Retrospective

Slayer’s Jeff Hanneman Died One Year Ago Today

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Jeff Hanneman One Year Later

Jeff Hanneman changed metal forever. He concocted what were then the sharpest, fastest, most evil-sounding riffs of all time, and most of the metal world has been aping him ever since. And most of the metal world never gets anywhere close.

He collected Nazi memorabilia and wrote controversial lyrics. Never one to use fifty words when five would do, he ceded the spotlight to the other members of the band — even though he was the one writing all their best material. He was forced to retire from playing guitar after a venomous spider bite inflicted with him a disease, the name of which sounded like it could be the title of a Slayer song (“Necrotizing Fasciitis”). He died on May 2, 2013 at age forty-nine, from alcohol-related cirrhosis of the liver.

Did he go back to his hotel after every gig, throw on a salmon-colored polo shirt and flip flops, and secretly listen to show tunes over a tofu dinner? It doesn’t seem likely. OF COURSE the guy who wrote”Mandatory Suicide” and “Dead Skin Mask” was a introvert. OF COURSE the guy who wrote “Angel of Death” and “Necrophobic” was stricken with necrotizing fasciitis. OF COURSE the guy who wrote “Disciple” and “Psychopathy Red” died at age forty-nine from alcohol-related cirrhosis of the liver. It seems like Jeff Hanneman and The Legend of Jeff Hanneman were not all that far apart.

Which means that Hanneman may have been that rarest of things, not just in the metal world, but in the world at large — he was authentic. And that authenticity helps explain his genius. He wrote what he wanted to hear, and consequently, he was a leader, not a follower, and he leaves behind a flawless record, free of embarrassing forays into passing trends and ill-advised attempts to appear hip. He wasn’t “the next” anyone — he was the first and the only Jeff Hanneman.

And his shadow will loom large over metal forever.

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