Slayer guitarist Jeff Hanneman died of liver failure on 2 May, the band announced via their Facebook page last week. He was 49.
Born in California in January 1964, Jeff Hanneman formed Slayer in 1981, when he met fellow guitarist Kerry King. King recruited drummer Dave Lombardo, who he had also recently met, and bassist and vocalist Tom Araya, with whom he had previously played in another band. Despite a number of years without Lombardo throughout their career (the recent due to a pay dispute earlier this year), the line-up otherwise remained constant throughout their career until Hanneman’s illness forced him to bow out of live performances.
The band signed to Metal Blade and released their debut album, ‘Show No Mercy’, in 1983, gaining popularity within the metal scene very quickly. Though it was with their third album, ‘Reign In Blood’, released through Def Jam and produced by Rick Rubin, that they really cemented their position, becoming known as one of the ‘Big Four’ thrash metal bands, along with Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax.
Having grown up in a military household, his father serving in the Second World War and his two brothers in Vietnam, Hanneman had a keen interest in war, which often came out in his lyrics for Slayer. This interest sometimes proved controversial, particularly on ‘Reign In Blood’ opening track ‘Angel Of Death’, with lyrics based on accounts of surgical experiments conducted by Nazi physician Josef Mengele on prisoners of the Auschwitz concentration camp. This and Hanneman’s collection of Nazi medals and other memorabilia often led to accusations of right wing leanings, though Hanneman and the band always denied this.
Controversy aside, Slayer became and have remained one of the most successful US metal bands of the last 30 years. However, since 2011 Hanneman’s involvement with the band had been reduced, after he contracted necrotising fasciitis. The flesh eating disease was thought to have been the result of a spider bite and forced Hanneman to pull out of the band’s early 2011 ‘Big Four Live’ tour dates.
He did join the band to perform two songs later that year, but never toured with them again. More recently the band had indicated that Hanneman’s health was improving, but his condition subsequently took a turn for the worse. He died of liver failure at the Hemet Valley Medical Center in California.
Hannemann is survived by his wife Kathy, his sister Kathy and his brothers Michael and Larry.