Metal rarely got attention from respectable institutions during its early days. As officially designated social enemies and rebels, metalheads were perceived as being antagonists of such institutions who did not necessarily agree with their basic principles like the hippies did. However, with the lightening of metal this has changed, and academics, the corporate world and now the Smithsonian Museum have taken an interest in metal.
Slayer: The Origins of Thrash in San Francisco, CA is a five-minute video which looks at the creation of speed metal as it happened in San Francisco, California, following up on the work of bands like Motorhead, Satan and Blitzkrieg in the UK when hybridized with hardcore punk. It shows the respectable institutions of society recognizing not just Slayer, and speed metal, but that a thriving and viable sub-culture has existed within their society for almost thirty years.
Death looms over thrash metal’s most sinister (and probably most influential) band: Slayer. After 35 years of touring and recording, the demise of the band’s most valuable member Jeff Hanneman, and age coupled with 25 years of creative rut, Slayer is about to expire. The band announced via a short video that it’s time for one last ride before a long overdue end.
UNITED STATES – JANUARY 01: Photo of SLAYER (Photo by Ebet Roberts/Redferns)
Some people find it odd that Slayer attracts such fanatical devotion from its fans, even 27 years after the last album most people consider classic from the band, South of Heaven. The answer for me is that Slayer stands for something: not just what metal should always be — unsociable, powerful, intense and pushing beyond all boundaries — but what metal should do, which is tell the truth in a realistic but mythological way. Almost all people fear truth and spend most of their time distracting us from it. Slayer turns it into a battleground which inspires the listener to want to get in there and fight it out.
I rank Slayer up there with other heroes like William S. Burroughs, early James Joyce, Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, Fred Nietzsche, Louis-Ferdinand Celine, Michel Houellebecq, Plato, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, William Blake and other absolute saviors who brought some clarity to a life that started enmeshed in lies and that had to gradually claw its way toward clarity. These people gave much of their lives so that humanity has a shot at survival. (Note present tense). Like those literary warriors, Slayer took a look at the world of human denial and shattered it, grasping instead the raw currency of nature: power, conflict and predation. Their goal was not solely to become popular, but to do so by telling the truth that people suppress every day.
For those like me who grew up in a time of denial, such an approach was not only refreshing but became clear it was the only approach worth tolerating. Back in those days, what really scared us was the Cold War and the threat of possible if not probable nuclear annihilation. Humanity finally had enough missiles to do itself in, and had wired those to increasingly hair-trigger decisions which would decide the fate of not just us, but the future. 30,000 years of nuclear winter and death by radiation seemed very final. In addition, our society was torn apart, with the Reaganite big hair Christians on one side and the spaced-out, gibberish-spewing 1968 hippies on the other.
Most importantly however Slayer was what everyone always felt heavy metal should become. Heavy metal is music that rejects social pleasantries for a study of power itself, including the awesome power of nature manifested in death, disease, predation and violence. Slayer sounds like mechanized warfare with the patterns of a summer hurricane. They threw out all the rules and started making heavy metal like punks, with no reliance on traditional song structures, and expanded its vocabulary infinitely. On top of that, Slayer never backed down from being the ultimate hard line of reality. When people started talking about Jesus or how peace would save us (maaaaan), Slayer was the antidote. It drowned out the insanity and replaced it with cold, hard reality.
Walking through the years of classic Slayer:
Show No Mercy corrected the previous fifteen years of metal by summarizing it and turning it up to 11. Using the techniques of hardcore punk and a Wagnerian sense of riff structure, this album took heavy metal from the looping song structures of the late 1970s back to the experimental, prog-style outlook of Black Sabbath. This reduced the rock influence, and brought primacy back to the riff from where it had been languishing with the voice in glam and later NWOBHM. The term “heavy metal” means two things: the genre as a whole, and the sub-genre of music which is still roughly blues influenced (itself passing down the English and Germanic popular music in a form the music industry invented to sell more records). While still the second type of heavy metal, this album showed Slayer developing the techniques that they would later use to — along with Hellhammer, Sodom and Bathory — invent death metal from the ashes of speed metal which died as soon as it was born.
Haunting the Chapel was the weird little EP that came along with the other Slayer albums I bought when I could find them. I put it on and heard “Chemical Warfare” and thought, this sounds exactly like society and why I hate it: the pain of tedium, the sure destination in collapse and self-destruction, the ignorant removal of nature, and the misery of all trapped within it. Other heavy metal tried to be apocalyptic, but this song showed an actual destruction of humanity by our own hand, which was and still is the most likely scenario. Like “War Pigs,” it contrasted a mythology of demons and wizards with the motivations of people in real life, which were every bit as good/evil as the epics of Tolkien. As a high school kid, I was thankful some adult finally told me the truth about something — and it was Slayer!
Although this was a live in studio album designed to promote the band, it has many beauties. It is the ultimate 4 AM after a profound night waiting for the sunrise music. A friend of mine refers to it as his “day drinking” album, but I have never heard a more ridiculous term than day drinking. Alcoholism knows no clock.
Back in high school, some friends of mine and I would cut class and sneak off to the woods to smoke cigarettes and talk about metal. We used to refer to Hell Awaits as LLEH STIAWA to disguise our communication from authority figures, when passing notes in class. This was where Slayer really began, for me. They refined the aesthetics on the first album and changed song structure from the rock/blues/folk origins to the free-form style of hardcore punk bands, which let the riffs take over and guide the development of the song, a compositional technique which is the basis of death metal. Ornette Coleman, who recently died, once said, “I think one day music will be a lot freer. Then the pattern for a tune, for instance, will be forgotten and the tune itself will be the pattern, and won’t have to be forced into conventional patterns.” Slayer was the first pattern-oriented heavy metal band and discovered what free jazz tuned into, but took it to the next level. Thinking about the difference between this album and the first Slayer album started my career as a music writer (such as it is).
I started out as a hardcore kid, cranking more Amebix, DRI, Cro-Mags and the Exploited than heavy metal. All of that changed when I discovered Slayer. Reign in Blood showed me hardcore taken to its logical conclusions: a society ridden by a deep spiritual disease, corrupted and scapegoating as it spirals toward collapse. Facing the emptiness and literality of reality is our only hope, but even that requires a mythos of some form. Not only was Reign in Blood written on the most hardcore topics ever, except put through the mythological filter of metal, but it was written like hardcore if the bands decided to be good at their instruments and compose epic opera-style clashes between good and evil instead of Songs To Hate The Man From Your Squat. Sandwiched between two epic tracks that called to mind the intensity of black metal that came later, this album roars through atonal masterpieces of pure rhythm and structure, using the power of the musical phrase to create metaphorical associations in the mind of the listener. Some bands sing about things; Slayer made music that sounded like those things, come to life as demonic meth-driven zombies created by humans and now returned to destroy them. This album took that sound to the furthest extreme, and nothing since has topped it.
This album first made me fall in love with Slayer. I was blown away by the other material, but here Slayer added a layer of dark poetic sensation like they had on the bookend tracks on the previous album, but they let the whole album carry that vibe. The result is the first really nocturnal album in metal: a meditation on nothingness, a howl of the Steppenwolf, from within a lonely darkness where to avoid the lies is to see the truth that puts the individual on a collision course with society. When your civilization denies reality, your own choice — if you have what my old gym coach called “intestinal fortitude” a.k.a. “the guts” to do so — is to oppose the fantasy with hardcore reality, but like a good heavy metal band to make it epic by turning it into a mythology of itself. South of Heaven did that in an inventive album which sounded like night raids on a dying world. Poetic, dark, apocalyptic and yet it makes you want to strive. Healing and motivational.
I remember Slayer being in Thrasher magazine as a big event this year. At that time, music was still divided between the big labels and the type of music they would promote, which were the big decade-long trends that were sort of like genres, except they were musically very much the same as everything else. Mainstream magazines simply did not mention Slayer and barely would cover Metallica because they disliked the threat to their power. You could find Slayer in the record stores, which were either mainstream like Sound Warehouse or independents that barely made it by, and maybe in zines but otherwise the media kept mum on this new threat, just like they did at first with hardcore punk (as opposed to punk rock). I think I saw Slayer several times over this year and the past, and almost died on a few occasions but that failed to diminish my enthusiasm.
I remember Seasons in the Abyss coming to record stores on the same day as Megadeth Rust in Piece, and sneaking out of school every period to go to the local Sound Warehouse to see if they had it on the shelves yet. Finally an employee pointed me to a cart with new albums not yet stocked, and I saw my prizes and seized them, paid (and was carded — these were the PMRC days! — also the days of low-cost “novelty” Missouri DLs) and got out of dodge. This was where Slayer and I began to part ways, because Slayer actually headed back toward rock music on this: the vocals led the songs, they were more verse/chorus, and the focus was on harmony rather than clashing riff patterns. Much of this material continued where South of Heaven left off but added the more powerful vocals and the confining necessity of certain basic harmonies that always shifts songs back toward the sound of three-chord rock. While the transition never completely occurred, the sensation remained. Still some great material on this LP however.
Finally, Slayer hit some big time and what did it was computers. In the late 1980s, the Macintosh made desktop publishing very easy because it had a built-in graphical interface. More zines started popping up, and the big music magazines felt the heat. I first heard the term “niche genre” at this point, and realized the new strategy was to sell something different to everyone at all times, kind of like postmodernism is an attempt to see any object from all angles. Although Decade of Aggression includes the slower and more emotional Seasons in the Abyss songs, it was a great time for Slayer to release a live album using the production values and performance standards of Reign in Blood on their older material as well. They decided to have very clear production for this live album, and to pan the guitars to opposite extremes so wannabe shredders could tab all the stuff out at home. The result is one of my favorite albums to listen to for outdoor activity and other trying times. I have probably fixed 100,000 machines to this album and, where I can enjoy the Seasons in the Abyss material, it is on this two-CD set.
Slayer: One of the few people who gave me a vision of reality and yet added to it a layer of inspiration in metaphor. You lived ten lifetimes in the one you endured here, like all greats. Slayer also brought heavy metal back to the table after it wimped out and then took a false step with speed metal, which while great in its own right, was not far enough from the herd to gain its own voice and quickly got assimilated (1992). Slayer lived on by birthing much of the underground metal to follow, and being an influence on virtually all of it. As long as I live, you will not be forgotten, and then others will carry on the magic of what you did…
On December 3, 1983, a force of unparalleled musical terror was unleashed upon a more innocent world. Combining the high speed strum detached from percussion used by Discharge with the architectural riffing of Judas Priest and the melodic understructure used by Iron Maiden, Slayer created a new style of heavy metal which exceeded all previous efforts.
While Show No Mercy sounds tame compared to later Slayer effort Reign in Blood (1986), for the time it revolutionized metal and punk alike. Most metal of the era was still recovering from the mid-1970s slump that occurred when Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin were hybridized into a new rock-based style, manifesting after a brief revolution in the NWOBHM as the usual lowest-common-denominator crowd pleaser in acts like Motley Crue. Slayer brought back the longer phrasal riffs used by Black Sabbath and through the tremolo strum added greater flexibility and detached chord changes from the beat of the snare, which allowed the guitar to dominate composition and relegated drums to timekeeping. This in turn gave the band more options for varying riffs within a phrase and escaping the verse-chorus pop radio song format that had infected metal in the previous years.
Even outdoing other hardcore punk/NWOBHM hybrids like speed metal bands (Metallica) and thrash (DRI), Slayer created a fury that could also be beautiful. To this they added a mythological view of humanity and the ongoing collapse of Western civilization, placing us into a mode of viewing it as a conflict between good and evil with the prize being survival more than a spiritual state of obedience. In doing so, Slayer laid the foundation both musically and topically for the future death metal genre, while also spurring speed metal on to greater intensity. Most of what we cover on this site would not have existed when it did without Slayer and contemporaries such as Bathory, Hellhammer and Sodom who opened the gates to this new style.
The second of May makes many of us uneasy because we remember the death of Jeff Hanneman, composer and architect of the Slayer approach to mythological alienation. The world isn’t the same without him, and many of us felt like we had lost a parent, since when adults refuse to grow up and speak honestly about life, children have to turn to other sources of information. Hanneman made sense of the modern world, no matter how apocalyptic the outlook ultimately turned out to be.
We are fortunate to get a few words in with D.X. Ferris, author of the books Slayer’s Reign in Blood (33 1/3) and Slayer 66 2/3: The Jeff & Dave Years. A Metal Band Biography. Ferris has spent the last several years writing about Slayer and understands the importance of this historic act not just to metal, but to the society around us all. Read on for the inner truths of writing about Slayer on this day we commemorate Hanneman’s life.
You’ve written two books on Slayer. What’s your relationship to Slayer? When did it begin?
My life is very clearly divided into Before Slayer and Since Slayer. I tell the story in my first book: Over the years, I had edged toward metal. I thought Metallica was as hard & heavy as it got. Then I read a review of Hell Awaits, and the review talked it up like a thrash masterpiece. So bought it. The first time I played it, it started with that big three-minute slow intro. I thought I had bought a bad album based on a bad review. But then the track kicked into the thrash part, and it was the universe cracked and a new dimension opened. And almost 30 years later, here I am, talking about Slayer.
Over the ’90s, I wasn’t as into metal as I was and am, but Slayer always stayed with me. My college notebooks are filled with Slayer lyrics and pentagrams. After college, when I’d sit in meetings, I looked like I was taking notes, but half the time, I was sketching Slayer logos — that’s one of the reasons why the new paperback looks like it does.
And the older I get, the more the band means to me. I think it’s curious how people get old and forget about metal. When you’re younger, metal is great music for when you’re pissed off. But when you get older and you have to deal with questionable coworkers and pinhead middle managers, that’s when you really need angry music. Slayer is always here for you!
How did you become a writer?
Writing is my one rare ability. I have tried doing literally everything else I though I could do: being a businessman in a suit, bartending, entering a doctoral program for corporate communication. Writing just keeps dragging me back to it. I wrote for school newspapers. I used the school newspaper as an outlet for record reviews. And gradually parlayed those clips into paying gigs as a writer.
Are you a metal fan “in general,” a Slayer fan or a writer who found this topic intriguing?
I primarily identify as A Metal Guy. I love a lot of other music. In high school, I was deeply into hardcore and punk, too. But I had long hair and the metal outfit: denim and some leather. In the picture I sent, that’s my same Anthrax back-patch from high school. The last three albums I bought were Triptykon, Behemoth, and High School Musical 2. Hey, I have kids. I could have scored free promo copies, but those dudes deserve my money.
What do you think is Slayer’s cultural impact?
Great question. Early in the book, I say “This is Slayer’s world, and we’re just living in it.” Look around is: The Twilight series is a phenomenon. It’s about vampires. There are four vampire shows in primetime TV — well, three now that NBC canceled Dracula. Walking Dead is the most popular TV show with young audiences. Game of Thrones is the most popular HBO show since The Sopranos, and it is metal as hell. In fact, I write weekly Heavy Metal Reviews of it for a website called Diffuser.fm, where I evaluate how metal the episode was. Since the days of Hell Awaits, long hair, violence, the undead, and the supernatural have saturated society. And that’s just the fantasy aspect, not to mention the fact that we’ve been at war over a decade.
Can you trace all that directly to Slayer? Maybe not. But they sure were ahead of the curve.
Your first Slayer-themed book appears to be Slayer’s Reign in Blood (33 1/3). What can you tell us about this book, and how did you end up being the one to write it?
I was a fan of the series. Each book is by a different author, writing about a single classic album, from the Beach Boys to the Beastie Boys. And something about it just called me and made me think “Go write a Slayer book for it.” I would have liked to write the Beastie Boys one, but Dan LeRoy beat me to it. When I looked down the list, I saw there was no metal in the series. So I pitched Reign. I knew it was a stretch. But, one, I thought there should be some metal. Two, if you look at the people who made the record, the album is an intriguing nexus in the history of rock: It was produced by Rick Rubin, who was known strictly as a rap guy at the time. It was his first rock record. And he would go on to work with about 10% of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee groups. Engineer Andy Wallace mixed everybody, basically, from Nirvana to Guns ‘N Roses. It was released on the rap label Def Jam. So it was the perfect metal choice, because the album reaches beyond metal.
Did writing this book change how you viewed Slayer?
It did. With pretty much any group, when you really dig into the credits and start crunching numbers, you realize that your impressions of the band aren’t necessarily right. Like, there are a lot of Who fans who assume Roger Daltrey wrote the words, because he’s the singer. I thought I knew a lot about the band, but it was really interesting to see how the leadership roles changed over the years, and how the artistic division of labor changed over time. And with the splits between Dave Lombardo and the band… Well, when I started the second book, I was partial to one side of the division. And when I was done, I had switched sides.
Last year, you unveiled Slayer 66 2/3: The Jeff & Dave Years. A Metal Band Biography. This looks to be more of a historical book. How did you come up with material, and what’s in it?
It’s a combination of new research, material that was breaking news at the time, and great stuff that wouldn’t fit in the first book: They wanted 25,000 words, I wrote 67,000, and they took 42,000. The new book is 110,000 words, with 59 chapters, 33 photos, 3 indexes (2 in the paperback), and 400 footnotes. Its full title is Slayer 66 & 2/3: The Jeff & Dave Years, A Metal Band Biography. From Birth to Reborn, Including Slaytanic Profiles, a New History of the Thrash Kings’ Early Days, Reign in Blood Tours, a European Invasion, the Palladium Riot, the Seat Cushion Chaos Concert, the Whole Diabolical Discography, Newly Unearthed Details From Dave Lombardo’s Turbulent History With the Band, Artwork and Some Photos You’ve Probably Never Seen Before, Jeff Hanneman’s Hard Times, the Big Four’s Big Year, Lombardo’s Final Exit, the Top 11 Hanneman Tributes, the Mosh Memorial Service, Untold Stories, Updates, Relevant Digressions, and More Scenes From the Abyss.
What prompted you to write a second book on Slayer?
Lombardo left the band for the third, and finally final, time in February 2013. Well, he didn’t exactly leave. But he was gone. It was a fresh shock in the metal world. And it should have been. But Slayer fans who knew history knew he had left twice before. So I decided I would write a short e-book about his trouble with the band: He was never in step with the rest of them. The first time he quit was during the Reign in Blood tour. And their relationship never recovered.
I figured it would be a 12,000-word e-book. I wanted to have it out by the end of April. All spring long, I kept getting sick. If I wasn’t sick, one of my kids was. I just couldn’t get the book done. April ended, the book wasn’t out, and I was pissed. Furious. May 1, I was fuckin’ pissed. May 2, I was even more furious. Then the evening of May 2, word breaks that Jeff Hanneman died. And there I was, with a Slayer book halfway written. So for the rest of the year, as the story unfolded, it grew from a little project to a full-on rock biography. One thing after another stopped me from getting it done, and every time, the delays helped, until at the very end, famous metal photographer and musician Harald O found some amazing photos that he had totally forgotten about. And that’s where the cover came from.
What’s an interesting Slayer fact most people don’t know?
Man… They just split with Rick Rubin after almost 30 years. And they were his only client from the 1980s. I don’t know how many younger metal fans realize how influential Dave Lombardo was for all metal percussion. He gets respect in the metal world, but rock fans don’t realize he’s one of the all-time great drummers. When Lars Ulrich was sick and Lombardo played two songs with Metallica, Ulrich was actually nervous. He said something like, “You try sitting in a hospital bed while Dave Lombardo is playing with your band.”
Writing the second book, though, the biggest thing I learned was how little Slayer has toured over the years. I mean, they’re a regular presence on the touring world. But the South of Heaven tour was something like, if I remember right, 60 shows. They took a lot of time off.
Do you write on other things besides Slayer? If so, what and where do we find them? If anonymously, can you tell us why?
I transitioned from music writing to news journalism a few years back, and I won some awards for journalism. But lately, I mostly teach college. I write some popular-culture stuff for Diffuser and The AV Club. And I’m working on a couple non-fiction projects I can’t talk about yet; one is a collaboration, so it’s not mine to talk about. I write a terrible webcomic called Suburban Metal Dad that’s not as autobiographical as you’d think, for a website called Popdose.
International Day of Slayer organizers Dag Hansen and Jim Tate are great! Hansen is among the people I interviewed for the book. I just heard on the radio that today is actually the International Day of Prayer, which was the original inspiration for International Day of Slayer. Last year, I thought it was really something when Kerry King took time to acknowledge Slayer Day and talk about Jeff’s absence. As I discuss in the book, I think it’s about as emotional as we’ve ever seen him in public.
What do you think Slayer’s lasting influence on metal has been?
Like I said, Lombardo practically invented modern metal drumming. They’ve been the standard-bearers for thrash. Metallica are huge, but Slayer has been the Big Four band that stayed true to their original sound and style. They never tried to cash in or cross over. They’re the gold standard for a credible long-term metal career.
Three decades ago, on December 3, 1983, Slayer unleashed Show No Mercy upon an ungrateful world. This event changed more than one band’s future; it helped launch the next generation in metal.
Combining the fluid tremolo strum of hardcore punk with the melodic song structures of Iron Maiden and the angular, rhythmically precise riffing of Judas Priest, Slayer sculpted from raw elements the future of death metal. With the guitars freed from having to emphasize offbeats, riffs became more fluid and tended toward phrases, jazz-style, instead of bouncy percussion in the style of rock.
This broke metal free from much of what had kept it confined by allowing guitar to become the primary lead instrument in every sense. Rhythmically, melodically and in developing song structure, the guitar dominated and aligned every other instrument including voice behind it. The result was a new flexibility in songwriting that helped launch the genres death metal, black metal, grindcore and thrash.
In addition, Slayer converted heavy metal’s flirtation with the occult from a type of provocation to the easily offended, to a mythological view in which dark occult forces manipulated the weakest among humans in a quest for world destruction. They were thus able to symbolize the darkness, corruption and mental servitude they saw in the society around in the religious symbols of centuries before.
The result was a form of music more powerful and intense than anything before. The band came into their own on the following three albums, relying less on the heavy metal tropes from before and developing their own language in a proto-death-metal style. But it all began with Show No Mercy.
Why is Metallica’s debut classified in your website as Speed Metal and not Thrash Metal? What defines Thrash Metal and why are Metallica and Kreator placed under Speed Metal? The second question really being what defines Speed Metal?
What is speed metal? Speed metal is the music formed of the hybrid of NWOBHM and punk music. NWOBHM itself was a fusion of Black Sabbath and the “metal-like” hard rock genres of the time, including some progressive rock, given an underground and DIY outlook. The definitive speed metal album is the first Metallica work, but we could also look to Overkill, Nuclear Assault, Anthrax, Megadeth, Testament and Prong.
What is thrash metal? A marketing term for “speed metal.” Some argue that it’s a separate genre, namely speed metal with “broken beats” or d-beats, but the fact of the matter is that the d-beat-influenced drumming was already part of speed metal. Musically, anything regarded as “thrash metal” is speed metal. Hence use of that term instead.
Now, as to Kreator — why is it speed metal? Kreator is on the line between speed metal and death metal but ultimately has more in common with later speed metal like Destruction and Sodom than it does with outright death metal. It was a previous generation to the music that expanded in the late 1980s through early 1990s.
What is thrash? Thrash is a hybrid form of heavy metal and punk music preferred by thrashers, i.e. skaters. This music evolved out of the explosion of punk music at the end of the 1970s and the tendency of bands like Discharge, Amebix, The Exploited, the Cro-Mags and others to take on metal riff-styles, especially as inspired by Slayer and other heavily punk-influenced bands. However, many thrash bands used riff influences from NWOBHM or before, with Black Sabbath being prominent.
The reason we separate speed metal and thrash is that they are different movements. Speed metal is metal that incorporates some aspects of punk; thrash is a metal/punk hybrid that generally uses punk song structures and metal riffs, laying the groundwork for grindcore. There’s also no point in expanding the speed metal franchise into many different sub-types when all are essentially musically identical.
On June 6, 2006, a new holiday was born in commemoration of the 6/6/6 of the date. Inspired by the American political movement National Day of Prayer, this new holiday was dedicated to the most extreme of metal and was called the “National Day of Slayer.” Since others outside the USA wanted to participate, it soon became the Inter-National Day of Slayer, and has been celebrated enthusiastically every year since.
This year, sobering news hit: On May 2, 2013, founding guitarist and major songwriter Jeff Hanneman of Slayer died from arachnid-induced liver failure. While Slayer re-camps and tries to figure out this situation, the International Day of Slayer team decided to recognize the obvious: Slayer is an emblem of metal just like metal is a symbol for not letting your sense of reality get stolen away by social pressures. As a result, the team re-dedicated the International Day of Slayer as a generalized heavy metal holiday, focused on Slayer as a symbol.
In addition, the same group is launching a new project called the Hessian Association for Identity Legislation (H.A.I.L.) whose goal is to get heavy metal recognized as a legitimate cultural group much like most religions, ethnicities, lifestyle choices and national cultures. We are metalheads, and we are legion worldwide, and we are a culture separate from both the mainstream and the counter-stream. We are going our own way… the most intense way, the way of reality and the way of METAL!
“Hessian” is old-school California thrasher slang for headbangers, metalheads, metal fans, threshers, heshers, etc. It’s derived from the Hessian mercenaries who came over to fight for the British during the Revolutionary War and were both feared and known for their long hair and wild eyed combat tactics. Someone — probably a cynical history teacher — saw the similarity and the name has stuck ever since.
Check out the H.A.I.L. website at www.hailmetal.org and visit the International Day of Slayer while you’re at it. Keep the horns high and the celebration loud, and we could have our own Hessian nation spread out across the globe in no time at all.
Almost two weeks ago, Slayer guitarist Jeff Hanneman died of liver failure in a California hospital. However, like any event involving people who have done important things, his death sent ripples throughout the world.
First, Slayer fans worldwide realized that Slayer is now de facto dead. Formed of the core of Hanneman, Araya, King and Lombardo, Slayer was based on the merging of those talents. It probably cannot survive without any particular one. In addition, although King and Araya made many important contributions, much of the material that gave Slayer character above and beyond its hard and fast style came from Hanneman. Without him, a vital part of the equation will be missing, and it could be one of the parts that made Slayer much more than just their technique.
Second, Slayer is a form of mascot and leader for the underground metal movement. Although this is rarely acknowledge, Slayer was a speed metal (Metallica, Testament, Rigor Mortis) band who used the tremolo strum to make what was musically closer to death metal, evolving from their more “heavy metal” beginnings to an angular and disharmonic nightmare of chromatic riffs and centerless solos. Alongside Bathory and Hellhammer, Slayer invented the modern style of heavy metal, and by their contributed contributions, gave it guidance and a figurehead. When death metal bands got lost in songwriting, they turned to Slayer; even black metal and grindcore bands lift riffs from that vital back catalogue. Slayer is a huge musical force but now is firmly entrenched in the past, not the present.
Finally, Slayer is a symbol of all that is metal, with Hanneman at the front as the innovator of brooding classics such as “South of Heaven” and “At Dawn They Sleep.” His poetic approach to riffs, songs and lyrics made metal rise up from being another genre about personal drama and getting laid, and turned it into a mythological force worthy of J.R.R. Tolkien, William Blake, Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker or John Milton. Punk bands wrote about the decay of society, and hard rock bands like Led Zeppelin wrote about Hobbits and Satan, but Slayer put them together in the same way Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” did: a mythology underlying existence that explains the shared perceptual confusion that causes us to cause our own problems.
This is why Slayer is important to metal, and to the larger culture beyond it, and why Jeff Hanneman is more than just an excellent songwriter and guitarist. He is part of what made metal, and what made metal a legend. His passing is the end of an era, and the call to us to begin a new one.
With that in mind, we present a compilation of statements by people involved with music who wanted to speak a few words about the power of Jeff Hanneman, Slayer and the importance of those to metal. Some of the following are cribbed from Faceplant or other websites, but all are authentic:
Growing up in a small, West Texas oilfield town, your options were limited: you became a football hero, a juvenile delinquent, or you turned to some form of escapism. Comics, books and most of all, music were my saviors. They became my bulwark against impending suicide. In my early years, Kiss, Judas Priest and AC/DC were my mainstays. Then around ’79 a couple of older friends introduced me to the “Second Wave of Punk”. The Ramones, Sex Pistols, The Stranglers, DEVO, these became my new gods, but I never lost my love of those heavier bands. Living in rural Texas and years before the internet, you were always a few steps behind. You might stumble across a magazine, someones visiting older brother from college, or just word of mouth. So I slowly became aware of the already in full swing Hardcore scene. I quickly developed an affinity for this new aggression: Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Minor Threat, Misfits and Bad Brains. This, to me, seemed the pinnacle of extreme music.
Even in the middle of nowhere, where few of either existed, I noticed the segregation of Metal vs Punk. Though Metal was a guilty pleasure, being young and stupid I still took pride in ridiculing the Metalheads as often as possible. Around the mid-80’s things took a strange turn. The lines were blurred. I was already a young adult slaving away in an oilfield job, on my first marriage with an infant son. My only connection to underground music came every Saturday night at 10PM courtesy of 2 hour radio show on KOCV, the Odessa college student ran radio station. I don’t remember the name of the show, but I do remember the host, Danny Hardcore, a local skate punk with a penchant for all things heavy. It was then I first heard the insanity of Suicidal Tendencies, SOD, Voïvod and….Slayer. And those lads from Huntington Park, CA basically scared the shit out of me. Faster than anything I’d ever heard, the pentagram logo that shook my Southern Baptist sensibilities, and the insanity surrounding everything you could get your hands regarding their fanatical “Slaytanic” following.
I was hooked.
And one of the major catalyst behind this explosion of sound so completely new and unrelenting was Jeff Hanneman. From everything I could learn about him, he was a kindred spirit. I feel totally confident in saying that Metal, Hardcore, Thrash and about 20 other genres of extreme music would not have existed today without Jeff.
When I look back at all of my favorite Slayer songs, I see his hand. Metalheads, especially those that think of themselves as the Stewards of All That Is True, take a particular perverse satisfaction in proclaim everything after “insert favorite here” in the Slayer catalog as shit, but I believe time will tell a different tale. The man will be sorely missed. Whether completely cheesy or in bad taste, tonight I will lift my glass high, raise a toast and give a mighty HAIL to a fallen Hessian who made a difference, and who carved an indelible mark into the history of a music I hold dear.
I am still at a loss for words over Jeff’s passing. Slayer along with Metallica, Raven, Anvil, Venom, Overkill and others were some of the early bands I fell in love with and really got me started into the underground metal scene. The first time I saw Slayer live was in 1985 on the “Hell Awaits” tour at Lamour’s in Brooklyn, NY. They completely blew me away with the speed and intensity of their music. In 1986 I saw them on their ‘Reign in Blood” tour in Trenton, NJ at City Gardens and I dove off the stage during ‘Chemical Warfare” and almost broke my back as I couldn’t walk for over 3 days!!! Slayer has always been one of my favorite bands and hands down in my opinion they are easily the best underground metal live band that I have ever seen and I have been going to shows since 1984. I never met Jeff, but his bands music have been a big part of my life and will be for years to come. Hell when I need some pick me up music at the gym….it is “Hell Awaits” time. I never got to meet Jeff, but his music will live on with me for the rest of my life and Jeff RIP my man and thanks to you and your music for taking me along this incredible ride of underground metal music which will be planted in brain for as long as I live and your band and music were big part of in the beginning and are still a big part today….”FUCKIN SLAYER”…….
– Chris Forbes, Metal Core Fanzine
Thrash Metal lost one of it s best man! The Hell awaits – tour 1985 (where the pic with drunk me is from) was one of the most important tours in our career – thanx for the great memories Jeff! What a loss for the scene! Rest in Piece brother! – Schmier, Destruction
For a lot of us Metalheads back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, Slayer was like benchmark which we set by default and compared (mostly times unjustly) other bands for their intensity,song writing abilities and aggression.The first 5 albums by this legendary band were always placed right on top,any beer table conversation had to veer its way around and come back to Slayer,the reference point always hovered around them and for a lot of kids who were into Hard Rock or Heavy Metal, the threshold moment of crossing over into the heavier,darker and more extreme realms had to be with “Hell Awaits” or “Reign In Blood”. Those who passed the test were branded for life,”Slayer” permanently tattooed on their foreheads,the passing of Jeff Hanneman is the end of an era and unfortunately Slayer never will be the same again,Jeff will forever be immortal in the hearts of the fans, may the riffmeister rest in peace. – Vikram/Dying Embrace, India
Jeff Hanneman shouldered the revolution of heavy music with a unique and original approach on the instrument, influencing a horde of musicians to follow in his tracks at the same time. His riffs, lyrics and songs are some of the band’s best and the genre’s fiercest. His contributions are enormous and should be celebrated and hailed! – Eric Massicotte
What separated Jeff from the rest of the metal pack was his rhythm technique, his songwriting, and that for which he will be most remembered—his riffs. But his frenzied, turbulent solos were also an important part of the package. They weren’t about showing off. They served a greater artistic purpose—to sonically channel the qualities of Slayer’s lyrical content. They were sometimes abrasive, sometimes jarring, and at times disturbing. They had less in common with typical rock-guitar virtuosos than they did with the sonic collages of avant-garde improvisers such as Derek Bailey and John Zorn, the latter of whom is a self-professed Slayer fan who has cited the band as an inspiration. Though Jeff’s wider, more holistic guitar approach didn’t garner the same accolades as some of his more technically proficient contemporaries, Jeff never waivered from his original approach. And the fact that he continued to attack his guitar with relentless abandon—as though he were a linebacker on his beloved Oakland Raiders (whose logo adorned some of his signature ESP guitars)—is without a doubt a big part of why Slayer’s music will always be deemed one of metal’s high watermarks.
If you’ve ever seen Slayer live, you’ve felt exactly what propelled the band’s popularity past those of Venom and other classic-metal influences. In fact, prior to Hanneman and his bandmates’ groundbreaking albums—including 1986’s bar-setting Reign in Blood—many believed metal could never reach such levels of popularity and fan dedication. Before Slayer, metal had never had such razor-sharp articulation, tightness, and balance between sound and stops. This all-out sonic assault was about the shock, the screams, the drums, and—again, most importantly—the riffs. And it was Hanneman who brought so many of the band’s timeless riffs.
– Alex Skolnick, Testament
The only other band that completely changed my life. Without Venom or Slayer there would be no Kult ov Azazel or any of the music I have created since my teenage years as they were the first two bands I discovered and I was a rabid fan. As crazy as it will sound those two bands molded me into who I am today. I can remember walking around my Bartlett neighborhood with a ghetto blaster and blaring this album at top volume. Even listening to this brings back a flood of those memories. – Julian Hollowell, Kult of Azazel, Von
I need to shed some more life on one of the greatest guitar players that has walked this earth and that has truly inspired what i do today.Jeff Hanneman R.I.P. I walked off stage in Paris France on Thursday night to find out that one of my hero,s was no longer with us.He was the heart soul and attitude that was Slayer.Many people would often ask to describe my guitar playing and i would say Hanneman meets Denner.He was the real deal not this rock star poser type unlike Mr King.Slayer dies for good with Jeff and i have not stopped thinking these past few days while in Europe how much his music has meant to me.Last night Johnny from Unleashed made a honorable toast to Jeff Hannaman and i tell you it really chocked me up.Not many greats in the world today and he was one of the rare breed that created his own path in this life.Long live Jeff Hanneman his spirit lives on forever. – Alex Bouks, Incantation, Goreaphobia