RIP: Jeff Hanneman of Slayer Dead at 49


Jeff Hanneman is dead.

I want everyone who loves music to think about that statement.

Jeff Hanneman is dead.

The words actually hurt to say out loud.

This is not just a guitarist in a band; this is Jeff Hanneman of Slayer. To understand his importance you have to look at Slayer’s catalog. Imagine the band without “Raining Blood”, “Angel Of Death”, “Seasons In The Abyss”, “War Ensemble” or “South Of Heaven”. Without Hannemen those songs don’t exist. He composed them. Hanneman started Slayer with Kerry King in 1981. Imagine metal if that hadn’t happened. The genre would be a very different beast today, Most likely one without teeth.

Hanneman’s frenetic guitar playing and ability to write memorable riffs were a large part of what elevated the band to legendary status. When fans think of Slayer they tend to focus on the more flamboyant members. Tom Araya’s bizarre smile and harsh voice. Kerry King’s menacing scowl and, later, his bald and tattooed dome. Then there was Dave Lombardo, easily one of the greatest drummers in all music but especially heavy metal. Those guys might have all reflected the spotlight better than Hanneman but nobody could argue his importance. Hanneman was the punk rock kid amongst the metal players. His desire to play punk with a more aggressive slant created Slayer’s unique sound, and got me into the band.

My world was insulated with punk rock and hardcore. When I discovered those genres, I found kindred spirits singing of alienation, isolation and pain. Metal seemed too fantasy oriented. It was all longhaired guys singing about demons, dragons or wizards. The music wasn’t harsh enough or fast enough for me. One day I happened upon a picture of Jeff Hanneman sporting a Dead Kennedy’s emblem on his guitar. I was intrigued. I turned to my friends who love Slayer, and they were kind enough to play Reign In Blood for their ignorant friend. It took one listen. I was hooked instantly and a new world opened up for me.

So many bands work to make one great album or dream of becoming legends and inspirations to people. Slayer managed to write five perfect records. Sure, this may be a point of debate with some, but to me Show No Mercy, Hell Awaits, Reign In Blood, South Of Heaven and Seasons In The Abyss were above reproach. Unfuckwithable, period. Beyond that there have been good songs but nothing like those five albums. The creative output of Slayer between 1983 and 1990 helped shape what metal would become. They are as important to that landscape as bands considered “more successful” such as Metallica, Megadeth, or Anthrax. An argument could be made that Slayer are the most important.

The legend and inspiration part is obvious in pop culture. Slayer eviscerates musical walls. Everybody loves them. Rapper Vinnie Paz has dropped their name, I once saw Weezer cover “Angel Of Death”, Public Enemy sampled them for the song “She Watch Channel Zero”, even Tori Amos got into the act, performing a melancholy, piano driven version of “Raining Blood”. At their shows you saw everything from fully mohawked punks to old metalheads, young fancy-beard metal kids, hipsters, hip hoppers, everybody went to see Slayer lay it down. That lineage and that history are largely because of Jeff Hanneman.

Let’s also not forget the riff to “Raining Blood”. It may not be your favorite Slayer song, but it is the most recognizable riff in heavy metal history. When it kicks off you go nuts. Whether surrounded by thirty thousand fellow Slayer lovers or just sitting in your room, when Jeff Hanneman’s riff splits the thunderclouds, there is no way to control yourself. Whenever you hear it, even in public, you are forced to play air guitar, even if you don’t realize you’re doing it. Slayer and Jeff Hanneman’s impact are timeless.

In late 2010 Hanneman contracted Necrotizing Fasciitis, most likely from a spider bite. The subsequent spreading of the disease kept Hanneman from touring (he was replaced by Gary Holt of Exodus) and pretty much retired him from working with Slayer until his death on May 2nd 2013. While Necrotizing Fasciitis is a debilitating skin disease, Hanneman died of liver failure surrounded by his family including wife Kathy Hanneman.

I suppose there’s nothing left to say but thank you Jeff. Thank you for the endless supply of great music. Thank you for starting Slayer. Thank you for everything.

Those who loved Slayer, whether you’re metal or not, lift the horns up high and blast Slayer for days on end. Celebrate the life of a man who has done so much for us.

RIP Jeff Hanneman. You will be missed.