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Remembering Jeff Hanneman: 1964-2013

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Slayer live 1985
Slayer live on April 3, 1985, touring with Venom and Exodus.

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Jeff Hanneman was a talented guitarist who died too young. He helped found one of the greatest metal bands of all time and wrote or contributed to the best songs that band had. Jeff had been sidelined by a near-death bout of necrotizing fasciitis in 2011, which was believed to have been caused by a spider bite. We all awaited the day that he would return to the fold. Sadly, that day is not to come. Last week on May 2, Jeff passed away from liver failure at the age of 49. Since hearing the news, our staff have been consumed with recollections about seeing Slayer live, the best Slayer songs, remembering how we discovered Slayer in the first place, and just how influential Jeff Hanneman was to the metal community.

— Vanessa Salvia

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Photo by Greg Cristman, Greg Cristman Photography

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Let’s be frank, if it didn’t have more than five people shouting a chorus, I wasn’t interested.

After the requisite pop-music phase and a dabbling in hip hop, my first love was youth-crew hardcore, most of which hasn’t aged quite so well. If the band had tulasi beads and over-sized tees/cannon pants, I’d love it. But like anything, what I initially thought was extreme was not enough, and I kept searching for the next thing . . . my search lead me to Integrity and eventually a band that informed their sound, Slayer.

I’ll always remember the first time I heard “War Ensemble” and how closely it followed punk rock. Stickers on Jeff Hanneman’s guitar shouted out bands like Dead Kennedys too, so despite being a metal band through and through, I always felt that Slayer were punk at heart. Covers by bands like Minor Threat, The Exploited, and more confirmed that allegiance.

As I grew musically and delved deeper into metal and away from hardcore, Slayer was a band that stayed with me. And they’ll never leave. Jeff Hanneman was a major part of that and thereby, a major part of my life.

RIP, Hanneman. You are loved and your legacy is unmatched.

— Fred Pesarro

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The time is November 9, 1988. The place is Erie, Pennsylvania. I was 16 years old and a junior in high school, and on my way to see Slayer in Cleveland, Ohio…. with Overkill AND Motörhead. Were we excited? You fucking bet.

I’d come of age going to hardcore shows in Pensacola, Florida, but even though I’d gotten a few black eyes in the pit at those shows, I never felt like I was in physical danger. At Slayer, however, we were terrified. Everyone in the crowd seemed bigger, older, and tougher. We found a spot where we could see and stayed put; getting into the pit at this show was out of the question. Though the intensity of the fans and the aggression scared the shit out of me, I had found just where I wanted to be: in Satan’s army. In Slayer’s army.

We’d smoked like research monkeys the whole way, and the crowd was also continued the madness by passing joints along, following that up with Budweisers. We drank them as fast as they were given to us. All of a sudden, Slayer hit the stage and there we were, listening to “The Antichrist”, “Chemical Warfare”, and hearing “Angel of Death” live right in front of our 15 and 16 year old faces. “Postmortem” followed and lead to “Raining Blood”. It was the most awesome concert moment of my life. The band tried to top it all off with “South of Heaven” but it was too late, we had already witnessed “Raining Blood” live.

I never met Jeff Hanneman. I don’t play guitar so I can’t speak to his technical ability, though I know it’s impressive. I don’t remember when or how I heard my first Slayer song, but I do know that I’ve never been the same since.

— Vanessa Salvia

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Let me tell you about the person I was. As a child, and into my early teens, my behavior and demeanor could be described as spoiled, entitled, image-obsessed. I was a dark soul with meaningful ideas, but caught in a retrospectively frightening web of self-importance and self-denial. I lied to my classmates, my family, myself, about who I was. I bragged about those advantages life has bestowed upon me, never considering that I hadn’t earned them. I held others to a lofty moral standard implanted in my mind by television, religion, and school. I was cruel, ignorant, and unhappy.

Then, Slayer. Ozzfest ’99, attended for the ballsy dramatics of shock rock and nu-metal, became all about the mind-boggling performance I witnessed by four men with no pyro and less pretense. As I sought out their music and absorbed the stories they told and melodies they played—sonic illustrations of the hypocrisy of the prophet, the brutality of the battlefield, the inevitability of the Devil within all humanity—I learned about honesty, about expressing one’s intentions without sugar-coating them in a saccharine lie. Slayer touched on something that intimidated many of their cheesy muscle-bound peers. Theirs was a darker path; acidic and alien to the touch but soothing in its expression of ugly truths that would fester into plagues if not spoken to the world.
Jeff Hanneman was so much of what made Slayer important to me. The bizarre misanthrope of the group, his compositions emanated stark reality through blazing riff and wise metaphor. His role within my favorite band kept me from succumbing to a simplistic and boorish attitude I have never been comfortable with. He was a model of personal understanding to me, and continues to be to this day.

Slayer saved me. Jeff Hanneman saved me. My debt to him will never be fully repaid.

— Scab Casserole

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Here’s a sampling of Slayer’s lyrical topics:

Genocide, mental illness, murder and serial killers, fear, death, suffering, incurable and fatal disease, Satanism/human sacrifice, obsession, the occult, war, torture, the Antichrist, apocalypse, hate. Evil.

A relative once asked me why I would want to listen to music that was about those topics. Life is brutal, nasty, and short. Civilization is a veneer. Humans are terrifying. It’s enough to make a man misanthropic, the only moral and logical response, a reaction born of nurture and not nature.

But it’s not enough to just write some words about the horrible things people have done to each other. I could read “Dulce Et Decorum Est” or Johnny Got His Gunor a book about Ed Gein instead.

And that’s half the “why” of listening to Slayer, half the “why” ofSlayer. The other half of Slayer was the music. Jeff Hanneman gave the words weight, and power, and velocity. Life. He wrote music as brutal as the topics, but he wrote SONGS, not noise collages.

Listening to Slayer helps me to check my misanthropy, to exorcise it. Hanneman wrote seven of my 10 favorite Slayer songs and had a hand in the other three. He wrote “Raining Blood”, the greatest metal song of all time. He literally made the best song in a genre boasting millions of songs. Few people can claim to have made the best anything.

When he passed, heavy metal diminished. It became something less than it was, and it cannot recover. Jeff Hanneman was – is – irreplaceable. Heavy metal will never be the same without him.

— Richard Street-Jammer

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The circumstances behind my first exposure to Slayer were, in fact, quite unsuited to the music itself—I recall this quite distinctly, I was playing at a park. It was an innocent summer. I was too young to drive or even think about driving, and while I had a healthy interest in heavy guitar music, I was not a metalhead.

There was, however, a metalhead there with me. And he always, always, wore Slayer shirts. The kind of feverish devotion that Jeff Hanneman’s music often inspires had a hold on him even at that young age. Naturally, that kid scared the crap out of me. Which did not stop him from offering me a pair of headphones.

“This CD is called Reign in Blood“.

Now I write about heavy metal—the line between that afternoon and my current avocation is direct. Slayer galvanized me.

I was blessed to see Jeff Hanneman perform with Slayer on several occasions. Those are now experiences that I will share with my younger peers in reverent, nostalgic tones, not ecstatic ones. Now I will never be able to debate the merits of new Slayer music.

There will be no new Slayer music. Hanneman and King, like Tipton and Downing before them, functioned as a unit, albeit with their own specialities—King’s manic, atonal bursts balanced perfectly against Hanneman’s more tuneful sensibilities. With Hanneman’s passing, so passes the songwriting team that galvanized heavy metal toward extremity the same way their music did to me. Hanneman and King’s influences—Hellhammer, Venom, and others—were fascinating curios, but without the driving force of Slayer’s music I don’t believe extreme metal as a defined style of music, or as a subculture, would exist.

Rest in Peace, Jeff Hanneman.

— Joseph Schafer

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Jeff Hanneman was never the figurehead of Slayer; that distinction always went to Kerry King, with his flashy fretwork, and Tom Araya with his iconic braying yell. Yet Hanneman wrote many of the band’s most iconic riffs and indeed much of the music (providing the lion’s share of songwriting credits over the band’s history) and without him the Slayer sound could never have matured to the beast that it became.

Hanneman was Malcolm Young to King’s Angus; Ron Wood to King’s Keith Richards. His prowess was not in the ripping solo, but in the solid, steady hook, plowing along under the chaos that allowed Slayer to sound so tightly under control while at the same time appearing apocalyptic. Think of it this way, without the steady one-chord churn of Hanneman under King’s arpeggiating during the end of “Raining Blood”, would that song have nearly the power that it does?

Hanneman provided the foundation for Slayer’s sound, and showed a generation that rhythm guitar need not be a soulless endeavour. Indeed, it can be argued that, without Hanneman’s influence, there would be no Dino Cazares, no Dallas Toller-Wade, no Jed Simon, none of the super precise rhythm players who have gone on to sculpt modern metal. Hanneman’s tight rhythm section was the unspoken hero of Slayer, and did not go unnoticed throughout the metal scene. Jeff Hanneman made it alright to simply riff, taking the burden of the shred off of the metal guitarist even as King made the power of the shred clear to the world. When he passed, I paraphrased Sleep in noting that “Jeff Hanneman has passed on to the riff-filled land.” I can think of no other place where Hanneman could be after this world, nor a more fitting eulogy for one of the greatest rhythm players and, indeed, most visionary metal guitarists of our time.

— Rhys Williams

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