Metalheads today were greeted with some crappy news: Dave Lombardo is, again, out of Slayer. Worse yet, it's Bill-Ward-being-vibed-out-of-Black-Sabbath part deux; from Lombardo's own calloused fingers comes this Facebook missive:
Statement From Dave Lombardo Regarding Slayer Australian Tour 2013I want to personally apologize to all of our fans in Australia who have bought tickets for the tour expecting to see me in my usual place on the drums.So that you all know the truth, as of the end of the business day on February 14th, I was notified that I would not be drumming for the tour in Australia. I’m saddened, and to be honest I am shocked by the situation. Last year, I discovered 90% of Slayer’s tour income was being deducted as expenses including the professional fees paid to management, costing the band millions of dollars and leaving 10% or less to split amongst the four of us. In my opinion, this is not the way a band’s business should operate. I tried rectifying it by letting my band mates know, and Tom and I hired auditors to figure out what happened, but I was denied access to detailed information and the necessary back up documents. I spent the Christmas and New Year holidays realizing I had toured all over the world in 2012, but yet, had not been paid (except a small advance) or provided a proper accounting for a full year's sweat and blood. On top of this, I was told that I would not be paid until I signed a long form contract which gave me no written assurance of how much or on what basis management would deduct commissions, nor did it provide me access to the financial budgets or records for review. It also forbade me to do interviews or make statements having to do with the band, in effect a gagging order.Last Monday, I sat down with Kerry and Tom to rehearse for Australia and to propose a new business model that I felt was the best way forward for Slayer to confidently protect itself so we could do what we do best . . . play for the fans. Kerry made it clear he wasn’t interested in making changes and said if I wanted to argue the point, he would find another drummer. On Thursday, I arrived at rehearsals at 1 pm as scheduled, but Kerry did not show. Rather, at 6:24 pm I received an email from the lawyers saying I was being replaced for the Australian dates.I remain hopeful that we can resolve our issues. But once again, I sincerely apologize to all of our fans in Australia who spent their money expecting to see the 3 of us original Slayer members.I look forward to seeing you in the future.Sincerely,Dave Lombardo
The world of heavy metal is an ever-shifting entity with changing guards and new sounds replacing old dudes on a seasonal basis. But any fan worth their salt knows a few truths to be self-evident, and one of those truths is that Dave Lombardo is the greatest drummer in the history of history. His work behind the kit with Slayer is genre-defying, and generations of metallions have spent their formative years attempting to keep up with the blast beats he came up with on stone classics like Reign In Blood.
Lombardo left Slayer in 1992, at perhaps their absolute height in terms of mass popularity; the band soldiered on without him, but most fans let out a hearty "Huzzah!" in 2001 when Lombardo re-joined the fold. Most metal bands consider the drummer somewhat expendable, but Lombardo is a rare exception where people care at least a little bit whether the master is on the throne or not; consider the stutter-fill-break in the midst of the band's signature tune "Angel of Death"-- no one really slams that thing home quite like Lombardo.
But Slayer is more than a rock band-- they are a massive brand, representing not just the power of metal but reliable millions and millions hoovered into the heavy metal industry. T-shirts, multi-band tours, etc.: Slayer holds things together year after year for a business that is in constant flux. Think about it this way: who is on top of the metal pile at any given moment? Who knows, but whomever is being feted by metal rags this week or next will still likely get their clock cleaned if they were to share a stage with the mighty Slayer.
Slayer didn't get to that position by just playing metal awesomely-- they are also a lean business machine, doing what they do economically and consistently. Slayer can headline festivals and tours because they are reliable, bringing the goods and keeping fans happy. I spoke to singer/bassist Tom Araya last year when they were the co-headliner of the Mayhem Festival tour with Slipknot; here is Araya discussing how the band deals with the costs of production:
With this tour, we have pyro, and that’s rare that we do a “show” or that sort of thing. But on this tour we’re traveling with Slipknot, who use all sorts of shit like that on stage, and we’re a cost-effective band. Slayer relies a lot on the music, we don’t rely on gimmicks or effects, so when we have an opportunity to share the cost on something, we’ll do it. So we’re splitting the cost of the pyro with Slipknot and it makes it a little more convenient for us to use.
Being miserly has had its benefits for Slayer: currently, Araya himself is worth a reported $28 million; Kerry King, who is not just a guitarist but an clothing line empressario, $15 million; and poor old Dave Lombardo, who, remember, didn't even drum for Slayer for almost a decade, is himself worth a reported $12 million. So we aren't listening to the gripes of a band of struggling rockers, this is the high-wire negotations of a crew of multi-millionaires who don't roll out to Australia if it isn't going to add to that portfolio in an demonstrative way. Or to look at it another way: whether Dave Lombardo gets on a twenty hour flight to pummel through a Slayer set ten or fifteen times isn't going to affect how much he makes from the sale of Slayer black hoodies, right?
There are some who see this as perhaps a sign of the disintegration of Slayer-- which is a reasonable takeaway, seeing as how guitarist Jeff Hanneman has been indefinitely sidelined with what was seen at the time as the most metal disease ever gotten by a metal axe-wielder, necrotizing fasciitis. No Lombardo means that Araya and King are the only original members-- and it really is up to fans to determine whether this will tarnish the Slayer brand. If this summer brings a massive Slayer tour/festival that sees the band running through "Raining Blood" without Lombardo, will it affect their bottom end? King seems to be betting that it won't, and he also seems to be certain that rocking the boat in terms of their management and financial representation would cost the band more than rectifying some serious potential malfeasanc on the part of the band's financial management.
Many fans will react to Lombardo's missive with tirades against King and Araya, and perhaps rightfully so, since it seems that at least King (if Lombardo is to be believed) was and is willing to go forward with the band sans Lombardo. But it is also important to take a step back: Slayer is more than a band at this point, they are a massive machine, selling metal ephemera in a world where recorded music is worth less and less. Metallica spend their cultural capital doing albums with Lou Reed and making documentaries about themselves that depict them as therapy-laden dips. Slayer, on the other hand, have an untarnished legacy and a perennially rad logo that will keep them in mansions regardless of whether they ever set foot on a stage again. A band like Slayer is probably worth more to the metal cultural industry as a legacy product than as a living breathing entity-- and any tour the band sets out on is merely in service to selling shirts and shot glasses and condoms.
It's a sad statement, but it's also perhaps time for a moment of reflection for those of us who count ourselves as fans: what do we want from Slayer? Did we expect the four of them to keep blast-beating and head-banging until they literally were corpses onstage swinging corpse hair in perfect circular arcs? Or can we accept the band as human beings, men in their fifties keeping metal alive but also expressing themselves in a way that reflects who they are as people who are not especially stuck in the late-80s milieu when they first saw their massive success solidify into a movement?