When Jeff Hanneman of Slayer died last week it was like that time John Lennon died, but worse. When Lennon died I was ten years old and although I listened to The Beatles for most of my young life, him dying in 1980 wasn’t really that big of a deal to me. I was a kid, I didn’t have any kind of connection to him aside from the melodies he wrote and performed that sounded good to my ears. For guys like me, who spent most of their formative years up until the present in the “metal scene” or “hardcore scene” Jeff Hanneman was a God.
Being a young and naïve teenager, I thought once I got into punk rock and hardcore music I wouldn’t be able to listen to heavy metal music anymore. (the pic of me above, I seem to be okay with Iron Maiden, Rush and The Misfits) At one point I made the switch over to hardcore from metal but that’s a whole other story. I published a fanzine covering hardcore and punk music when I was 14. I had the great fortune of interviewing some of my favorite musicians from the time. These artists were generally always approachable and friendly. My first interview was Keith Morris of Circle Jerks and Black Flag, I interviewed Peter Stahl from Scream, Corrosion of Conformity, Lyle Preslar of Minor Threat and many others…Around my third issue of the zine I wanted to interview the band Siege. My friend Mark’s cousin Kevin was the singer. As it turns out, Kevin was no longer the singer. The new singer was living in Marblehead. MA and I went to interview him at his house. (as far as I know they never did any shows with this singer) While there he played me two records: Metallica – Ride the Lightning and Slayer – Hell Awaits. He only had to play me the two opening songs and I was sold. Metallica’s Fight Fire With Fire with it’s pretty acoustic intro that then explodes into the first thrash metal song I ever hear, and then Hell Awaits which as you might know begins with what sounds like a Bosch painting coming alive. Demons speaking backwards, which I quickly discovered was “JOIN US” over and over backwards.
One of the main reasons (along with seeing Cliff Burton wearing a Crimson Ghost Misfits shirt or James Hetfield wearing a Discharge shirt) was Jeff Hanneman. When you saw pictures of Slayer they all looked like typical metal guys, making ugly faces, “throwing up the horns”, etc. but then there was this bleached blonde dude with punk rock stickers all over his guitar. He seemed like the most approachable guy, and he was a fan of the same music I was.
Both Hell Awaits and the EP Haunting the Chapel were on heavy rotation for quite some time as a teenager and then Reign in Blood came out. The band, now signed to Def Jam recorded with Rick Rubin, who had up until then produced LL Cool J, Run DMC, and the Beastie Boys among others. What? Rubin basically took all the reverb out of Slayer, sort of the opposite of what AC/DC did with Back in Black. Instead of sounding like the music was recorded in some cavernous chapel in the deepest level of hell, every instrument was completely up front and dry. The album was a quick twenty-nine minutes. It’s widely regarded as the best thrash metal album of all time.
Jeff Hanneman wrote, in my opinion (and it should be yours) the best Slayer songs. Angel of Death (the “Ace of Spades” of Slayer, yet I’m still not tired of hearing it. Sampled by Public Enemy, which means Spike Lee has heard part of the song Angel of Death by Slayer, not knowing it’s about Josef Mengele!), Post Mortem (my favorite Slayer song), pretty much every song on South of Heaven, most of Seasons in the Abyss, and much more. His songwriting has stayed with me much more than most of my other “favorite” bands. I could probably recite every lyric on Reign in Blood, he was the “quiet” member of the band, his guitar solos, which basically sound like demons being strangled to death stick in your head forever, sort of like the guitar solo in Something by The Beatles. That makes more sense; Hanneman dying was like when George Harrison died but worse.