The first time I heard/saw Slayer was on Headbanger’s Ball. It was either the video for the atmospheric yet pummeling “Seasons in the Abyss” or the flat-out face-fucking bulldozer that is “War Ensemble.” I was just starting to get into heavy metal in those days, and Slayer blew me away with their intensity and darkness; they seemed way more evil than Megadeth or Metallica, which I was already quite familiar with, and in those days, especially being confined to Catholic school for seven hours a day, the more evil, the better. It was love at first sight. From there, I slowly started buying up Slayer’s back catalog with my meager allowance money, reveling in the Satanic-sounding, speed-demonomania that was their early career.
I didn’t get to see Slayer live until much later; The God Hates Us All tour. I didn’t have any friends that were as into metal as I was, but I somehow managed to talk my buddy Jon into going with me to see them at 7 Flags Fitness Center, who’s large indoor tennis facility was doubling as a mid-size concert venue in those days. Even at that age, I couldn’t believe that MOTHERFUCKING SLAYER had deemed worthy to descend upon the asshole of the Midwest for a show. And what a show it was; to this day one of the most violent, awesome spectacles I’ve ever witnessed. I remember someone getting hauled out of the pit with a broken leg and an older woman who worked for the venue walking around picking up trash in the middle of the show (I’m pretty sure I yelled: “hey lady, you’re gonna get KILLED!”). But most of all I remember Slayer plowing through every song I wanted to hear, from “Angel of Death” to “Raining Blood” to “Mandatory Suicide,” you name it, they fucking played it and that show is one of the defining moments of my “metal life;” a rush of unbridled, unholy, headbanging, fist-raising, goat-throwing adrenaline that I will never, ever forget for as long as I live.
Today Jeff Hanneman, founding co-guitarist of Slayer passed away in a California hospital at the age of 49 due to liver failure. While fellow six-stringer Kerry King might be the most recognizable member of the band, it was largely Hanneman that brought the undisputed attitude to Slayer with his love of the nastier side of punk rock and hardcore. He was responsible for writing many of the band’s early classics, and his solos were a maelstrom of melodic frenzy that helped set Slayer apart from other bay area thrashers. Simply put, the man was one of the most influential musicians in metal, who often shied away from the spotlight in comparison to his bandmates.
I honestly don’t have enough words right now to further describe the profound effect that Jeff Hanneman’s incendiary music has had on my life, so for now I’ll say no more but rest in peace.