Jeff Hanneman 1964-2013
Imagine yourself, 16 years old, dirty, riding around in your friend’s rusty pick-up listening to warbled Sabbath tapes, smoking dumpster weed, and generally not giving a fuck– until he pulls out a half-mangled Reign in Blood cassette. Your life was never the same after hearing those first ten seconds of adrenaline pumping, tallboy-induced thrash magic that is “Angel of Death.” Then, that middle part with the chugs and grit comes on and Tom is screaming, “WHEN YOUR BLOOD STARTS TO BOIL,” and you power-frown for the first time ever. You buy a guitar and hang posters of Dimebag, Kerry and Jeff, Hammett, Ian, Mustaine, etc., and these are those you see as larger than life – Gods amongst men – ageless guitar exemplars. Yep, that’s the story of most Slayer fans, or anyone who grew up on metal.
However, a time comes when we realize that those we idolized are less than the deistic archetypes we so imagined. We see the fragility of life when it is absent and that our heroes are, sadly enough, merely flesh and bone. These figures, however, truly changed our perceptions of music and they are celebrated through their art forever. As long as there are old, chewed up Slayer cassettes, CDs and MP3’s – there is Jeff Hanneman. Today we celebrate, raise our shots of Jägermeister and discuss the finest riffs of one of the baddest motherfuckers to ever walk the face of this planet.
Raining Blood – Reign in Blood (1986)
The opening riff to “Raining Blood” is not only Jeff Hanneman’s most recognizable lick; it’s also one of the most celebrated, imitated and institutionalized in all of rock and roll history. The song builds up gently but ominously, with sounds of rain and thunder and eerie effects along with Dave Lombardo’s huge triple tom hits. But when The Riff comes in, you know you can’t leave your seat until the song is over. The demonic triads perpetuate the “threes” motif, as does the galloping strumming that follows. This is deliberate, not just from a consistency in songwriting standpoint, but also from an “evilness” perspective. Just as Christianity has the “holy trinity,” Satanism has its own (Devil, Antichrist, and False Prophet). Slayer stumbled upon something huge: sets of threes, played with the intensity, tempo, and technical skill as displayed in “Raining Blood” make the blood boil and skin crawl. After that, music was not the same.
Read Between the Lies – South of Heaven (1988)
When I was 16, I went to Baltimore to visit my grandma and the only CD I brought with me was South of Heaven. I had only heard Reign in Blood at that point, so the CD was new to me. I was blown away by the first 20 minutes of that album– but when “Read Between the Lies” came on, it was game over – Slayer was my favorite band. The main verse riff is a Hanneman classic; dissonant, harmonically challenging, and brutal as all shit. It’s literally begging you to chug beer and headbang. Also, Jeff got down on more mid-tempo tracks, not just pure hormonal caveman thrash like Kerry (not that there’s anything wrong with that). This track is just another example of Jeff’s contributions to the metal juggernaut.
South of Heaven – South of Heaven (1988)
The opening riff of “South of Heaven” is every bit as murderous as anything else Jeff Hanneman created, and while fans may not have embraced the slower, more plodding Slayer at first, its infectiousness can’t be denied. What makes it special is the way it’s modulated and modified throughout the song. If you listen carefully, you can tell that those notes pervade the entire song in various forms. Lower here, less pronounced there– but they permeate and make the tune consistent with itself and also with Slayer’s best works.
Blood Red – Seasons in the Abyss (1990)
First off, if you don’t like Seasons in the Abyss, you can go fuck yourself. Now, with that out of the way, “Blood Red” is one of those songs that needs some more love from the fans. The opening sounds so evil and then that super ’80s pickslide comes in and you yell, “FUCK YES!” and high-five the nearest person. The main riff is like this: if Judas Priest weren’t as silly as hell and you could still drunk drive an El Camino to 7/11 with no shame or irony. Hanneman, the more melodic of the two Slayer axemen, comes up with the most fist-pumping-est licks to compliment the chuggery. Basically, it’s just Jeff melting your face off again for the 10,000th time.
God Send Death – God Hates Us All (2001)
People were pretty bummed when Diabolus in Musica (1998) came out, but to remind all the haters that Slayer are fucking beasts, they released God Hates Us All on September 11th, 2001, and it accidentally became the most metal moment in history. And to top it off, Hanneman wrote one of the most brutal tracks in Slayer’s catalog to date with “God Send Death.” It’s like a combination of some of the more open, atmospheric stuff going on in Divine Intervention, but with a sheer machine gun assault of Reign in Blood-era speed in the chorus. Speaking of which, that chorus is so mean, man, with Tom screaming, “GOD SEND DEATH AND MISERY,” followed by more glorious atonal chug. It makes you want to punch through a wall and tear a car in half with your bare hands. Yup, good job, Jeff, you’ve turned me into a sociopath. In other words, all hail Slayer.
Seasons in the Abyss – Seasons in the Abyss (1990)
I was a little younger than the average long-haired, angry teenage boy that was listening to Slayer in the nineties. I was about ten years old when I heard “Seasons in the Abyss” for the first time. I remember seeing the video on MTV (when MTV actually played videos). It was dark, gritty and scary looking and I was immediately drawn to it. The slow-mo shots of them headbanging amid the desert backdrop drew me in, but the song is what kept me watching. The Phrygian dominant scales throughout made it slow, dark, and menacing, while at the same time hauntingly beautiful, and were juxtaposed expertly with the heavy, fast parts and the unwieldy yet precise solos. All of these elements combined to create, what I still consider to this day, to be one of the best written and performed pieces of music I have ever heard in my life. It will forever make me feel energized, passionate, and exalted upon hearing it and I have Jeff Hanneman to thank for that.