January 31, 1964 – May 2, 2013
I found out on the evening of Thursday, May 2nd, that Jeff Hanneman, guitarist and founding member of Slayer, had died of liver failure that morning at the age of 49. He had been battling necrotizing fasciitis since 2011, a type of infection (possibly contracted by a spider bite), that had basically eaten away at the deep tissues of his arm. He later went on to experience problems with his liver.
Hanneman was born in 1964 into a family of war veterans in California. He grew up listening to punk and later discovered metal. All of these elements of his youth would come into play when he approached his friend, Kerry King, with the idea to form their own band. Slayer came into being with drummer Dave Lombardo and singer/bassist Tom Araya, using many of the influences from Hanneman’s life and upbringing as themes in their songwriting and imagery. Hanneman wrote or co-wrote most of the music from Slayer’s more than 30-year legacy, even pitching in to work on many of the lyrics.
At first I thought it had to be a bad joke, like the April Fools’ articles about Tom Araya quitting the band in the wake of Kerry King firing Dave Lombardo. The news soon blew up all over the internet, though, and I was reeling in shock. The shock soon gave way to that deep, black sadness that fills the pit of your stomach with nausea and disgust and eats away at the place in your chest where your heart should be, now just a vacant hole, a bottomless void.
Hanneman’s ripping guitar solos—frenzied, yet still melodic—soared above the music in every song. He battled and still complimented the other instruments simultaneously, while holding down the furious, frenetic rhythm under the vocals. His style was innovative, and it was unique. He was a legend amongst metal guitarists and a god amongst men when a guitar was in his hands. He has written some of the dark anthems to my youth, and his band showed me—at a time while I was listening to Mötley Crüe and Poison—that musicians don’t have to be pretty for their music to be absolutely, soul-inspiringly beautiful, even at its heaviest and most brutal.
I wish I had more time to get these emotions into writing, but this tragedy in itself serves as a painful reminder that time is always of the essence. I hoped Jeff would somehow make a full recovery and kick King’s ass for the bad decisions he’s made regarding the band, then get the ball rolling again. It’s a sad time for music and a painful, unexpected tragedy for metal. I can’t say enough about what Slayer has meant to me growing up, both as an outcast and as a musician. All I can say is that Jeff Hanneman will always be missed, and never forgotten.