It feels really strange typing these words. After a certain amount of time and repeated exposure to someone’s creative output, that creative output stops being like a window into the world that person has created and actually starts becoming part of the the world around you. You forget that those pieces of creativity, those fragments of genius, pieces of fantasy and reality were created by another human being, and that other human being is just as mortal as you are. This is what Slayer’s music is like to me. I’ve listened to them so much since I was 15 that their music is now like an old friend.
I don’t listen to them as regularly as I once did, but whenever I do, it feels nice and familiar, and never fails to cheer me up. I’ve listened to them through the very dark times, and the very good times. Through drunken nights on too much Jagermeister and Southern Comfort and long sessions at the gym, through stressing out about the Leaving cert, and recently, sleeplessly attempting to finish college assignments hours before they are due, through both first dates and getting dumped, Slayer have just sort of always been there.
So when I heard about Jeff Hanneman’s death, I was somewhat numb. ‘Nah, that can’t be true!’ I muttered, turning on my computer in the hopes that google would provide me with a headline discounting the rumour. Sadly, all google could give me was the same news from multiple sources. I immediately put on ‘Seasons In The Abyss’ (Jeff’s best solo) and cried. Jeff can’t be dead. No way, he was on the mend. But it was the truth, Jeff was gone and that was that. I just sort of sat there for three hours, piecing together whatever news I could about his passing while listening to the classic Slayer albums. There’s something really haunting about listening to someone’s music after they’ve just passed, it’s like seeing a ghost or something. They’re still there, but at the same time, they’re not. The music hasn’t changed, and it doesn’t make you feel any differently than it used to, but at the same time, something about it is different.
Beginning in 1981, Jeff was part of the original line-up of Slayer. Completed by vocalist/bassist Tom Araya, guitarist Kerry King and drummer Dave Lombardo, they started out as a Judas Priest cover band before moving onto heavier pastures. 1983 saw the release of their debut album ‘Show No Mercy’, and near instant success. Slayer were part of the now legendary ‘Big 4’ of thrash with Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax. Slayer were always the more evil, heavier of the four, with lyrics pertaining to such cheerful topics as serial killers, World War II and regular references to Satan and hell. Following on from ‘Show No Mercy’ came ‘Hell Awaits’, the seminal album ‘Reign In Blood’, ‘South of Heaven’ and ‘Seasons in the Abyss’.,Slayer were a tour de force worldwide, filling arenas and selling tens of thousands of records. In 1992 grunge exploded, and when it came time for metal bands to sick or swim. Slayer just pushed on through, releasing ‘Divine Intervention’ in 1994, punk covers album ‘Undisputed Attitude’ in 1996 and ‘Diablous In Musica’ in 1998. Even though these aren’t the highest rated metal albums ever, it’s undeniable that Slayer were at least still writing metal albums, when most of their generation had either had to quit touring or moved onto non-metal pastures altogether (looking at you, Metallica and Megadeth), Slayer stuck to their guns and made it happen.
2001 saw a resurgence in Slayer’s popularity with ‘God Hates Us All’, this writer’s favourite album. Combined with their drinking/touring buddies Pantera, Slayer were back dominating arenas once again, and were stronger than ever, even spawning their own bi-yearly package tour, the ‘Unholy Alliance’. Slayer then released ‘Christ Illusion’ in 2006, and their latest opus ‘World Painted Blood’, in 2009. Today, most of Slayer’s live-set is composed of live favourites, as they’ve never really had a hit single. Most of these live favourites, are Jeff’s songs. In fact, if you were to look into ‘classic’ Slayer songs, you would find most of the list is written by Jeff. ‘Die By The Sword’, ‘At Dawn They Sleep’, ‘Raining Blood’, ‘Angel of Death’, ‘213’, the metal behemoth that is ‘Disciple’, all Jeff’s music, and most of his lyrics too. Even on the last two albums, my favourite songs have been Jeff’s, ‘Jihad’, ‘Eyes of the Insane’, ‘Human Strain’ and the utterly creepy ‘Playing With Dolls’. Known as a bit of a recluse, Jeff often took a back-seat while other guitarist Kerry King, was the bands media representative. Jeff just made sure Slayer had the songs to back up their reputation.
Regardless of your opinion on Slayer’s career, whether you think they lost it after 1990 or feel that only the last three have been lacking, no matter what your favourite/least album of theirs is (for the record ‘God Hates Us All’/’Diabolus In Musica’, respectively),you can’t deny Jeff Hanneman gave Slayer most of what made their music theirs. Combining the speed of punk music with the intensity of heavy metal, he had a distinctive sense of song-writing, often writing songs with odd structures and almost having what would have been a progressive sort of edge to them at times. His riffs were catchy and had the right level of speed and heaviness to them, and his leads were certainly the better of him and Kerry’s, but always complimented the chaos of Slayer’s music and the darkness of what their lyrics were trying to convey.
In losing Jeff Hanneman, the metal community has lost a distinctive musician who always did things his way, Slayer has lost their greatest song-writer, and I have lost the chance to formally thank someone whose music always made me feel less alone, and whose music has always provided me with a smile, when it seemed nothing else would.
Thanks for everything Jeff. Riff in Peace.