By Andy O’Connor
Editor’s note: This article was originally published November 5, 2013
May 2, 2013, was the worst day to be a metalhead. Jeff Hanneman, guitarist and songwriter for thrash metal institution Slayer, died from liver failure. He had been taking a break from the band after a spider bite that nearly killed him in 2011, but his death still came as a shock. Fans and musicians influenced and moved by Hanneman didn’t hesitate in showing their reverence for him. Some even packed the Holloywood Palladium for his memorial service. Tom Araya, Slayer’s vocalist and bassist, was humbled by the outpouring following Hanneman’s death.
"It’s pretty awesome that there’s so many people who showed their respects," he said. "It’s surprised me that there’s so many people chiming about Jeff … I never realized that so many people had realized Jeff’s position and participation in the band."
Araya shouldn’t be surprised at his fans’ reaction. Slayer is known for speed, and Hanneman brought a lot of the punk influence that combined with the rest of the band’s interest in traditional metal bands like Judas Priest and the then-burgeoning NWOBHM scene from the early ’80s to define thrash metal.
"Reign in Blood," their best-known album, doesn’t even make it to the 30-minute mark. Combined with Slayer’s anti-religion stance and their attraction to ghoulish topics such as Josef Mengele and necrophilia, they scared parents as much as any punk band could. Hanneman also had a punk side project called Pap Smear, featuring guitarist Rocky George of Suicidal Tendencies and ex-Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo. Some of Pap Smear’s songs were recorded on Slayer’s punk covers album, "Undisputed Attitude," which also featured covers of Minor Threat, D.R.I., and other punk bands that influenced Slayer.
Araya’s voice picks up when he talks about punk’s influence on Slayer. Hanneman would bring over cassettes of stuff he’d been jamming, and it had a lasting effect on Araya and the rest of the band.
"When I first joined the band, Kerry (King, guitarist) gave me a list of cover tunes they were working on and one of them was Iron Maiden," Araya said. "I had never heard of Iron Maiden, and when I heard Iron Maiden, I was like ‘Oh my god … where have I been?’" Araya had a similar reaction when Hanneman introduced punk to him.
This will be Slayer’s second apperance at Fun Fun Fun Fest, after their well-recieved 2011 performance, and they have a little history with another one of this year’s big names. Ice-T is no stranger to metal, with his controversial project Body Count. In 1993, he and Slayer collaborated on the "Judgment Night" soundtrack, an album that featured a number of rock-hip-hop pairings including Helmet and House of Pain, Biohazard and Onyx, and Sonic Youth and Cypress Hill. Slayer’s contribution, "Disorder," was a medley of three songs from UK punks the Exploited: "War," "U.K. ‘82" (rewritten as "L.A. ‘92") and "Disorder."
"Out of any of the rappers at that time, he was the one we wanted to work with because he did metal," Araya said.
The collaboration with Ice-T isn’t Slayer’s only connection to hip-hop. "Blood" and "South of Heaven," two of metal’s defining albums, came out of Def Jam. Rick Rubin got them on the label, and when he broke away from Def Jam and formed Def American, Slayer followed him. Being on a rap label would be controversial in 2013, much less 1986, but Slayer aren’t the types to play it safe.
Araya isn’t sure what will happen with Slayer after this tour. Work began on a new record before Hanneman’s death, but whether that material will surface won’t be determined after their current tour.
"Me and Kerry have a lot of talking to do," he said. "There was a lot of stuff that was put in motion all with the idea that Jeff would come back and be a part of this whole thing again."
Slayer at FFF
Slayer is listed as a Black Stage artist, but they’ll play the larger Orange Stage to close out Fun Fun Fun Fest starting at 8:30 p.m. Sunday. Why? Because they’re Slayer.