Classic Metal’s Long, Slow Goodbye
Yesterday, solo artist and Black Sabbath singer Ozzy Osbourne announced the dates for the North American leg of the "No More Tours 2," his second farewell tour, following a similar bow-out in 1992. This time, the tour reportedly features support from Stone Sour. The announcement comes quickly on the heels of Slayer announcing their own curtain call, with support from Lamb of God, Behemoth, Anthrax, and Testament.
As with all "final" tour announcements, I'll believe it when I see it. If the death of guitarist Jeff Hanneman didn't stop the Slayer machine from chugging along, its hard to imagine that the ravages of time would slow them down. Tom Araya, a devout Catholic who sings about satan for a living, is one of the biggest "keep gettin' dem checks" guys in heavy metal. Can we take him at his word that we won't see a ballyhooed Slayer reunion set at a festival a few years down the line? Similarly, Ozzy's newest goodbye party brands itself as a contradiction from the name down. We already know he's returned from the retired life once before, how seriously can we take him now? Even the cheeky title leaves the door open for one-offs and festival dates; besides, he's apparently just quitting touring, not fully retiring from the business altogether.
If the dominance of festivals in the live music industry has taught us anything, it's that everyone has a price. There is no beef between band members that can't be solved with a couple of commas. Roping in the casual fan with the fire sale "final tour" sign, and then returning to catch all of the suckers that couldn't attend the first time, is a financial double-tap. I don't even begrudge bands for doing it. When major outlets like Best Buy decide to stop selling CDs and streaming services only offer the barest of crumbs as payment, it's only reasonable that a live act would milk their cred for everything it's worth.
Cynicism aside, two of the biggest names in heavy metal announcing their imminent departure from the stage does warrant comment -- if not for the bands taking the bow themselves, then for the ecosystem that has been built around them. Even if Slayer and Ozzy are gone for only five years (which LCD Soundsystem established as the current minimum of years that you can be broken up and still get away with a reunion), their absence will leave a vacuum. There are only a handful of metal acts that can reliably fill the rooms that Slayer and Ozzy will be occupying on their victory lap. Metallica and Iron Maiden will remain huge draws until the end of time, and Slipknot can still bring massive crowds out when they aren't on the verge of breaking up themselves. However, all three are prone to taking their sweet time between tours, in part to sustain the demand that allows them to fill massive venues.
For even the most successful working metal act, this means that the pool for opening gigs on stadium tours will shrink significantly when these two acts disappear. It doesn't seem likely that any band could rise to fill the void. Take Slayer's primary support, Lamb of God. With Slayer, they're playing the Michigan Lottery Amphitheater, a venue that caps out at 7,200. For their off date appearance in Grand Rapids, they're playing the Monroe Live, which holds 2,600. Admittedly there is some noise here, given that the "final tour" tag allows Slayer to book bigger rooms with the expectation of nabbing fans that don't want to miss their chance to see the band before they're gone "for good," and Lamb of God are likely playing a bit below their fighting weight when they have two shows in the same state on one tour. However, the difference in what Lamb of God can do by themselves and what they can do as Slayer's support is significant.
Are there any other metal bands on the rise that could conceivably pack a 7,200 capacity room? The biggest names of my high school years (including Lamb of God, but also Mastodon, Gojira, etc.) are still a long way off, and barring an unlikely pop success, they aren't in a position to drastically increase their draw any time soon. It seems even less likely that current mainstream crossover acts like Code Orange or Deafheaven could reach anything close to those heights without a hard push towards accessibility.
As a fan of music, I won't miss Slayer and Ozzy. Both have long since past their glory days, and could have easily called it quits years ago without their legacies changing. But as a fan of heavy metal as a popular music form, I do find the gradual phasing out the genre's money-makers to be a tad worrisome. Of course, the underground will exist regardless, and plenty of great metal albums will be made with no expectation of being performed in front of a quadruple-digit crowd. However, a lower ceiling will have an effect on all of the homes' inhabitants: there will be fewer chances for midsized bands to grow their audience, and less opportunity for the baton to be passed to the next iconic acts.
Metal will have to learn to live without its big tents eventually. What the next generation does to pick up the slack remains unclear.