Sportos, motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wasteoids, dweebies, and dickheads the world over are in mourning today, for we lost one of the greats. Jeff Hanneman, guitarist and chief songwriter of Slayer, passed on and we adored him. We thought he was a righteous dude.
As metal fans, Slayer is such a part of our everyday lives that it's easy to forget how unique and special it is. For a band that sang so much about Lucifer and Nazi doctors, the members presented themselves as they were: Four goofy dudes from L.A. playing hella fast heavy metal. No pretense. They were guys you wanted to hang with. Just look at the back cover of their landmark 1986 album Reign In Blood, arguably the greatest metal record of all time, and tell us you don't want to drink a beer with those guys. Even to posers and non-hessians, throwing up the horns and yelling "Slayer!" carries much cultural weight. Everyone knows what that means. It means you are ready to fucking rock.
If you have a favorite Slayer song, chances are Jeff Hanneman wrote it. He was directly responsible for the band's sound and what we commonly know as "metal." As a guitar player and songwriter, the man was unparalleled. A true pioneer. He wrote "Angel Of Death," for Christ's sake.
Somewhere between the release of the band's debut album, 1983's Show No Mercy, and its follow-up, 1985's Hell Awaits, Jeff changed styles from a melodic, straight-ahead player into some sort of frenzied, squealing atonal monster. The results were shocking. His unique fingerpicking style gave way to solos that were rarely in key with the rest of the song. The notes were played lightning fast, sounding like Satan himself performing some sort of blackened free jazz. Jeff's guitar playing sounded as if it was the voices of a thousand screaming demon souls screeching straight out of hell, and it sounded damn good. There are tons of modern guitarists in metal that copped Hanneman's style, but he was the first, and the best.
In early 2011, Hanneman contracted the most metal of any skin disorder, necrotizing fasciitis, from a spider bite. It left him debilitated and unable to play live. By 2012 he was fully recovered from the disease, but word spread that he was in ill heath and probably not coming back to the band. On May 2, 2013, Jeff passed away of liver failure near his home in the Inland Empire. It is not known if the necrotizing fasciitis had anything to do with his death.
In the coming weeks you will probably read a lot of hyperbolic, ill-informed rumors and stories about how this sad ending came to be. Details will slowly leak about Jeff's alcoholism, reluctance to come back to the band, and disconnect from his old bandmates. But we want to remember Mr. Hanneman as the master that he was. Jeff reinvented music. Jeff changed the way the guitar sounded. Jeff was metal.
Putting together a top five list of Jeff's work is a difficult gesture. The man gave us so much musically that's it's kind of overwhelming to think about it so soon after his death. What we would like to do here is at least spotlight some more unique tracks for the longtime listener, and some videos that display why Slayer was loved and worshipped by so many. It's safe to say that the band members were gods when they were on stage. Seeing Slayer live was a right of passage to many people of a certain age. Here then are the top five kick-ass Jeff Hanneman songs on YouTube.
5. "Hell Awaits"
This is where it all begins for us. The deep chugging. The atonal squeeling. Absolutely masterful.
4. "Dead Skin Mask"
One of Jeff's catchiest riffs. Here he's adorned in his beloved Raiders jersey and signature Heineken guitar, just kicking ass in front of a wall of Marshall stacks, trading solos with bandmate Kerry King. This is what it's all about.
3. "War Ensemble"
At 2:35, witness the Jeff at his best.
2. "South Of Heaven"
Two videos here. One being Jeff's home-recorded demo of the classic "South Of Heaven," which must be heard to believed. The other is a video from the last time Jeff performed on stage with the band.
1. "Angel Of Death"
No words needed to talk up this legendary performance from 1986's Reign In Blood tour. Just enjoy the magic. Fucking SLAYER. \m/
Honorable mention: Check out this rare demo from Jeff's home recordings featuring him on vocals. Could you imagine a whole album like this?