In Tribute: The Complete, Untold Story of Slayer's Jeff Hanneman
He influenced a generation and changed the course of metal forever. Guitar World presents the complete, untold story of Jeff Hanneman, Slayer’s guitarist for more than 30 years and the man behind such legendary thrash anthems as “Angel of Death,” “South of Heaven” and “War Ensemble.”
• Tom Araya: Slayer frontman/bassist
• Kerry King: Slayer guitarist
• Dave Lombardo: Former Slayer drummer
• Kathryn Hanneman: Wife of Jeff Hanneman
• Gary Holt: Longtime friend of Jeff Hanneman and current Slayer fill-in guitarist
When news broke in the early evening of May 2, 2013, that longtime Slayer guitarist Jeff Hanneman had succumbed to liver failure at age 49, a shockwave of atomic force rippled its way across the metal community that left many stunned.
As Facebook and Twitter became overrun with postings of shock, grief and recollections from fans who had spent the better part of their lives following Slayer like Rottweiler puppies, you could feel it—this one was different. This one hurt.
To anyone who came of age in the mid Eighties wearing a denim jacket and studded wristband, Slayer was their introduction to aggressive speed metal, with riffs that cut like a buzzsaw blade and dark lyrical themes that often crossed into objectionable territory—and Hanneman was the primary force behind it.
“By all accounts, he was the band,” says Slayer frontman and bassist Tom Araya.
For those who had spent a lifetime in a perpetual state of whiplash from headbanging to such Hanneman-penned Slayer anthems as “Angel of Death,” “South of Heaven,” “Chemical Warfare” and “Raining Blood,” the reason he meant so much to so many was simple: because you could always count on Jeff to be Jeff, in the same way you could always count on Slayer to be Slayer.
He didn’t say much, but he didn’t have to. He wrote the lion’s share of the band’s most beloved songs and lived to come out from behind a wall of Marshalls every time the band took the stage, raise his fist triumphantly to the rafters, and destroy. For nearly three decades, Jeff Hanneman was a fixture of that stage—a blonde symbol of young headbangers who fell in love with satanic-infused heavy metal aggression and never looked back well into their adulthood.
“I’m amazed at how many people he touched,” Araya says. “They hardly knew him, but he affected a lot of people. And he didn’t even realize it.”
But for all the love the heavy metal community had for Jeff Hanneman, there was a dark side to the guitarist that confused many of those who came into contact with him. Unlike, say, Dimebag Darrell, Jeff wasn’t everybody’s “bro.” He didn’t pose happily for pictures, glad-hand his way across the NAMM convention floor every January or help needy children. He had no love for the media.
He also had a morbid fascination with Nazi Germany and derived a perverse sense of joy from proudly—and controversially—displaying Nazi iconography on his guitars. And he drank. A lot.
“If he didn’t like you, he wouldn’t be hanging with you,” says Araya from his family farmstead in Buffalo, Texas. “He could pick at you and make you feel like crap. But if you tolerated it and stuck it out and showed that you could deal with the bullshit, then that’s how you became friends with him.”
Slayer’s origins date back to 1981 in the South Gate and Huntington Park areas of Los Angeles. King and Hanneman met at a warehouse complex after King had gone there to investigate a band that was holding auditions for a guitar player.
“As I was leaving, I saw Jeff just kinda standing around playing guitar, and he was playing stuff that I was into, like Def Leppard’s ‘Wasted’ and AC/DC and Priest. So I started talking to him and just said, ‘Hey, you want to start a band?’ I already knew Dave [Lombardo, drummer] and we had been playing together in his parents’ garage a bit, and so I brought Jeff in, then went to Tom [Araya, vocalist/bassist], who I was playing with in another band, and said, ‘Hey man, I have a different band if you’re interested.’ And that was it.”