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?
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.