While it’s not particularly new news that Slayer was between labels, we’d initially thought it was because American Recordings might be deciding which label group to go with (American and Def Jam have been distributed by Sony via CBS, Warner Bros., Sony via Columbia and now Republic). However, it turns out they’re no longer with American, making them the hottest free agents out there. With a new album almost definitely coming out in 2014, it’s going to have to be on a label. So for this week’s Headbangers’ Brawl, we pose the question: What label will Slayer wind up on next?
UPDATE: Slayer’s manager has since issued a statement clarifying Slayer’s status with American Recordings. While there’s a chance they could still re-sign with American Recordings, they are supposedly looking at a few other options.
Bram: I don’t know that they need to be on any label. Whereas in 1983, you pretty much needed a label to get anywhere, Slayer’s been one of the few bands to have made the jump not just from an indie label to a major, but to have been at several major labels via American. But in 2013/14, they could easily start their own label and either partner with a label to release it, or just take matters into their own hands completely and run their own label. I would imagine this would only count for their music going forward, as American doesn’t seem likely to let them buy the masters back, like Metallica did when they started Blackened Recordings. Look no further than the label releasing all of the band’s vinyl individually.
In terms of picking a label, they could pretty much go anywhere they’d like. It would be a prestige move to go back to Metal Blade, but I don’t know that Metal Blade would want a band that big. Roadrunner has a major label backing them (essentially they are a major label now), so that’d be a great signing for them. And Nuclear Blast has done a great job of signing bands that are out of contracts. I guess we’ll see who things shake out.
Chip: They would be absolute fools to not start their own label and possibly partner with another label for distribution. There’s a lot of really good labels still out there and I’m old school in my belief that the right label can do the right things for the right band. But Slayer doesn’t need a label the way they did when they first signed to Metal Blade. To this day, and despite mediocre recorded output for quite some time now, they still have a massive worldwide following. They still have name/brand recognition. They still draw huge crowds on tour. What purpose would a label serve other than doing some of the grunt work in promotion that the band’s camp would have to take on?
With that said, there’s a bunch of reasons why they may want to be on a label. Roadrunner makes the most sense to me. Even with their reputation as one of the greatest and most influential metal acts ever, I can’t see any other major label signing them outright. I also can’t see them returning to the indie label scene despite the fact that Metal Blade or Relapse, for example, is exceptional at what they do. Part of the reason is that those types of indie labels would be dumping a vast majority of their marketing budget into one Slayer record instead of developing a dozen other quality bands/albums. It’s a perfect storm for Slayer to start their own label. May I formally suggest “Evil Has No Boundaries” or “War Ensemble Records” as the name…
Kodi: I don’t have any crazy inside info on Slayer’s contract with American, but after nearly 30 years on the label, it’s hard to imagine that they’d be leaving for any reason other than to do their own thing. Slayer is at risk of a serious identity crisis with only Tom Araya and Kerry King remaining from the classic lineup, and the band knows it or they wouldn’t have stuck to the first five albums for their setlists while on tour with Gojira this fall. If they turn up on any label other than American or their own, it could look to fans as though some semblance of Slayer is on that label rather than the genuine article. A move to create their own label, on the other hand, would put Slayer’s mark of authenticity over everything coming out with the band name on it. Can you imagine how effective it would be if they named it in a way that paid tribute to Jeff Hanneman? You wouldn’t have nearly the same amount of “half of Slayer isn’t Slayer” complaining from fans. It’d be a smart psychological effect to produce.
The other thing that’s interesting about a band of this size potentially forming its own label – and one of the reasons Metallica’s Blackened Recordings is similarly interesting – is that it creates a chance for Slayer to preserve the band’s legacy long after they’re officially done. It’s entirely possible that they saw the writing on the wall more than anyone in the press realizes when Hanneman passed away, and short of turning into KISS or Thin Lizzy and swapping out members as needed, retirement can’t be too far away at this point. But Slayer is all this band knows, particularly in the case of Araya and King, who’ve been in Slayer since they were teenagers. What comes next for the rest of the members’ lives? Lemmy framed this kind of concern with unflinching honesty to the New York Times last month when he said, “I just feel really down. I’ll never get a job again.” The guys in Slayer aren’t as old as Lemmy, but they’re getting up there, and it’s hard to imagine they wouldn’t still want to be involved with music if the day comes where touring stops making sense for their legacy and their health. I’d like to see what would happen if they even tried to sign a band or two and create a label roster of their own, particularly just out of curiosity for how heavy their taste in signings would be.
Zach: I wouldn’t rule out American Recordings trying to get Slayer back (it seems hard to believe that any label wouldn’t want to keep a band like Slayer on its roster). Whether or not Slayer wants to go back to them after what appears to be getting the cold shoulder from them is uncertain. The best bet for Slayer is likely to start their own imprint via T-Boy Records/Universal, in the same vein as Megadeth and Rob Zombie this year. Starting a label from scratch on your own is an enormous investment, and Kerry King and Tom Araya don’t seem too interested in doing that (if they were, why are they waiting to start recording until they get a label?). With T-Boy Records, though, they have Universal’s tools and horsepower to run as if they were their own imprint. Sure, Megadeth and Zombie’s first albums via their imprints didn’t sell as well as their past catalog, but neither has the hardcore fanbase and notoriety as Slayer.
The only “indie metal” labels I see having a chance nabbing Slayer are Roadrunner and Metal Blade. As Chip and Bram mention, Roadrunner has major label backing which means they can definitely afford a band like Slayer (presumably). However, Metal Blade has more of a personal bond with Slayer. And given how only half of the original Slayer remains, it might be good PR to angle signing with Metal Blade as “going back to our roots.” Though as Metal Injection points out, Araya supposedly holds grudge against Metal Blade owner Brian Slagel for what Araya felt was an unfair deal when they were starting up (something King revealed on the Steve Austin Show recently). However, if King and Slagel are still tight (which Slagel implied to us recently), then I doubt Araya’s “grudge” would prevent a deal from moving forward.
The only thing I could truly see preventing this is whether or not Metal Blade could afford a band like Slayer. Not only would Slayer likely demand a high upfront, but any label would require a crap load of dough to properly promote the album. That’s why it might be cool to see Slayer launch a subsidiary imprint with Metal Blade with additional support of an outside party (kind of like what The Dillinger Escape Plan is technically doing with their own Party Smasher Inc. and Sumerian). This gives Slayer more “control” while also giving them support from a strong label like Metal Blade.
Matt: There’s no doubt that almost every major record label is going to want Slayer to sign with them. As everyone has said, deciding to start their own label seems like the ideal move. They’re certainly big enough to do it and, as Kodi mentioned, tying it into a tribute to Jeff Hanneman would be fitting. If this is the case, I feel like it’s more likely that the band would make their own label and then partner with another should they go down that road. Either way, it might just be the best thing for them at this stage in their career. At one point, the band seemed to be held in the highest esteem out of the Big 4. Now you can’t look up one news story on the band without someone remarking how “it isn’t Slayer anymore.” Leaving American Records might feed into that line of thinking for some fans, but there’s also a chance of revitalizing it if they go about it right.
I believe the likelihood of signing with another label as opposed to starting one is just as high. Roadrunner seems one of the top candidates and I’m sure they wouldn’t mind nabbing Slayer after the split with Megadeth. Nuclear Blast is also high in the rankings, and they would love to have Slayer among the ranks of Testament and Exodus (you know, Gary Holt’s other band). It’s really anyone’s game, but one thing is for sure: if Slayer want to stay in the fan’s good graces, they may need to watch how they go about this.