I never saw Slayer.
Sure - of course I wanted to, don’t get me wrong – but every time they came around, I just figured ‘Ah, they tour all the time. I can catch them next time.’ But then, once Hanneman’s arm injury/fasciitis sidelined him in 2011, I no longer had the desire to only see three-fourths of Slayer (all due respect to Gary Holt).
Although - maybe the hidden truth is, I never got over not getting to see them in their prime, at the Clash of the Titans tour in June 1991. At fifteen, I wasn’t quite ripe enough for those big-city gig trips, or so my folks decreed.
No- there was no way I’d see them without Jeff – after all, Herr Hanneman wrote all my favorite Slayer songs. Of the four, I always saw him as the quiet[er] one: No, he wasn’t the voice. He wasn’t the epic drummer redefining his instrument. He wasn’t the outspoken-caricature guitar player. But because of all that (or maybe in spite of it), it made Jeff Hanneman the (hellfire-blackened) soul of Slayer. He wrote the most, and best, songs in the band - including that most-eternal of Slayer’s catalog, “Angel Of Death”. He had the best riffs too.
For all music fans, surely -but I’m guessing especially metalheads- there are those bands in your life that come along once in a while – bands you will always remember your initial encounter with; like it becomes crystallized in your long-term memory, and you can close your eyes and journey back to that exact moment in time where you heard them first. Slayer was one of those special bands for me.
Ninth grade was a huge year for me and metal. It was the year thrash entered my life, via …And Justice For All. Prior to that, my metal world consisted of KISS, Twisted Sister, Mötley Crüe, a few other hair-metal bands. But then Metallica came along and thrashed open a whole new world of music to me.
But - one day in 1989, a handful of us (me, Boomer? Fennell? Priest?) were hanging out in Ferdy Belland’s basement bedroom – it was like teenage, Lost-Boy Neverland there; Role-playing games, militaria, comics and the occasional skin mag, and metal, of course - lots and lots of metal.
On this particular overcast day in question, Ferdy had gotten a big, flat, square box in the mail, from the Columbia House Record and Tape Club - so we were all waiting excitedly as he cracked it open. I don’t remember what other records he got that day, but fuck if I will ever forget the first time I laid eyes on South of Heaven: Larry Carroll’s artwork may as well have been an obscenely-flashing, neon-lit beacon of evil and blasphemy, to a bunch of wide-eyed, small-town teenagers: Big fuck-off skull, flames, and is that (gulp!)an inverted cross AND a pentagram? Fuck! You have to understand, where we came from, there were guys in school who had to hide their KISS cassettes from their parents - it was that kind of town. And here we had some brimstone-level shit staring us in the face. I mean, jeez - South of Heaven meant Hell, rayt? The back cover was no less, if a different kind of, intense - a black-and-white shot of four surly-looking motherfuckers challenging the viewer, and blood-red print forewarning songs like “Mandatory Suicide” and “Spill The Blood”. That sense of the verboten was spine-tingling. Were we about to consign our eternal souls to the fiery pit just by listening?
Up to that point, I had only sorta heard of Slayer; they were the tough-lookin’, inverted-cross-and-spikes-wearin’ dudes that only once-in-a-while got coverage in Circus or Hit Parader, the only metal magazine titles readily available to us in sleepy little Cranbrook, B.C. But because Slayer was always mentioned in the same breath as Metallica and Megadeth (I don’t think there was talk of a Big Four until a couple years later), that was good enough to pique our fledgling-hesher interest. The allure of the forbidden went a long way with us too.
So, on goes the vinyl. And we sat there, anticipating, listening – taking the music in. That haunting, creepy-creep riff. Like, you know something wicked this way is coming, but you can’t get out of the way. By the time the drums come thundering in, you’re in its oncoming path, too transfixed to move. And the riffs just bear down on you, overtake you. The other part is that it’s so slow. In an era of metal where everybody was trying to outspeed each other, Slayer took it in the opposite direction, and people freaked out about that. But all that aside, to me, at thirteen, there was nothing more evil-sounding than a lyric like bastard sons begat your cunting daughters. This was far more potent than Metallica or Megadeth. I was hooked. From there, Slayer informed every band I ever played in – they were an influence, not just some band we liked.
When Seasons in the Abyss came out, I was in eleventh grade, and I had graduated metal Jedi training with flying colours. Full-fledged. Seasons was incredible. It was the hesher Record Of The Year that school year, and it sounds like the perfect mix of Reign and South. The title track was a total monster. Of course, I had to get my first double-kick pedal and china cymbal to learn some of those songs. And yes, many a band class/school assembly was rudely disrupted by the strains of “Seasons In The Abyss” that year.
No matter what Slayer became in the years following, my love of the unholy trilogy ensured I would be a fan for life.I just wish I'd seen them.
News of Jeff’s death from liver failure comes as such a shock. Just two months ago, a friend posted facebook pics of himself hanging backstage with Jeff at a Nashville Pussy Valentine’s Day gig in Vancouver. There was no hint of sickness or weakness in those pics - Hanneman looked his usual strapping, metal-god self - all smiles, ever-present Heineken in hand. No warning.
The metal world rightfully mourns the loss of a metal god. This one will hurt for a while.
Rest in peace, Jeff Hanneman.