Music

Slayer Guitarist Jeff Hanneman, RIP

|

Jeff Hanneman, Photo Courtesy of Slayer.net

You don't need to be a fan of heavy metal music to be familiar with the band Slayer. Thanks to their graphic lyrical depictions of Satan worship, serial killers, and the horrors of war, the California thrash act has long enjoyed a well-earned notoriety—not to mention sold-out concert tours and album sales numbering in the millions. Guitarist Jeff Hanneman, one of the band's founders and principal songwriters, died Thursday of liver failure. He was 49 years old.

To say Slayer has left a mark on American culture would be an understatement. Rap icons Public Enemy famously sampled one of Hanneman's best guitar riffs on their landmark 1988 album It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, while gangster rap pioneer Ice T collaborated with the band on a song about government brutality and the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Slayer has of course influenced countless metal and hardcore bands since their formation in 1981, but their songs have also been covered by artists as different as Hank Williams III and Tori Amos. If you watch carefully, you'll even see Hanneman's band mate Kerry King playing the guitar solo in the music video for the Beastie Boys' 1986 mega-hit "No Sleep Till Brooklyn." The very name Slayer has become a byword for extreme music.

As the author of the music for most of Slayer's signature songs, including "Raining Blood," "South of Heaven," "Dead Skin Mask," and "War Ensemble," Jeff Hanneman deserves much of the credit for the band's long and influential reach. He also shouldered a good deal of the blame for their controversial reputation. Most notably, the band has been accused of harboring Nazi sympathies due to Hanneman's lyrics for the song "Angel of Death," which is told from the perspective of Nazi doctor Josef Mengele. While it's certainly a provocative piece of music, the song is best understood as a form of horror fiction loosely inspired by reality, a first-person tale that tries to get inside the mind of an evil killer. To call that a form of Nazi sympathy misses the point of art entirely, as Hanneman often explained during interviews. As Billboard notes in its obituary,

Hanneman frequently explained that the song was in no way intended to glorify Mengele. "I know why people misrepresent it," he told one radio interviewer. "It's because they get a knee-jerk reaction to it. There's nothing I put in the lyrics that says necessarily he was a bad man because to me—well, isn't it obvious? I shouldn't have to tell you that."

Interestingly, the band never came under similar fire for its 2006 song "Jihad," which is also told from the perspective of an evil killer, only in this case the narrator is an Islamic terrorist. Indeed, not only did Slayer escape from being branded as friends of bin Laden, that song even garnered them a rare bit of praise from the decidedly non-metallic pages of The New York Times, whose reviewer declared, "with religious extremism and death tolls the subject of casual daily conversations, [this album] makes Slayer sound as if it has been holding the trump card all along."

(Other musicians, I should add, were less fortunate in terms of the critical response to their post-9/11 meditations. Lefty country singer Steve Earle, for instance, was attacked for his 2002 song "John Walker's Blues," which examined the plight of the young American captured fighting alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan.)

Politically speaking, Slayer defies simplistic categorization. On the one hand, Christianity comes in for a severe beating in songs like "Jesus Saves" and "Cult." But then there's the ferocious 1988 track "Silent Scream," which depicts abortion as an unspeakable monstrosity, as well as 1994's "Dittohead," which sounds suspiciously like a law-and-order conservative lamenting the decline of American civilization (sample lyric: "Anyone can be set free / on a technicality / explain the law again to me").

Here's what I think it is safe to say about the band's politics: If heavy metal has a progressive left-wing, then Slayer is not on it. Slayer is about mining the depths of human depravity, not saving the planet or raging against the machine.

It's not music made for everybody, that's for sure. But for those of us who do appreciate it, we owe Jeff Hanneman our thanks.

RIP.

NEXT: Kentucky Derby Security Clamps Down After Boston Bombing

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. I didn’t know they did such a powerful prolife song…RIP Mr.Hanneman.

  2. “government brutality and the 1992 Los Angeles riots”

    What government brutality?

    1. It says “and” and not “in”.

      1. A distinction without a difference.

        1. Yep, the cops who beat the shit out of Rodney King had no connection to the government.

        2. Not at all.

          There was very little government brutality on display “in” the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

          But since those riots occurred in the United States, there’s the run of the mill everyday government brutality to consider.

          That means that if you write a song about government brutality “in” the Los Angeles riots, you’re making stuff up.

          But if you write a song about government brutality “and” the Los Angeles riots, you aren’t.

    2. I know. The cops just sat in their cars and did nothing. They should have shot those rioters dead.

      1. Another person who sees phantom prepositions.

        English, motherfucker. Do you speak it?

  3. The minute hand on the Hippie Jam Festival Doomsday Clock just ticked closer to midnight.

  4. Burn In Hell, Jeff Hanneman.

    RIP Adam Yauch. Died one year ago today.

    1. “Burn in Hell”??? Go FUCK yourself

      1. I mean no ill will toward Jeff Hanneman. But given the nature of his music/lyrics, it seemed like he would want to burn in hell.

  5. Reason has a long history of idolizing statist liberals when they occasionally support the right policy for mostly the wrong reasons, while at the same time treating any conservative with contempt for daring to question if liberty can survive in a state of mass immigration, or if human life means anything.

    1. You mad, bro?

      1. You a little cliched, bro?

        1. You just post non sequitur complaints on Reason‘s (supposed) editorial slant on articles memorializing dead thrash metal guitarists?

    2. You know something?

      For someone who asserts that Mexicans threaten liberty because of their “culture”, you sure threaten liberty a lot based on your own culture. Or what passes for one, anyway.

      Based on your theory that I should be able to define access to a given geographical area based on a given individual’s cultural threat to liberty, I should be able to expel your worthless carcass from these United States.

      1. What is the reason you assert for the same fact? I mean, it IS a fact.

  6. Yawn. Derivative crap from transgressive-wannabes. Perfect recipe for making fucktons of money.

  7. God now has front-row tickets to Slayer.

    RIP.

    Gonna go play “War Ensemble” on guitar.

  8. No disrespect for the dead, though, but couldn’t Reason have found a more flattering photo? It makes him look like the older brother of the scary ghost chick from *Ringu.*

    1. Felix Silla, I think, is more accurate.

  9. Hanneman was the unsung hero of Slayer. King, Araya, and Lombardo all got tons of praise for various reasons even though it was Hanneman who wrote most of the songs. He was also the most down-to-earth of the band IMO after getting the chance to meet them years ago after seeing them for the umpteenth time. Kerry King seemed like a dick, Araya disappeared after shaking hands and signing autographs and Lombardo barely spoke. Jeff spent two hours shooting the shit and getting drunk with his fans.

  10. I saw Slayer in 85.

    I saw ’em again a bunch of times after that.

    But I saw them in 85.

    I’m just sayin’.

    1. I wish. But then again I was only 6 at the time.

      1. I was in high school. I think it was with Exodus and Venom. Hell Awaits era.

        Slayer had a huge influence on punk rock at the time. They try to make it sound like it was some new innovation within hardcore, but when all those punk rock bands went metal, they weren’t “crossover” thrash–they were just selling out.

        Anyway, you’d go to the shows. And once bands like ST and DRI had gone metal, if you’re going for that, why not check out the longhairs, too? And once legit hardcore bands started sounding like Slayer (like say Cro-Mags and COC), that made Slayer accessible to hardcore people…

        They were playing the same venues anyway, which is what it was all about. You’re going to see whoever’s playing in your little corner of the world. When those bands were punk, the crowd was perceived that way. When those bands were hardcore, that’s what the crowd was? When those bands were thrash, the people at the shows seemed like metal heads. …but it was all the same people!

        Anyway, when Slayer no longer played small venues (like Fenders), they started seeming like sell outs. I hated metal bands for seemingly making all my favorite punk and hardcore bands cross over sell out, but when I went to see ’em, they were as legit as anybody.

        And if they made a lot of my fave bands play different music than they would have otherwise, then I guess that’s just a testament to their influence. I understand a lot of that was because of Jeff.

        Hell just got an awesome guitarist.

  11. Any band that South Park features as an anti-hippie weapon is cool with me, but what has this got to do with libertarianism, exactly?

    1. Libertarianism isn’t something we’re going to achieve by seizing the reigns of power and stuffing it down everybody’s throats–whether they want it or not.

      It’s going to be a bottom up thing. Libertarianism happens when enough people become convinced in their hearts that a more libertarian society is what they want. To that end, rebellion, defiance of authority, the underground having a big influence on the dominant culture–Slayer is representative of all that.

      Libertarianism is a culture war fought by people who prefer personal liberty over the other options–often for purely qualitative, aesthetic reasons. That’s kind of what Slayer was all about, too–all those years ago, anyway.

      1. Is we were talking Rush or Oingo Boingo, I might agree with you, but Slayer seems a bit of a stretch unless “libertarian” just means “pisses your parents off.”

        1. In the mid to late ’80s, Slayer was about as counterculture as average people could get. In the early ’80s, cops and jocks would pull over by the side of the road just to fuck with you because of your haircut. Slayer kind of took over where that left off.

          Aren’t non-conformists important to libertarianism? Slayer took the lead in starting with non-conformity and pushing it into the mainstream. I heard NPR discuss Jeff’s death today.

          NPR discussing Slayer! Their influence was mainstream–even if they weren’t.

          “unless “libertarian” just means “pisses your parents off.””

          I don’t know if money’s the root of all evil, but I suspect the resentment of parental authority is the beginning of all libertarianism.

          “How do you know what MY best interest is?”

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LoF_a0-7xVQ

          Libertarianism doesn’t have to be about 18th century political theory and what we think of the Federal Reserve. If you ask me, that ST video is about as libertarian as it gets.

          1. In the mid to late ’80s, Slayer was about as counterculture as average people could get.

            Counterculture is orthogonal to libertarianism.

            Aren’t non-conformists important to libertarianism?

            No. Not using force to make others conform is important (or rather, is) libertarianism.

            I don’t know if money’s the root of all evil, but I suspect the resentment of parental authority is the beginning of all libertarianism.

            I disagree. Resentment of illegitimate authority, yes. Of legitimate authority, no. That way lies the leftist tendency to vandalize and call it free speech, because they don’t respect the authority of an owner over his property.

            Libertarianism doesn’t have to be about 18th century political theory and what we think of the Federal Reserve.

            Didn’t say it has to be.

            If you ask me, that ST video is about as libertarian as it gets.

            Meh. I’ll stick with: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i2-yRBGfuGU

            1. But if you prefer metal, I’d go with Judas Priests’ “Electric Eye” or “Another Thing Coming.”

              1. If you couldn’t go with “Breaking the Law”, you should have gone with “Screaming for Vengeance”.

                http://www.lyricsfreak.com/j/j…..76131.html

            2. “Counterculture is orthogonal to libertarianism.”

              Absurd. Libertarianism is about freedom for the ultimate minority (the individual) against the majority.

              “No. Not using force to make others conform is important (or rather, is) libertarianism.”

              I stick up for all kinds of non-conformists. I’ve defended terrorists from being tortured. I’ve defended gay people from being discriminated against. I’ve defended a terrorist’s right to a lawyer and a trial. I’ve defended pornographers’ rights on free speech grounds. I’ve defended people who drink raw milk.

              Standing up for nonconformists is integral to libertarianism. Encouraging individuals to stand up for themselves in the face of majority power is the mission of libertarianism.

              “Resentment of illegitimate authority, yes. Of legitimate authority, no.”

              The best definition of libertarianism I can come up with is that a libertarian is someone who thinks people should be free to make their own choices–rather than have other people make choices on his behalf. That starts with resenting your parents making choices for you. How could it start otherwise?

              1. Libertarianism is about freedom for the ultimate minority (the individual) against the majority.

                It’s about freedom from initiation of force. You’re flirting with the ACLU definition, wherein (for example) the owner of an apartment building can’t prohibit tenants from putting things on the walls in the common areas, for instance.

                I stick up for all kinds of non-conformists.

                Good for you. But if you’re sticking up for them in the face of, say, nasty words or social ostracism, that has nothing to do with libertarianism, commendable as your action may be. It’s only when force enters the picture (usually in the form of the law) that it becomes relevant to libertarianism.

                The best definition of libertarianism I can come up with is that a libertarian is someone who thinks people should be free to make their own choices–rather than have other people make choices on his behalf. That starts with resenting your parents making choices for you. How could it start otherwise?

                As the old cliche goes, “As long as you live in my house, you’ll live by my rules.” Anger at ones parents’ rightful exercise of their property rights is hardly a basis for libertarianism.

                1. “Good for you. But if you’re sticking up for them in the face of, say, nasty words or social ostracism, that has nothing to do with libertarianism, commendable as your action may be. It’s only when force enters the picture (usually in the form of the law) that it becomes relevant to libertarianism.”

                  You’re pet theories about force aside, you do realize that the dominant culture in the United States is almost entirely hostile to freedom, aren’t you?

                  I mean, I appreciate that these arguments about the initiation of force are persuasive and interesting to people like you, but if we’re going to live in a more libertarian world in the future? Then we’re going to have to make freedom more appealing to people who aren’t like you.

                  You talk to 90% of the American people about the initiation of force, and their eyes glaze over.

                  In the mid ’80s, when bands like Slayer, ST, et. al. screamed about individualism, etc. people pumped their fists and jumped around a lot–you see the difference between the two reactions, right?

                2. “As long as you live in my house, you’ll live by my rules.” Anger at ones parents’ rightful exercise of their property rights is hardly a basis for libertarianism.”

                  I can’t think of anything more irrational than projecting rationality on an irrational world.

                  Seriously, if we restrict ourselves to just trying to reason with people, we’re just going to end up reaching the reasonable people.

                  Reasonable people out there don’t make up the majority–they don’t even make up a critical mass of the minority! …and their numbers get smaller in the wake of a media crisis.

                  Yeah, gotta reach the unreasonable. I want people to root for freedom instinctively–for the same reason they root for their favorite baseball team. …for the same reason they like their favorite band. And some of those reasons are exactly irrational…

                  There are lots of libertarian things I like for qualitative, aesthetic reasons. Even if the Second Amendment did create more crime and more violence and killed more children by maniacs in elementary schools, I’d still aesthetically, qualitatively prefer the world where we have the freedom to own guns anyway.

                  I don’t think my fellow libertarians are very good at making those kinds of qualitative appeals, though. The left is a whole lot better at that than we are, and that’s why they keep kicking our asses. Hell, even the right is better at that than we are. That’s why we’re such a small minority–outside the dominant culture.

                  1. *EDIT*

                    And some of those reasons [aren’t] exactly irrational…

    2. Who cares? It’s fucking Slayer!
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y2e47wBWTV8

  12. Fuckin love Slayer. Playing Seasons in the abyss on replay, RIP Jeff Hanneman a damn good guitarist.

    1. I was brought up in a really fundamentalist family and subculture. The fundamentalist Baptists in our religion were effectively denounced as sell outs to Catholicism. …they just weren’t…fundamentalist enough.

      The religion came out of the more apocalyptic moments in the Second Great Awakening, and, when I was kid, anyway, they were pretty obsessed with Revelation and the end of the world. (I was brought up that way, but when I got older, I converted to narcissism.)

      Anyway, given my being steeped in all that, Postmorten into Raining Blood hit me like a ton of bricks. The only thing that’s really hit me like that since was Wagner. Postmortem into Raining Blood was probably the best thing a metal band has done ever–but being a California band, they were a lot more accessible to me than anything out of Norway or Sweden.

      Coming from a religious fanatical sort of background, I guess, when they wrote about Revelation, etc., it didn’t seem over the top to me (like it did to my hardcore friends). It was something I could relate to.

  13. If you drink hard, make sure to drink plain good coffee and take high dose of D3.

    1. They’re blaming it on a spider.

  14. Shouldn’t we ban spiders?

  15. I’m still bummed about this. Fuck spider bites, yo.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.