Jeff Hanneman, guitarist and founding member of the thrash metal band Slayer, passed away Thursday morning, May 2, 2013, at age 49 from apparent liver failure. Hanneman had been fighting necrotizing fasciitis, a flesh eating illness believed to be the result of a spider bite dating back to 2011. Due to his fight with this ailment he’d taken time off from touring with the band, his last live performance being a cameo appearance at the Big Four Festival in Indio, California in April of 2011. There were talks early on in Jeff’s illness that, due to its severity, he might even have had to have an arm amputated. While thankfully that was not the case, Hanneman did require a series of skin grafts and was undergoing rehabilitation at the time of his death.
Without question, Slayer is permanently etched in the annals of thrash metal history as one of the genres founders and creators, a band that pushed the envelope, a band that wasn’t afraid of to play it louder and faster and write the lyrics that would make even those not so faint of heart have their hair standing on end. Hanneman, having grown up in a family with a substantial military background wrote songs that reflected his life-long interest in military strategy and warfare in general. One of Slayer’s most noted releases “Angel of Death” was, in fact, written about the wicked doings of Nazi doctor/butcher Josef Mengele and appeared on the band’s eponymous release Reign in Blood. While widely criticized for the song’s release, the impetus for the track actually resulted from how appalled Hanneman was just after reading a book about the experiments that Mengele conducted on the prisoners at Auschwitz.
It didn’t take the collaboration of Slayer, Metallica, Megadeth, and Anthrax in 2010 at the Big Four Festival for the world to realize that Slayer was already one of the quintessential bands that defined thrash metal. Bands cut their teeth playing Slayer covers in basements all over the world trying to nail down the raging dual guitar runs that Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King made famous starting thirty years ago.
Though Jeff’s guitar is now unplugged, his music, lyrics, the influence that he’s had on countless other artists and fans, and his overall contribution to metal will ring out through his sustain pedal forever. Godspeed Jeff Hanneman!
Curt “Dudley” Miller