Slayer guitarist Jeff Hanneman, who died this week at the age of 49, will be remembered as one of the pioneering greats of metal music. His contribution to metal has stretched beyond that of most musicians because of his trailblazing work in thrash metal, creating a unique style of blistering riffage and an uncompromising assortment of powerful, war-torn lyrics. Without a doubt, Hanneman’s legacy will continue to inspire and captivate generations down the line for years to come.
Born and raised in California, Hanneman grew up with a loving family who had a strong military background; his brothers fought in Vietnam whilst in the ‘40s his father fought at Normandy in World War II. It was these very topics of war and his passion collecting WWII memorabilia that would not only lay the groundwork for classic Slayer albums such as ‘Reign In Blood’ and ‘Seasons in the Abyss’, but it would also go on to provide a thematic centrepiece for future thrash metal bands, further solidifying the identity of the aggressively-charged metal genre.
Hanneman has been described as a ‘guitar god’ and his influence on the development of metal is undeniably massive. The US guitarist co-founded Slayer in 1981 with fellow guitarist Kerry King and was joined by drummer Dave Lombardo and vocalist Tom Araya after he got a taste for the furiousness of hardcore and punk music in his teens. His love for it would give Slayer a speedier edge, ultimately creating a new beast of metal with hellish consequences both in the studio and on the stage.
In 1983, Hanneman got his break with Slayer when they signed to MetalBlade Records, releasing debut album ‘Show No Mercy’, though the band had to finance the release themselves. The following year, sales of the record rocketed and it became MetalBlade’s highest selling release at the time, giving the band a significant financial boost and thus, the tools they needed to carve a follow-up album with better equipment and superior production.
Slayer truly established themselves as a vessel of metallic fury when they signed with Def Jam mid-‘80s. With the help of producer Rick Rubin, the quartet conjured the unstoppable ‘Reign In Blood’ album in 1986, most of which was written by Hanneman. Arguably, he penned the most recognisable thrash song of all time with the album’s opener ‘Angel of Death’. However, their success didn’t come without drawbacks; their sensitive historic themes tackled the horrifying abominable experimentations and human rights violations of Nazi physician Josef Mengele, which in turn led to Hanneman receiving false allegations of Nazism in the years to come.
Nevertheless, the band prospered musically and commercially and by the beginning of the ‘90s they began to be known as one of the ‘Big Four’ of thrash metal, joining fellow Bay Area-based thrashers Anthrax, Metallica and Megadeth in the prestigious titling. Slayer could do what they want with increased artistic freedom, and that’s exactly what they did when they experimented with distinctly crossover sounds on raging 1996 album ‘Undisputed Attitude’, allowing Hanneman to revisit his punk roots once again. However, other experimentations didn’t end so well; 1998’s ‘Diabolus in Music’ received a critical panning and fan backlash after the band’s tinkering with the nu metal style.
Hanneman would continue to play pummelling live shows and create brutal thrash with Slayer in the years leading to his death. Huge shows with the Big Four across the world revealed that the band were going through a golden era of performance while in the studio, they weren’t short on inspirations either, with last album ‘World Painted Blood’ showing that Hanneman’s unrelenting appetite for speed was as big as ever.
Throughout the development of metal, it’s clear that things would have been different if it weren’t for Hanneman’s style. He essentially brought his punk roots to metal with a unique style of riffing that stretched audio boundaries at the time and later went on to lay the foundations of thrash metal alongside other peers and pioneers in the Bay Area. He has heavily influenced innumerable bands across the planet and that’s down to his writing prowess and riffing power.
It’s understood that Hanneman was bitten by a spider in early 2011, contracting necrotising fasciitis – a flesh eating disease which forced him to opt out of the band’s activities for a while. Hanneman made a brief return to Slayer in April 2012 for a show in California, but his condition worsened the following month and it was rumoured that he may have to have his arm amputated as a result of the disease. He had numerous operations to remove dead tissue on his arm in the hope he’d make a full recovery. Unfortunately, Hanneman died from liver failure as a result of alcoholism in a local Los Angeles hospital on Thursday 2nd May, at 11am. He survived by his wife Kathy, his sister Kathy and his brothers Michael and Larry.
Initially published at SoundShock Webzine: