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.
Every June 6, Slayer fanatics worldwide come together to blast Slayer and be disobedient. This year, the International Day of Slayer XI falls on a Monday, which is a perfect time to call in sick to school/work and listen to Slayer instead! (more…)
UNITED STATES – JANUARY 01: Photo of SLAYER (Photo by Ebet Roberts/Redferns)
The International Day of Slayer (IDOS) began in 2006 when a group of Slayer fans decided to commemorate the spirit of metal through Slayer, and to make that compete with other ad hoc and natural cultures, groups and tribes demanding attention in our modern plural society. In their view, each group was claiming social real estate by advocating itself as a cause, and metalheads should do the same through the band that defined what it was to be metal: beyond all rules, too intense for normals, combining both hard literal truths and mythological apocalypticism.
“The original idea of the National Day of Slayer, as it was called back then, was to address the ‘National Day of Prayer’ that was popular among Christians,” said Dag Hansen, publicist for the group. “If they get their day, we get our day. Every other group gets a holiday for their religion, history, ethnic group, or culture. The Irish have St. Patty’s Day, there are days for the birth of Martin Luther King and Jesus Christ, and it seems that every other possible group is declaring unofficial holidays for its cause. It is time metalheads do the same. Firmly, loudly and with the horns thrown high.”
The first National Day of Slayer was marked by loud celebrations, church desecrations, and much blasting of Slayer. In the intervening years, the band have nodded to the holiday by releasing videos and statements commemorating the event. With the death of Slayer founder and guitarist Jeff Hanneman in 2013, the holiday has taken on a sense of preservation of his memory through keeping an active legacy alive. “Hanneman lives through his music, especially the founding years of Slayer from 1983-1991,” said Hansen. “Our goal is to ensure that appreciation and enjoyment of his music is renewed, preferably at 110db.”
This year, fans are encouraged to celebrate Slayer through a year-by-year retrospective of Slayer during its most formative period, and MP3 downloads of live Slayer recordings from 1985. The organizers have created an event page for people to comment on their own participation. But mainly, as the site has encouraged for nearly a decade now, “Listen to Slayer at full blast in any public place you prefer.”
Any metal fan should hang their head in shame for missing out on Promotorheads ”Slayer Day”. Pissing down rain, a two hour train ride, followed by a 20 minute bus trip, set the afternoon in motion (no pun intended).
Arriving at the Bald Faced stag for my first time, I must say it wasn’t as pretty as I’d imagined it to be, BUT Damn, what an AWESOME $10 lunch. 3.30pm usually my time to be getting washing off the line, feed our mini zoo, and hear all about the days events in the primary school yard .
First to grace the stage was Billabong of Blood. Their mixture of soft/hard vocals had some boots stomping.
Next was War of Attrition, and holy shit did they have my camera shaking. Vocals to make your ears bleed, and have any good Christian running for their crucifix. I must admit my favourite of the night, and still have me rambling on .
What was to follow, could not be described by mere words. My pen surely is not mightier than the sword. I still can’t believe it myself, the sheer talent, out of this world sound and the stage presence. You’d be thinking “why the hell aren’t we in some big arena worthy of such a musical encounter?” However, looking at the crowd, seeing patch work denim, black leather jackets and more hair than all of Dolly Parton’s wigs put together, made me proud to be a metal head from the 80’s.
Strangers lined the front of the stage, arms over shoulders of strangers banging heads, timing to perfection. As the line moved, knocking an older head banger to the ground, everyone stopped & offered assistance, picked him up and then returned to their original position. Proving yet again, never Judge a book by their tattoos ,long hair or the strange clothes they wear.
Of course no Slayer Day would ever be complete without some actual Slayer being played. That my friends, was where Murder-World would have left Gordon Ramsey speechless. You’d be hard pressed to find any more “”metal horns”” raised by a whole room full of people. Two fingers have never meant so much, nor held so high, as they were during one of the most outstanding kick in the guts covers of Slayer, I’ve ever seen, let alone heard .
Now, no review would ever be complete without a word or two about the Promoter, Promotorhead Bookings . Firstly, Trudy, your knowledge of metal, your way with words, passion, hard work and dedication, holds you at the top of your field. Slayer Day has set the bar so high, others will need a javelin stick just to see what you did. Forget inviting bands to play at your next gig I’m sure they are already calling you.
A short clip of Murder World at the show can be watched here.
Today, May 2, in 2013 founding Slayer guitarist and composer Jeff Hanneman died.
During his brief tour of planet Earth, Hanneman fused the boundaryless songwriting of hardcore punk with the riff-based narrative ideas of heavy metal, producing what became an important template for all metal to follow. Punk, by reducing music to modal strips which fit within a percussive framework instead of accentuating it, and metal, with its phrasal tendencies that required internal dialogue between the riffs, gave rise to a new language with the first four Slayer albums which were mostly composed by Hanneman.
His music also took on a different form because of its perspective on the modern world as exhibited in both sound and lyrics. In his eyes, modern life became not a struggle for technology and politics to dominate the beast within, but a mythological conflict between what humans desire is true and project upon the world and a hidden layer of realistic truth in denial of which humans — and human civilization — self-destruct.
For these innovations, and the spirit that caused them, many of us feel indebted to Hanneman and honored to celebrate his art:
Having someone like you to lay down a realistic but transcendentally imaginative view of the universe really helped. I will never forget, and I am certain I am not alone. You spent your days reprogramming the cosmos with fiendish guitar riffs and that has made all the difference. Even though we never knew each other, in a way, we were best of friends.
This second of May, celebrate Jeff Hanneman not only with his music, but by carrying forth his legacy of clear-sighted realism matched to transcendental mythology, in all that you do.
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.
I’m interviewing Jeff Tandy, vanguard of the hateful and cynical Texas thrash band Birth A.D. He also played bass in the black metal band Averse Sefira under the pseudonym Wrath Sathariel Diabolus.
How were you introduced to heavy metal, and how have your tastes evolved over the years?
Unoffficially it was by seeing Alice Cooper on the Muppet Show when I was three years old, and my mother very graciously bought me the single. Officially it was exposure to traditional American heavy metal through secondary contact (Dio, Quiet Riot, whatever else was going on) then discovering thrash with a few like-minded friends. I had the proper evolution that all fans should experience: heavy metal, speed/thrash, then death/black. At that point you’ll be fully literate, fully integrated, and you’ll have avoided all the stupid stuff.
How was Birth A.D. formed?
We formed out of a need for something to do while we watched our guitarist let Averse Sefira languish and die. I had songs in the vault from my formative days (back when I had a very remedial thrash band called Afterbirth) and I had always wanted to record them just to have for posterity. Little did we know it would actually be something with promise.
And how did you meet the drummer and guitarist?
Mark and Brian had a band called Death of Millions, and I’d known them for years. Mark joined me in Averse Sefira in 2001, and that was basically that. I invited Brian in to try guitar because I knew he was a solid player, and it came together perfectly.
When you write songs, what comes first? The riffs? Lyrics? Rhythms?
The lyrics are invariably first. They actually shape most of the riffs, and that’s always how I write. In this band, the words have to be just right or the riff is worthless.
In an old Averse Sefira interview, you identified yourself as a hessian. What does being a hessian mean to you?
To be a hessian means you make metal part of your life in an integrated fashion. It’s not a hobby, it’s not a weekend diversion, and it’s not something you hide. It is akin to a faith, except without all the retarded masochistic tenets of worship.
What album are you looking forward to most in 2014?
I think the new Triptykon will be good. My friends in Death Wolf have a new one coming, so I’m interested in that as well. I don’t know, these days the time between announcing an album and actually releasing it is so narrow it’s hard to build a lot of anticipation. The Demilich compilation finally came out so I’m all taken care of for now.
What’s next for Birth A.D.?
We are finally looking into live dates elsewhere. I’m working on a new album, but I want to take some time to make it right. I feel like our first one will be hard to top, but I intend to try my damnedest! Thanks for the interview.
Last May, the metal community and the world lost someone who was arguably the most inventive innovator in modern music, a person who invented the tremolo-strum style death metal riff and song structure and many of the conventions of all metal genres to follow, influencing many within and outside the metal community.
Jeff Hanneman was more than a musical whirlwind but also a human being who left behind many who miss him, including bandmates, a wife, an extended family, and many of us who have benefited from his wisdom and spirit over the years. As often happens when someone truly great dies, the world at large did its best to ignore him.
Enter Poland. This lonely country, itself having suffered enough death and horror over the past century to launch 10,000 first person shooters, decided to offer up a roundabout such that its name would be chosen by the person who won an auction. Someone threw down the cash and named it after Jeff Hanneman.
The official sign says:
Jeff Hanneman’s Circle Pit
unforgettable Slayer guitarist
During the XXII Final of The Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity, the President of Jaworzno put up for auction the traffic circle in the city centre, which was later autioned by ART-COM Ltd. The company could give the name to the traffic circle and became its ‘symbolic’ owner for the period of one year. The money gathered during the XXII Final of The Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity was allocated for the purchase of specialized equipment for children’s emergency medicine and deserving health care of seniors.
Time for a pilgrimage, especially if Vader still play tunes from their first album. More information and pictures can be found here (in Polish).
Today, Jeff Hanneman would have been fifty years old. The man who helped invent the sound that underlies all of underground death metal did not, as the people around him in the LA suburbs tend to do, waste his life away in repetition. Instead, he forged his own path and we celebrate him for it and the results of it.
Way back in 1983, as now, the holy grail of alienated music was the fusion of any two of its genres: metal, punk and industrial. Specifically there was great interest in using its guitar-based genres to create a new sound. Many people attempted to fuse metal and punk, and many credible sounds came out of it. One path was speed metal, which Metallica unleashed with Kill ‘Em All. Another was thrash, which DRI cut loose with Dirty Rotten LP. But still another was the foundation of death metal and black metal which was introduced by Slayer and refined the following year by Bathory, Hellhammer and Sodom.
Slayer took two things from punk and injected them into the prog-influenced songs structures of NWOBHM: they borrowed the constant tremolo strum, used by punk for drone, and the open drum patterns that allowed guitar to take the lead. Now a new style of music emerged. Rhythm guitar became the lead instrument, rapid-firing changing riffs at the audience while drums framed but did not lead the development. Riffs did not have to perfectly fit the drums which kept going in the background as a kind of timekeeper but not, as in most bands, a way of signaling the guitar to change. Further, riffs became phrasal, building on the longer chord progressions of Black Sabbath to become fully small melodies, developing in response to on another like classical motifs.
Music teachers, who were raised in the rock/jazz idea that drums lead and riffs should emphasize harmonic and a static melodic role, with the primary melodic role and lead instrument (and thus impetus for song “development”) being the voice, found Slayer to be unmusical. The record industry was appalled at this creation that unleashed the demonic side of life in such clarity; they make their money from selling happy illusions, not grim realities translated into elaborately conceived mythologies.
And yet it is this mythological tendency, dating back to “War Pigs,” that saves metal from self-consuming and burning out like hardcore punk. It is not literal; it is imaginative. It turns our focus from ourselves to the nature of power, history, nature and other forces larger than the individual, and then lets us imagine the greatness of participation in those. Where punk turned reality into a protest weapon and source of alienation, metal has turned it into a source of individual desire to do something epic with our lives. Slayer gave that mythological tendency a new voice, not just by singing about demons, vampires and The Holocaust, but by translating the sound of raw power into something you could throw on your bedroom hi-fi and be transported to a different world.
For this reason, Slayer captured the imagination of a generation and continues to enthrall us today. The early albums, which are completely written in horror movie mythology, incite in us a desire to see the hidden possibly occult underpinnings of a society gone insane. The Reign in Blood and afterwards material shows us a more punk-like grasp of all that terrifies us and sends us searching for reasons why, and if not why, how to use such things as war, murder and sadism in some constructive way. Slayer is not protest music; it acknowledges the horror, but doesn’t want to band us together into a drum circle to “stop” these horrors. It recognizes they are eternal. Instead, like the religion it loathed, Slayer drives us to find a way to accept these things as part of life itself, and look for a philosophy that shows us a reason to survive despite all these horrors.
Jeff Hanneman’s influence pervades the Slayer story. He wrote many of the band’s most epic and enduring songs, contributed the mythological outlook, and invented the musical changes described above. While he may be slighted by the Grammy’s, or ignored by a world of people seeking Shakira tunes instead of imaginative but realist metal, to those who can understand his trip — already a naturally elite group — Hanneman’s work is not just a source of wisdom, but of inspiration. In a world asleep, he stayed awake. In a world of imitation, he took his own path. Where most just wanted to participate for reward, he took on life at its most basic level and triumphed. For that reason, we’ll always celebrate his life and work.
An age of distrust.