Slayer’s Jeff Hanneman, 1964-2013
A journalist once wrote, “The mark of greatness is when everything before you is obsolete and everything after you bears your mark.” This quote was originally used to memorialize iconic comedian Richard Pryor, but the significance of those words shine great enlightenment onto the career and creative accomplishments of late Slayer guitarist Jeff Hanneman.
Jeff Hanneman was the Beethoven of thrash metal. The guitarist’s unique compositional skills mixed with his atmospheric leads and full-speed-ahead shredding was unlike anything that came before it. Two years after Slayer formed in 1981, the band unleashed their debut album, ‘Show No Mercy,’ which contains Hanneman masterpieces such as ‘Die by the Sword’ and ‘Fight Till Death.’ The guitar work showcased by Hanneman within those pieces combines the technical prowess of Randy Rhoads or Eddie Van Halen while recklessly stomping on the accelerator to attain inhuman velocity. Drooling crowds worldwide had never witnessed any guitarist attack a solo with such a chaotic stranglehold, and Hanneman kept it going for three decades.
Already renowned as underground messiahs, Slayer gifted the world of thrash with their signature album, ‘Reign in Blood,’ in 1986. This is when Jeff Hanneman truly immortalized himself as one of the best thrash composers of all time. The greatest of evils sparked possessive inspiration within Hanneman as the guitarist penned both the music and lyrics for the genre-defining ‘Angel of Death’; a piece exploring the practices of monstrous Nazi doctor Josef Mengele. Hanneman was the most prolific contributor to ‘Reign in Blood,’ shaping further classics including ‘Postmortem’ and the divine opus ‘Raining Blood.’
The unparalleled genius continued to ooze from Hanneman’s every pore as the guitarist spearheaded every original track on Slayer’s essential 1988 album, ‘South of Heaven,’ along with the bulk of its proceeding masterwork, ‘Seasons in the Abyss.’ Hanneman’s last great achievement with Slayer came with the 2009 full-length, ‘World Painted Blood,’ as the musician molded the phenomenal ‘Psychopathy Red’ along with ‘Unit 731′ and the album’s title track.
In 2011, Jeff Hanneman was stricken with a bizarre case of necrotizing fasciitis, a rare flesh-eating disease which spreads through the deeper layers of skin and subcutaneous tissues. Hanneman likely contracted the affliction from a spider bite, and according to the guitarist, was “an hour away from death” by the time he reached medical care.
The final years of Jeff Hanneman’s life were spent recovering from his bout with necrotizing fasciitis while Exodus guitarist Gary Holt filled in for Hanneman during Slayer’s live dates. Fans had been anxiously awaiting Hanneman’s return to the stage, eager to welcome back the shredder after more than two years spent on the sidelines. Tragically, Slayer fanatics and future converts will never be able to witness such a return, as the legendary guitarist passed away from liver failure on May 2, 2013.
The most afflictive aspect of Hanneman’s passing, which continuously and painfully twists the blade now forced into our stomachs, is that fate or destiny or life or nature or God has seemingly given us the wrong ending to a phenomenal story and a phenomenal life. We as human begins, who share a collective consciousness, accept that there is a second date which will unavoidably be etched onto our tombstones. On some mystery day, all we’ve taken in our lives will be taken back, but despite the unpredictability of death, we all share the desire to go out with guns blazing. What if Jeff Hanneman had been able to play one more show? Would a triumphant return to the stage have dulled the sting of his untimely death? Regardless, we as metalheads hold our memories of Jeff Hanneman with an iron clutch, and the means in which he enriched our lives can never be ripped away.
R.I.P. Jeff Hanneman (Jan. 31, 1964 – May 2, 2013)
Slayer, ‘Fight Till Death’ (1988)