Death Metal Underground

Tributes to Slayer’s Jeff Hanneman

by Brett Stevens
May 14, 2013 –

jeff_hanneman-slayerAlmost 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 believe Jeff would approve.
- Jeff Colwell, Plague Haus

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

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5 comments

  • bitterman

    Luckily, there’s an incoming resurgence (maybe that’s wishful thinking) of bands who have studied the best of the old and are attempting to make the next great works. Krypts and Desecresy seem to possess the know how to make the Abhorrence album and Privilege of Evil follow up that never happened. Burzum and Beherit’s new found popularity (perpetuated by controversy and hipster vinyl collectors, respectively) could lead to a new breed of musicians who work within the dark ambient and electronica genres. Look at Immortal’s Blizzard Beasts: it’s a Morbid Angel militant style death metal ripoff with “cold” production and comical vocals, but it’s an awesome album. General Surgery’s Necrology is Carcass worship, but awesome. With everything already being invented and so many bands however, it’s going to be a while before there’s a wide differentiation between who’s doing it right and who is dressing up mid 90s groove metal (stadium rock + suburban angst) with gimmickry (Bloodbath). Look at Sweden: it only took 4 years after Left Hand Path for the whole scene to dilute itself into 3 chord punk. Hopefully, the ignorant learn from Jeff Hanneman’s death his importance in the grand scheme of Slayer, and use that standard set in their timeless 80s albums to make steps to up the ante on themselves to ensure that they only aspire to create something as legendary.

  • Preslav

    So that guy really said – “Not many grreats in teh world today”? He really said “teh”?

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  • SoulRape

    Dana Duffey (Demonic Christ – Ex- Mythic) posted this on Demonic Christ´s official facebook:

    I am extremely disheartened to hear of the death of Jeff Hanneman today. If it weren’t for this man, Demonic Christ would not exist it’s as simple as that. Slayer’s “Reign in Blood” changed my life forever in ways I cannot comprehend in the human language. Profound experiences are often extremely hard to describe. At the age of 13, gateways into the abyss were opened, mirrors revealed a demonic reflection, I discovered my true path here on earth, I discovered the sheer beauty in evil and what it meant to feel awakened. I also picked up a guitar for the first time ever. Truly an inspiration to myself as well as many others. Today I honor what Jeff meant to me. May his soul forever reign!!! ~ Dana