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Amalgamation Of Aggression... With Jon Wiederhorn

R.I.P. Jeff Hanneman, Guitarist For Slayer

When someone whose work touched your life, helped you get through tough times and contributed to the person you’ve become passes away it feels like losing a close friend.

It’s always sad when a talented musician dies. But when someone whose work touched your life, helped you get through tough times and contributed to the person you’ve became passes away it feels like losing a close friend.

I wasn’t close with Slayer guitarist Jeff Hanneman, who died at 11 a.m. this morning (May 2nd) near his Southern California home in Inland Empire. I had interviewed him four or five times, shared a few laughs and more than a few beers. More importantly, I had been overwhelmed and blown away time and again by the torrents of uncontrolled aggression and freewheeling solos he summoned from his screaming instrument, and it made me a believer – one of the idiots that foams at the mouth and chants, “Slayer, Slayer, Slayer” before the band even takes the stage—from the time I was in 10th grade up to this very moment.


Hanneman was only 49 when he died. His wife Kathy checked him into the Hemet Valley Medical Center near his home, where he suffered liver failure. “Kathy was with him when he died,” said the band’s publicist Heidi Ellen Robinson. “He was writing new Slayer music at the time of his death and he was really excited. Everyone’s completely devastated.” Hanneman is survived by his sister Kathy and his brothers Michael and Larry.

Hanneman had been in poor health since early 2011 when he contracted necrotising fasciitis, a bacterial infection that rotted away the inner layers of the skin and tissue of his arm. Doctors say the condition probably was caused by the bite of a poisonous recluse spider. Hanneman endured numerous surgeries and at one point was in danger of losing his arm. On May 1, 2012 Slayer issued a statement about the seriousness of Hanneman’s condition.

“For a couple of days after he went to the ER, things were touch-and-go,” it began. “There was talk that he might have to have his arm amputated, and we didn't know if he was going to pull through at all. He was in a medically-induced coma for a few days and had several operations to remove the dead and dying tissue from his arm. So, understand, he was in really, really bad shape. It's been about a year since he got out of the hospital, and since then, he had to learn to walk again, he's had several painful skin grafts, he's been in rehab doing exercises to regain the strength in his arm; but best of all, he's been playing guitar.”


It seemed like Hanneman was making a slow, but steady comeback and even joined his band mates at the Big Four show at Coachella in 2011 to play “South of Heaven” and “Angel of Death.” It would be the last time Hanneman would take the stage with the band he co-formed in Huntington Park, California in 1981.

At present, there is no more information about Hanneman’s death or whether the spider bite damaged his liver. While he was at home battling necrotising fasciitis, Slayer continued to tour with Exodus guitarist Gary Holt.

At this point, all anyone can do is speculate about what happened and remember the life Slayer’s quiet, reclusive lead guitarist who was a tornado of energy and volume onstage, but was rarely seen before or after a show. Hanneman didn’t live without controversy. He collected Nazi memorabilia and was unapologetic about doing so. “The bad guys always had the coolest stuff,” he told me once. However, he insisted he didn’t endorse white power and wasn’t anti-Semitic. He was simply fascinated by evil imagery and the Nazis were as evil as they came. He didn’t care that some individuals in and outside of the rock community disapproved about his collection. He was a genuine rebel and, outside of Slayer, an enigmatic individual who lived his own way.

“My favorite story about Jeff took place in the early days when Slayer were signed to American,” Robinson recalls. “Metallica’s ‘Enter Sandman’ exploded at radio and Slayer were getting ready to make a new album. One of the executives from the label went into the studio to talk to the band said, ‘Look, if you give me one song that I can get on the radio and the rest of the album can be Slayer, I promise we’ll sell five million copies of your album.’ Jeff turned to him and said. ‘Tell you what? We’re gonna make a Slayer record, and if you can get a song on the radio that’s great. And if you can’t, you can go fuck yourself.”

With Hanneman and his band mates—cowriter and guitarist Kerry King, bassist and vocalist Tom Araya and drummer Dave Lombardo—there was no compromise. Ever. In 1985, at a time when the PMRC was out to castrate bands that posed a threat to the God-loving spirit of this great nation, Slayer didn’t give a fuck. Instead, they released Hell Awaits, which featured backwards masking and cover art of demons skewering and disemboweling evildoers In 1986, Hanneman wrote the band’s most popular song “Angel of Death” about the atrocities of “infamous butcher” Nazi doctor Josef Mengele, who conducted horrific and sadistic medical experiments on patients. The song, featured on the band’s raison deter Reign in Blood, was so graphic that Def Jam distributor Columbia Records refused to release the album. The song and album found a new home with Geffen, which released it on October 7, 1986 and ravenous fans ate it up like vultures picking at the carcass of dead deer.

Serial killers, war and anti-religious sentiment have been the subject matter for the majority of Slayer’s songs, with lyrics split between Hanneman and King. It is unclear if any of the new material Hanneman wrote will make it on Slayer’s next record. “We've tracked a few songs, and will finish the album when we're off the road later this year,” the band said in a statement.

Earlier this year, controversy erupted when drummer Dave Lombardo abruptly refused to tour, citing unpaid royalties, and was replaced on the road by Jon Dette. How that affects the future of the band and whether Lombardo will return is a mystery. All we know for now is the world has lost another metal hero and whatever lies ahead for Slayer and its surviving members will create itself when the time comes.

Jon Wiederhorn is a renowned metal writer and the author of the upcoming book Louder Than Hell. He's on Twitter - @LounderThanHell