Jeff Hanneman, guitarist for Slayer, died in hospital on Thursday. He was 49. He suffered liver failure, connected with the rare flesh-eating disease he contracted a couple of years ago, said to be from a spider bite.
He had stopped performing with Slayer because of his illness. The band had hired a replacement guitarist for recent shows. An announcement had been made that Hanneman’s health had improved and there were thoughts he would rejoin the band. Then his health deteriorated again. He died on Thursday, May 2.
Hanneman, alongside Slayer guitarist Kerry King was one of the thrash kings of the 1980s. An influential guitarist and songwriter. The band became known as one of the “big four” alongside Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax.
Slayer’s debut album, Show No Mercy (they never did) appeared in 1983. The band released its masterpiece in 1986, third album Reign In Blood. There were other big albums beyond Reign, 1988’s South Of Heaven (somewhat underrated at the time) and 1990’s Seasons In The Abyss.
The band’s work with Rick Rubin stands out and “comeback album” Christ Illusion (2006) was a strong showing – particularly in comparison with the other “big four” players. Slayer never lost its edge, never softened, never worried about the impact and influence of its dark, macabre lyrics. The band continued to pulverise audiences, to mesmerise – and again it’s Reign In Blood that stands out; stands the test of time. Songs from it have been covered by non-metal acts (such as Tori Amos) and it transcended thrash metal in its scope – even though for so many it was a defining album. It was held up as a reason to embrace heavy metal for the music as much as any lifestyle or scene or subculture.
Hanneman was the glue for Slayer. The brains. Every member of the band was crucial to the sound but Kerry King’s piercing solos were sometimes hard to take; they well crossed the line into parody. Tom Araya’s lyrics were often tidied/strengthened by Hanneman’s writing hand. The two pushing one another to go darker, deeper, sicker, weirder…and in the music-writing department it was so often Jeff Hanneman doing the heavy lifting.
There are whole albums in Slayer’s discography that I have left undiscovered – I couldn’t call myself any sort of committed fan. I’m a casual fan at best. But I love Reign In Blood and Seasons In The Abyss. And I came back to the band for Christ Illusion and 2009’s World Painted Blood (the final album Hanneman released with the group).
I also loved Decade of Aggression – 1991’s double live album. I knew it as a double cassette-tape; one that sometimes frightened my parents when they borrowed my car.
The 2004 DVD release, Still Reigning, was a favourite for a time. It features the band performing its classic album in its entirety. The DVD was memorable for me because I surely frightened the bored-housewives that watch New Zealand’s TV show, Good Morning by reviewing the disc favourably and playing footage of the band at fever-pitch at 9am one Monday morning on channel one.
And 2010’s The Big Four: Live From Sofia, Bulgaria was – for me – Slayer’s show. No question. They delivered the set of the night.
So I kept me hand in with Slayer. I knew they were important. And I liked what I liked. In fact I loved a lot of the band’s great work.
I never saw them live. I always wanted to. Even when I moved away from the group’s music – in terms of active listening. I always held Slayer up as a prime example of some phenomenal playing; Dave Lombardo’s drumming a huge highlight for me. But Hanneman was the guy who held it together. I’m convinced of that. What will they do now? The other members? Yes, they made the decision to battle on without Hanneman in the band. But it must be with much heavier hearts that they continue on knowing he’s no longer with us. No chance of a comeback, no more Angel of Death in this lifetime.