Remembering Late Slayer Guitarist Jeff Hanneman
By Jon Wiederhorn
photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images
photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Understandably, many artists at the event made onstage dedications to him before performing or announcing trophy winners. In addition, countless members of the metal community have tweeted about Hanneman’s death. "Tonight one less star will be shining and sadly, the stage got just a little bit darker," wrote Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine.
"I’m deeply shocked and speechless," tweeted drummer Dave Lombardo, who recently left Slayer at least temporarily for financial reasons. "It’s difficult for me to write my feelings at this moment."
"Brutal news about Jeff. Like a punch in the gut," tweeted Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian.
Hanneman represented everything metal stood for. He loved it, lived for it, and died shortly after working on new material for Slayer’s next record. Details about Hanneman’s death are scant. His wife Kathy rushed him to Hemet Valley Medical Center near his Southern California home and was with him when he died. At this point, everything else is speculation, including the general assumption that he died from lingering illness from a recluse spider-bite that had kept him from performing for more than two years.
What’s known at this point is who Hanneman was (at least in the public eye) and what he contributed to metal. He formed Slayer in 1981 with guitarist Kerry King, bassist and vocalist Tom Araya, and drummer Dave Lombardo, and while the band started by doing traditional metal covers and playing songs in the vein of their heroes Judas Priest, Hanneman--heavily influenced by early hardcore bands like GBH, Discharge, and Misfits--soon convinced his bandmates to ramp up the tempos, write more aggressive guitar parts, and write more lurid, evil lyrics.
Along with Metallica, Anthrax, and Megadeth, Slayer soon became leaders of the emerging thrash-metal scene and, along with the aforementioned groups, would be categorized as part of the "Big 4." In performance, Hanneman was a hurricane of activity. He bobbed his head up and down so rapidly that his long blonde hair usually obscured his face, while he played at inhuman speeds, including wild, unconventional solos that made up in intensity what they may have lacked in structure.
"He was a huge influence on my songwriting growing up in particular with arrangements and the bold use of key changes," said Machine Head guitarist and vocalist Robb Flynn in a Facebook post. “The one thing Slayer always had over so many other bands is they were all over the guitar neck when it came to key changes. Leads would be in some of the most random keys ever, but somehow it made it all that much more frantic, and when the chorus kicked back in, BOOM! CRUSHING!"
Hanneman and King wrote most of Slayer’s lyrics, and while they started out by writing writing about Satan and the occult (like their peers in Venom), they expanded their repertoire after 1985’s Hell Awaits and started writing about war, serial killers, and acts of barbarism. Obsessed with all of the above, Hanneman penned lyrics for some of the band’s most well-known songs, including "Raining Blood," "Dead Skin Mask," and the controversial "Angel of Death," which is about the medical experiments of Nazi doctor Josef Mengele and caused waves of protest when it was released on Reign in Blood in 1986.