Photographs of Slayer live courtesy of Maria Jefferis/Shot2Bits" />

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Remember Them...

Gone But Still Reigning: Jeff Hanneman And Slayer Live
John Doran , May 2nd, 2013 21:06

Over the last decade John Doran has written more Slayer live reviews than he can actually remember. This one sums up why the group means so much to him. Photographs of Slayer live courtesy of Maria Jefferis/Shot2Bits

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I was about to start writing an obituary to Jeff Hanneman at around midnight tonight after hearing the sad news of his death from liver failure but then I thought twice about it.

As I started to look through transcripts of old interviews with Slayer, I realised that this was what hundreds of metal writers all of the world would be doing. Naturally. After all Slayer are undisputed giants and Hanneman's death has come as an upsetting shock to us all. And those writers who are not preparing to burn the midnight oil in order to eulogize the guitarist will certainly be raising a glass or several of bourbon and cranking Haunting The Chapel et al up to full volume. Really though, it occurred to me that there would be plenty of writers out there who would do a much better job of praising his abilities as a ground breaking guitarist than me.

(My good friend, the author and Quietus writer Joel McIver has an interview with Jeff on his Facebook profile at the moment if you want to Google it.)

While digging through my Slayer cuttings I instead started thinking about the colossal number of times I've seen them live and how even a slightly lacklustre Slayer show (a rarity in itself) still created something utterly unique that most other groups could only dream of conjuring up. While writing for Metal Hammer, Classic Rock, Vice, Zero, the Quietus, the BBC, The Stool Pigeon, Drowned In Sound, Playlouder, NME, BANG, Record Collector, Plan B, Careless Talk Costs Lives, WIRE, Disorder, Prog, The Word, etc over the years I feel like I've written more reviews of Slayer live than any other band. I'd always be up for documenting their shows because there was always something special about them.

I remember before one gig asking the whole band (classic line-up) to sign my copy of Reign In Blood but only having my friend's fountain pen to offer, just to be roundly bollocked by Kerry King: "I ain't signing that album with a fucking fountain pen." (It was inevitable that the lyrics to 'Die By The Sword' would flash through my head as I desperately searched for a Sharpie.) At another gig at Hammersmith Apollo, I went with my friend Conn who had somehow managed to get to the age of 40 without seeing them live. In a moment of excitement he sprinted off into the pit during 'Disciple' only to stumble out again at the end of he song with a look of sheer ecstasy on his face as blood pumped out of his nose.

"YES!" he said, "I've had my nose bust in my first Slayer pit!"

Slayer pits are by no means the worst I've ever seen but they're also certainly not for the faint hearted. I've been bloodied at a few of their shows myself... I never really minded too much as long as I didn't drop my notepad on the floor and I discovered pretty early on in my career that it's pretty much impossible to take notes in the middle of one anyway. I may be romanticising it slightly but I always felt that there was a line that wasn't really crossed at these gigs. How many times had I heard Tom Araya in his hippyish Californian tones saying something like: "Hey, pick that kid up! You see someone fall over in the pit, you pick them up. Because at a Slayer concert we're all family and we look out for one another..." Before screaming: "Anyway this next song is called 'DEAD! SKIN! MASK!"

The things that I would have said about Jeff Hanneman can be summed up very simply. He was a brilliant and innovative guitarist who died too young. He helped found one of the greatest, most forward-looking metal groups of all time. He wrote two of the most exciting songs ever, 'Raining Blood' and 'Angel Of Death'. He was a key player on three or four of the best albums ever recorded. (And when I'm talking Reign In Blood, I'm not talking one of the best metal albums ever but one of the best albums full stop. Better than Revolver, better than Blood On The Tracks, better than What's Going On... you catch my drift.)

I am very upset that he is dead. (Over the coming days sadly a lot of the talk will be monopolized by people speaking ill-informed bullshit about him. If you'll forgive me I refuse to have this tiresome debate again - especially just after his death. I've written about this non-subject before and a quick Google will bring up the stuff you're looking for - if you really want to know what my opinion is.)

But now that he's dead, this also marks the start of the end for Slayer. I'm sure they'll play the tours that they're contractually obliged to do but really we're entering a winding down period now (if we hadn't already with Jeff's illness and the departure of Dave Lombardo). I doubt I'll go and watch them live again even if I'm offered the chance. As I said, one of my most repeated jobs as a music writer has been to pen live reviews of this band and it is a testament to them (in my mind at least) that I can't find a single negative one.

Out of all of them however, the one below (from the last gig I saw them play live with Jeff on guitar, written originally for The Stool Pigeon) at the Kentish Town Forum sums up exactly why I love them. And it sums up for me, why even though he's gone, to me Hanneman will always be reigning.

Sleep well Jeff, we'll miss you.


Two thousand years ago, the forum was no place to be if you were a Christian. You were likely to be rendered to viscera, bone and jelly by tooled up gladiators and howling lions. One second you’re blinking in the harsh Mediterranean sunshine clutching a fish symbol, the next you’re gone, a fine pink mist hanging in the air... all in the name of entertainment. Tonight’s roaring devotees may be rejectors of grand monotheist folly but they mean no harm to anyone... well, maybe to each other in the pit during 'Raining Blood' but that’s a contract that people enter into willingly.

But of course this is not just any forum but the HMV Forum and plenty of fanatics are here tonight to do the bidding of their masters’ voices. There will be mindless devotion to the riff tonight even though this music is far from brainless. Slayer are by turns, humanists, provocateurs, blood thirsty voyeurs, anarchists, dumb-assed shock rockers, tattooed existentialists, militant conservatives AND war-hating peaceniks. They have occasionally aligned themselves with the Horned One Downstairs but only to highlight how much they want to oppose thoughtless subservience to the Big Guy Upstairs. They choose damnation and freedom of thought over the slavery of salvation. They symbolize the glorious and powerful contradiction at the heart of all metal. Don’t fit in? An individual who refuses to yoke up? Then there’s a place where you can go... it has a uniform and you can join in the chant. Shout with me now: “God hates us all!”

They are dark masters of an older aesthetic Slayer and – like all of the best bands in existence – have come to resemble action figures of themselves. Kerry King, head tattooed with demonic go-faster stripes and massive Brian Bolland-era Judge Dredd belt/battleship chain and Jeff Hanneman, the ice hockey-playing, Nazi biker from Hades, take guitars, while Tom Araya, part Wookie, part Swamp Thing, all hellacious surf dude dad straps on the bass. This of course leaves sullen drum savant Dave Lombardo looking like the black beret wearing, macchiato-sipping, Sartre quoting intellectual that he probably is. (This said, Liam Gallagher would look like Noam Chomsky if he took the stage with Slayer’s longest serving trio.)

“Like a disease spreading death, erasing your existence”, intones Araya rhythmically on the title track from World Painted Blood, erasing the painful memory of Slayer’s single concession to nu-metal, Diabolus In Musica. This is joined quickly by 'Hate Worldwide' and the speed metal fury of 'Cult' from Christ Illusion; a punchy reminder that they are back to their unbeatable live best now that Lombardo has glumly accepted his fate as drummer in the world’s best metal band. Welcome To Slayer. You’ll Never Leave.

Of course the fight back started a few years before the return of the prodigal, as a piss and vinegar version of live favourite ‘Disciple’ from 2001’s God Hates Us All proves. Oh to be a fly on the wall at Araya’s local church, that he attends twice a week with his family in tow, when his curious pastor asks: “So Tom, can you talk me through some of the concepts behind South Of Heaven and how this relates to your unshakeable faith in God?”

Of course 'Hell Awaits' and 'Raining Blood' exist to momentarily fire up the atavistic, Stone Age fears we have of demons, in a gloriously visceral moment of spiritually safe pantomime. Experiencing 'Angel Of Death' live is like the anti-rapture. As the double bass kick tattoo tears apart the air, your body could just about melt, seep through the carpets, through the building’s foundations and into the substrata. On and on south of Kentish Town. Hail Slayer. Long may their (mainly) bloodless blood sport continue.

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John M
May 3, 2013 6:56am

Although I fell out of love with metal in the late 80s (hurrah Husker Du, Sonic Youth...) between the ages 14/15, Slayer were as extreme, loud, and FAST as it could get. Metallica had the riffs but Slayer had the speed.I remember playing the intro to Hell Awaits in the school common room and observing the looks of sheer horror. Flash forward to Nottingham Rock City on the Reign in Blood tour. Dave Lombardo had just rejoined and the shouts of 'Lombardo, Lombardo...' ramped-up the atmosphere to fever pitch even before the first note. That was THE most intense show I've ever seen!!! I've never witnessed a band beat that aggression since. They have their place in history. Jeff Hanneman was a true innovator.

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Noel B
May 3, 2013 10:59am

This has to be one of the most maddening and tragic deaths music has seen in a while. It's a pretty 'metal' way to go I suppose, but that's no consolation. Slayer were the first band I actually really, truly fell in love with. It was music as a way of life rather than a commodity that could be picked up and put down; it was DNA code for my adolescent, wheedling existence and was an essential component in getting through all that, with the music and its undeniable power still intact, still monolithically alive, when I got there. RIP Jeff, you really owned that thing...

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May 3, 2013 11:58am

I've been thinking since I heard the news late last night and it's hitting home just what an influential musician Hanneman was to me. I first heard Reign In Blood as a 15 year old in 1987 and it was a truly shocking record to hear. Whilst Master Of Puppets was my favourite album at the time, Reign In Blood was just too much on that first listen. Forward 18 months or so and the roles were reversed. Cue forward another 25 years and I can see just what a role Reign In Blood played in opening my mind and ears to anything that most people would consider out there. From punk, hardcore, grindcore, doom, drone and whatever genre you want to class the electronic I listen to, I can trace that back to Reign In Blood in 1987. I can trace it from Converge to The Haxan Cloak.

My favourite Slayer songs always had at the very least a Hanneman credit and the music for most were written exclusively by him. Like any kid in the late 80's and early 90s I was in a bunch of lousy thrash and death bands and we covered loads of Slayer. It was a hoot and a blast and some of the best of times formatively.

Jeff Hanneman, to me, is one of the most influential metal guitarists ever. Second only to Tony Iommi, possibly. Rest in peace.

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May 3, 2013 12:02pm

In reply to Mark:

I should also just add, John, that's a very nicely written piece.

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May 3, 2013 12:04pm

Reign in Blood didn't get a UK release for months so you had to pick a copy up on import. I ordered mine from Shades in London and to my absolute dismay, the record had a pressing fault which meant Angel of Death jumped like demented bunny. I swapped it on numerous occasions but the fault was always there. Imagine my total joy when I finally owned a copy that wasn't knackered and heard THAT song in its unspoiled entirety!!!

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May 3, 2013 2:51pm

Nice piece, John. As a casual but respectful Slayer fan (a bigger Dave Lombardo follower), I was unaware of the controversy about Jeff's health so it's probably wise to only have signaled toward it here.

Q: how do the resident Slayer philes rate their later studio output, after "Seasons the Abbess" say?

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May 3, 2013 4:29pm

Is that Ben Harding who was in the Senseless Things?

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May 4, 2013 12:22am

In reply to :

Never mind Seasons In The Abyss, they never again quite managed the same level of songwriting consistency as the preceding two albums. The lack of a truly well recorded live album (and Decade of Aggression is a very poorly mixed record) has always been a disappointment as the songs of South Of Heaven were never truly captured as they should have been. The original recording, whilst containing some of their best material, was far too dialed back.
Anyway, post 'Seasons', the 90's were a write off. Undisputed Attitude was a bit of fun, but the post 2000 albums were an inconsistent mixture. I'm a huge fan of the first half of God Hates Us All - they really seemed to discover their hardcore edge that I always loved, but Christ Illusion was a little uninspired. That said, I really liked World Painted Blood. It was as consistently good an album as they'd managed since 'Seasons'. No it wasn't 'Reign In Blood', but I think after 23 years (at the time of release) most of us had understood that. It's a fine album. I listened to it today and I still think that.
As a Slayer fan of 26 years, I loved the lack of giving a fuck about them being anything else other than Slayer. They were an absolute constant and Jeff Hanneman was the best creative force within that. There was one genuine misstep in 30+ years, but other than that, they (in my humblest opinion) became the dictionary definition of metal. I'm desperately sad at the passing of Jeff in that I don't see a future for one of the finest musical constants of my life. The idea of Kerry King and Tom Araya + 2 others continuing holds little appeal.

I appeared to have rambled a little (it is late and I have been drinking), but hopefully I answered your question.

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Mark Eglinton
May 6, 2013 11:13pm

In reply to :

Great piece, John. Jeff will be missed greatly.

Post " Seasons" Slayer has been patchy - in fact I'd take that further ( and John will not agree) that 'Seasons" itself was an inconsistent record. That's been Slayer's main issue. ALL their records - including the deeply disliked "Diabolus in Musica" have had three or four great songs, mixed with some indifferent ones. On balance - and I don't just say this because he's no longer with us - Slayer's Hanneman songs were consistently the best.

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Jun 11, 2014 12:23pm

What a shame he's gone !

Jeff definitely reigning...

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