential metal bands ever and you are playing to half empty amphitheaters every night that’s got to have an affect on your band psyche, especially if the next tour cycle you headline you are downsizing back into 1,200 cap ballrooms. In fact, I’ll take it a step further and say that Slayer will probably come to a close within the next five years. Either that or I could totally see them going the Neurosis route – Retire from heavy touring, put out an album every 3-5 years, play the occasional regional show or small tour run, hit the occasional festival in Europe, repeat.
Meanwhile, Metallica can fart into a microphone for an hour and a large portion of their fan base will gush over it. They aren’t going anywhere unless Trump wins the presidency and Lars makes good on that “threat” to move back to the motherland. I’m also convinced that as long as there’s a Metallica there will be a Megadeth. Dave Mustaine’s ego won’t let him retire before Metallica, and when they finally do then Mustaine can claim that Megadeth outlasted them. 

Matt: I have to second the bet on Slayer. They’ve done an admirable job soldiering on without Hanneman, but it doesn’t seem like they’ve fully recovered from it. Then they had that whole fallout with Dave Lombardo not long after and it put them in a tough space. Repentless wasn’t a particularly great album either and I wasn’t blown away by their live performance on Mayhem last year. They just seem tired and burnt out at this point and I wouldn’t be surprised if we found ourselves Slayer-less this time next year. I don’t want that to happen, I don’t think anyone really does, but they’re just dragging themselves along at this point.

I’m not sure who the runner up would be, but it’s definitely not Metallica. Those guys are probably going to remain together until one of them croaks or loses the ability to play. Anthrax are still riding high on the wave that started with Worship Music in 2011, so I’m not sure they’re going to call it quits soon either. Megadeth got a good thing going with Dystopia, but there was also a lot of hype built around it since it 1) it was a follow-up to one of the band’s most critically negative albums, and 2) it featured Kiko Loureiro and Chris Adler, two seasoned and respected players in the scene. At some point or another, Mustaine is going to push through that revolving door again for some new members and the quality of the albums will continue to rise and fall. Eventually Mustaine will either retire or kick it, and he’ll probably leave specific instructions on who should replace him.


Chris: Slayer is the obvious safe bet here for all of the reasons listed by everyone else. I’ll add to it that fan excitement has diminished noticeably since Jeff Hammeman’s passing, and that’s likely to start showing significantly as time wears on. Yes, Slayer will still sell a good number of records each time they make a new one, but they’re not going to be topping the charts anytime soon. Hell, at this point, they’re not even a lock for a debut in the top 10. A drop in sales numbers may be all that’s needed to push Araya and King to hang it up for good.

I’ll agree with Matt that Megadeth seems to be the most likely to follow Slayer into retirement. It’s not difficult to predict that Metallica will have a #1 debut with Hardwired… To Self Destruct, and that’s going to buoy them along for at least another three to four years. Anthrax, meanwhile, seems completely unaffected by the lineup changes that they’ve gone through in recent years, maintaining the quality of their music without difficulty. Meanwhile, Megadeth has been all over the map in terms of musical output since 2006, and with a rotating lineup that released some great albums and some duds, it may only be a matter of time before negative criticism of a dud album causes Dave to hang up the guitar for good.


Brett: As much as it saddens me, since they’re my favorite of the ‘Big Four’ and one of my first metal bands, I definitely have to concur with the obvious consensus. Slayer have been on their last leg after the death of Jeff Hanneman, the falling out of Dave Lombardo, and the decades of rigors and weariness. Like everyone else here, I’ve seen them in recent years and noticed Tom’s lack of enthusiasm and Kerry’s non-committal attitude towards the band being, well, a band.

When you look at the Four, they’re the obvious odd group out, seeming as though the other three all have something strong going for them. Metallica not only have a new album coming out that may actually be decent, but they can also make a living off limiting touring, and they’re not likely to cut back to that level until well after this next album cycle. Anthrax, with the return of Joey Belladonna and the subsequent two albums, is the only one of the batch that can honestly be said to be putting it some of the best material of their 30-plus year career, at least since the post-Joey years. As for Megadeth, Mustaine doesn’t just have the most active revolving door, but he’s also the only one willing to fully utilize the constant supply of fresh blood brought in, giving his band members songwriting opportunity, if still under direct supervision.

And Slayer has… Repentless. It’s not unfortunate, only bittersweet that they will undoubtedly be the first of their class to hang up the strings and sticks; there wasn’t going to be another Show No Mercy or Reign In Blood and we were blessed with their full creative potential without it being cut short ahead of time two decades ago. Plus, I think everyone would agree that it’s best for a band to call it a day rather than milk a career of half-assed shows played to a dwindling audience. Slayer is (going to be) dead, long live Slayer.

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