Gone But Still Reigning: Jeff Hanneman And Slayer Live
, 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
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.
SLAYER LIVE, KENTISH TOWN FORUM, LONDON, JUNE 2010
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.