Thursday, 28 May 2009

Keltner analysis of undiscussed Rock Hall Artists: Slayer

The site A List of Things Thrown Five Minutes Ago, discusses various artists' credentials for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

After finishing my analysis of the Rock Hall backlog, I always intended to analyse artists who have never been discussed by the Nominating Committee, but still might have credentials to justify induction. The aim of the process is to find out whether, on the basis of the Keltner list for a Hall of Fame, the Nominating Committee is completely ignoring artists who have undeniable credentials to be in the Hall.

I do admit that there are some problems with the criteria, especially given known biases of the Nominating Committee and how they effect who is already in the Hall, but still I cannot see any better alternative.

It was several months ago that I evaluated The Smiths and decided that they do not meet the criteria for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

My next artist, like the Smiths first eligible in 2008/2009, is Slayer. Consisting of vocalist and bassist Tom Araya, guitarists Kerry King and Jeff Hannemann, and drummer Dave Lombardo, Slayer emerged on Metal Blade in the middle 1980s with albums Show No Mercy and Hell Awaits and an EP Haunting the Chapel. Though these recordings did not dent the Top 200, they were the best selling Metal Blade albums and the band then joined up with Rick Rubin, then best-known as producer for LL Cool J. With Rubin Slayer produced Reign in Blood, South of Heaven and Seasons in the Abyss, in which they gradually become a little slower but even heavier. Slayer also broke through commercially during the era, entering the Billboard Top 100, and, despite losing Dave Lombardo, the Top 10 with Divine Intervention. Slayer still tour and record today, having regained Lombardo for their latest (2006) album Christ Illusion. Though Metallica were elected in 2008/2009, Slayer were not on any Nominating Committee member’s short list.

An evaluation of Slayer's Rock Hall credentials based on the Keltner criteria, which actually come from the Baseball Hall of Fame follows.

1) Were Slayer ever regarded as the best artist in rock music? (Did anybody, while Slayer were active, ever seriously suggest Slayer were the best artist in rock music?): Quite possibly many fans of thrash and death metal during the 1980s and early 1990s would say Slayer indeed were. Even before many fans thought Metallica became “$elloutica” with their self-titled album, Slayer were viewed by those in the nascent death metal scene as the critical influence.

2) Were Slayer ever the best artist in rock music in their genre?: Certainly Slayer are regarded as the most important band in thrash metal by some fans who cannot help criticising Metallica, and within the more extreme metal scenes they are almost universally viewed as critically important. So they would pass this test I feel.

3) Were Slayer ever considered the best at their instruments?: Not generally. Dave Lombardo’s drumming would be the nearest to this, but he was rarely seen as superior to Lars Ulrich.

4) Did Slayer have an impact on a number of other bands?: Certainly. Almost every band in death metal was heavily inspired by Reign in Blood, though few were as commercially successful as Slayer themselves. Black metal bands who became targets of the PMRC were also inspired by Slayer, as well less stylistically similar bands like Fear Factory.

5) Were Slayer good enough that they could play regularly after passing their prime?: Yes. Slayer still play and tour today, and a few years ago their classic lineup with Dave Lombardo rather than Paul Bostaph.

6) Are Slayer the very best artist in history that is not in the Hall of Fame?: Many metalheads would say so, but it is very dubious to give this question a positive answer. Even if we limit ourselves to originality and influence, there are many other artists from before Slayer's formation whose record challenges such an assumption.

7) Are most bands who have a comparable recording history and impact in the Hall of Fame?: There are very few bands who have a comparable recording history and impact to Slayer. Nonetheless, with the induction of Metallica and Black Sabbath among the very few other groups with comparable influence upon metal, one would find it tough to say “no”. Even Deep Purple, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden who are not in the Hall of Fame can hardly be said to have the same impact.

8) Is there any evidence to suggest that Slayer were significantly better or worse than is suggested by its statistical records?: The fact that Slayer could obtain hit records without support by even noncommercial radio (and, as far as I know, no undue exposure from their record companies) is very much in their favour here.

9) Are Slayer the best artist in its genre that is eligible for the Hall of Fame?: With Metallica now in the Hall of Fame, there is relatively little doubt among both fans and critics that Slayer are the best thrash metal artist - especially if we date Pantera’s eligibility from the 25th anniversary of its first acknowledged release Cowboys from Hell (ie. in 2015/2016).

10) How many #1 singles/gold records did Slayer have? Did Slayer ever win a Grammy award? If not, how many times was Slayer nominated? Slayer never had a number one single or album: their highest position was #8 for 1994's Divine Intervention. Slayer have however had a number of gold albums between Reign in Blood and Divine Intervention from a large and loyal following. Slayer have won two Grammys for Best Metal Performance. However, coming as recently as the last couple of years they do not add much to their status here.

11) How many Grammy-level songs/albums did Slayer have? For how long of a period did Slayer dominate the music scene? How many Rolling Stone covers did Slayer appear on? Did most of the bands with this sort of impact go into the Hall of Fame?: Slayer have been nominated three times for Grammys in Best Metal Performance, though none of them were until after Lombardo left, for the first time. I have never seen Slayer on any Rolling Stone cover. Nonetheless, in the underground music scene of the creative late 1980s, Slayer were one of the most important performers and essential to bringing about the cultural changes culminating in the classic “red state”/“blue state” divide of the 2000 and 2004 elections. After Lombardo left Slayer’s “dominance” could be said to have ended, though.

12) If Slayer were the best band at a concert, would it be likely that the concert would rock?: Certainly. As with so many heavy metal bands, Slayer's concerts were the source of their record sales since even noncommercial radio stations did not play their music. They also released one successful live album around the time Lombardo left.

13) What impact did Slayer have on rock history? Were they responsible for any stylistic changes? Did they introduce any new equipment? Did Slayer change history in any way?: Slayer were responsible for re-establishing rawness and adding speed to heavy metal to create several new genres of metal. They also helped publicise opponents of heavy metal who believed that it was very violent - on some ground that might not be a positive, but it crucially is further evidence Slayer influenced history significantly.

14) Did Slayer uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?: This is debatable because Slayer have so often been accused of supporting Nazism and violent Satanism owing to their lyrical themes. However, there are a number of problems common in the rock world that Slayer have been largely free of, such as drug- or alcohol-related deaths or health problems and failed romantic relationships. It is true that, if we follow the points made by Throwing Things, that Slayer have not participated in things like charities

Verdict: Even if you are a “Small Hall” person like those at Throwing Things, it is hard to overlook Slayer’s credentials. The judgments above on at least eight of the fourteen criteria would definitely support Slayer being inducted. Thus, the verdict is: induct.


Anonymous said...

Slayer has 3 grammy nominations. The first in 2001 for "Disciple" the second in 2007 for "Eyes of The Insane" and in 2008 they were nominated for "Final Six". All in the category of best metal performance. They won in 2007 and 2008 :)

jpbenney said...

Thank you for this information, I will make the correction immediately! I must say that coming after their prime it does not add that much to their (very good) credentials, which relate to Slayer's status as a cultural vanguard during the Reagan and Bush Senior eras.