Last Thursday came the quite surprising announcement that Jeff Hanneman, longtime guitarist and founding member of Slayer, had passed away at only 49 years of age. The announcement sent shockwaves through the metal community: at first no one wanted to believe it was true. After all, this was a member of the mighty Slayer, a band most of us felt were eternal and would never die. But alas, Mr. Hanneman succumbed to liver disease, supposedly brought on because of a spider bite which took him out of the band’s touring line-up some two years ago, only to return for a few songs when The Big 4 tour made a few select US tour stops.
While we have all had the weekend to think about Hanneman’s passing, it truly will be months and months before his legacy will be properly documented. With that in mind, here are a few tributes from members of the Hellbound.ca writing staff:
For years and years, no one Slayer guitarist was above the other in my mind. I never paid much attention to the songwriting credits as a teen because the liner notes in the cassettes were always so lousy, so as a result it was always “King and Hanneman” responsible for those towering riffs and atonal, dive-bombing solos. That all changed when I got a review copy of Slayer’s Soundtrack to the Apocalypse box set in 2003. On disc three were some home recordings by Jeff Hanneman of him working his way through early renditions of “Raining Blood” and “South of Heaven”. Wait a sec, I thought, as I started digging around to see which guitarist wrote which Slayer songs, and I was floored by what I found. Nearly every single classic Slayer track, with only the exception of very few, was written solely by Hanneman. That was the tipping point for me; no one member of Slayer was above the band, but without Hanneman’s creativity, Slayer would truly be nothing.
If I were to single out one song that Hanneman wrote himself, it would be “The Antichrist”, from 1983’s Show No Mercy, a song I first heard in 1984 on the Banzai Records release of the Haunting the Chapel EP. There’s not much to the track – structurally its blatantly indebted to Venom – but there’s such potency and pure evil in that deceptively playful descending, four-note riff, and Hanneman’s solo – the second one you hear, and the longest – has a musicality and structure to it that’s surprising these days, accustomed as we are to the more abstract soloing style he’d adopt in the years to come.
Me at thirteen.
South Of Heaven:
“South Of Heaven”
“Ghosts Of War”
“Cleanse The Soul”
Most of all,
“Spill The Blood”.
Those fucking riffs.
All of them.
Hair stands up.
The whole thing:
Jeffrey John Hanneman.
Soul of Slayer.
Rest in peace.
When I think about Jeff Hanneman, I can’t help thinking about the legendary guitar team of Hanneman/King. They were a devastating duo, up there with Smith/Murray and Tipton/Downing. Their playing worked in harmony, sure, when the riff required it. So many iconic Slayer moments came out of this—think of the opening of “Raining Blood” and that chilling, dramatic riff exploding between Lombardo’s thudding tom-toms. But there was the sense, especially early in their career, that it was an uneasy alliance. Each guitarist staked out his own territory, musically and visually. King had his studs, spikes and crimson BC Rich; Hanneman looked like a surfer dude gone bad, brandishing his classic black Les Paul. The lyric sheet in Hell Awaits noted, “LEADS – HANNEMAN, KING, HANNEMAN, KING, HANNEMAN, KING,” lest you mistake one for the other. There was always that back-and-forth tension fuelling Slayer’s dark power. That’s what audiences fed off of, and even though Slayer’s original twin guitar team won’t ever be seen on stage again, people are going to be losing their minds to that music for years and years to come.
I was never fortunate enough to cross paths with Jeff Hanneman directly but, like most metalheads, I can say that his work in Slayer had a dramatic impact on my musical experiences and taste. Back when I was still just discovering underground metal, I found a copy of Slayer’s Haunting the Chapel on vinyl – it turned out to be the heaviest album I’d heard up to that point in my life, and Hanneman song after Hanneman song made it on to my eternal playlist from there on out. I still remember the visceral exaltation of experiencing “Chemical Warfare” live when I first got a chance to see Hanneman and company in Toronto, before the release of Divine Intervention. As good as Jeff’s band mates are, it hasn’t been and won’t be the same without him.
The first time I remember seeing or hearing anything to do with Slayer was the late spring of 1985. A local stereo shop in the town I grew up in stocked all of the Banzai Records releases, which became the gateway for my friends and I to underground metal. I was 13 at the time, in grade eight at the local catholic school, and I would go down every Friday night and buy a different LP or cassette. On one spring Friday in particular I plopped down my $9 on the Banzai Axe compilation album, which we thought was a great deal because it came with a bonus 12″ for the same price. It was.
Shortly after Trouble’s Sabbath-worshipping “The Tempter” finished I got my first dose of (what was then) the lightning fast riffery of Slayer’s “Evil Has No Boundaries”. I remember being blown away by the fact there was a lead break almost as soon as the song started. I was intrigued and, as a 13 year old ex-altar boy, a little frightened by what I heard coming out of my speakers. I had only six months ago been introduced to Venom by another boy in my neighbourhood (hi, Rik Cudmore) and to my pre-ten ears Slayer was the most extreme, frightening and exciting thing I had ever heard. Of course, by the time they got to Reign In Blood about fifteen months later, they had upped the ante even more so and Mr. Jeff Hanneman was very responsible for that album’s ferocity.
Rest in Peace Mr. Hanneman, your influence on metal music will remain for decades to come.