Slayer Rose Above the Death of Jeff Hanneman Last Night at Verizon Theatre
Slayer performing in California in fall of 2013
Slayer With Exodus Verizon Theatre, Grand Prairie Wednesdany, November 19, 2014
When I was 12, I wanted to listen to Slayer. I wanted to listen to Slayer so badly. My cousin got to see them whenever they played Los Angeles and he had all of their albums. I was listening to a lot of heavier stuff at the time: Metallica, Black Sabbath and others. My cousin kept telling me I was too young for Slayer. He said it wasn't for me. I didn't get it. So after skipping lunch for a few days, I hopped on my bike to the Warehouse Music near my house with enough money for a Slayer CD. My cousin, much to my disdain, told my parents to make sure that I don't listen to Slayer, so the whole excursion was a bit of a secret mission for me.
I got to the store and there it was: Reign in Blood. I bought it right away and jetted back home as fast as I could. I went straight to my room and popped the disc into my Walkman. The minute that first note on "Angel of Death" hit, my life changed forever. Slayer would become a part of my adolescent development. Slayer's ferocious personality as well as their infatuation with the taboo and macabre is why people, including myself, gravitated to the band.
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Recently deceased guitarist Jeff Hanneman is the reason I first picked up a guitar. Along with his trademark Raiders jersey (I grew up a Raiders fan), Hanneman's riffs and lyrical contributions made him my hero. The guy made the depraved his artistic pursuit. It was something I've taken a cue from in my own creative endeavors. When Hanneman died last year, it was hard on me. I know people often claim the loss of a famed musician as personally painful, but Hanneman was my hero and his death was something I had trouble accepting. What would Slayer be like without him? The old adage about Metallica has been that the band died with Cliff Burton. Imagine that tenfold and you can appraise Hanneman's importance to Slayer.
When I found out about the Slayer tour that came through Dallas at the Verizon Theatre on Wednesday night, I wasn't sure how to feel. When Hanneman died, there was a lot of debate about whether the band should continue or not. Exodus (who also opened the show) guitarist Gary Holt had been playing with the band for years, ever since Hanneman contracted necrotizing fascilitis from a spider bite in 2011. So it wasn't like the band had only recently been carrying on without Hanneman. To his credit, Holt has performed nobly in his duty filling in for a legend.
The show was a reminder about what Slayer is. It is more than Hanneman and it is more than a few riffs. Slayer fans have always been notorious for their intensity and, well, being crazy. That's not hyperbole. Slayer fans are actually crazy.
There's the famous image of the guy who carved Slayer into his wrist. There's an interview with a girl on the Slayer War at the Warfield DVD who was asked if she would kill herself if she knew Slayer's members would have sex with her corpse after. (She said yes.) That's why my cousin tried to keep me away from Slayer. The violent pits, the animalistic reactions, and surly demeanor of Slayer fans have long made them a bit of a taboo in the metal world. Other metal fans are scared of Slayer fans. They should be. Slayer's lyrics condition their fans to being desensitized. Pain, reason and morality are concepts beyond them. All of that was in full effect at the show.
The band opened the set with the recent track "World Painted Blood." After they ran through that, they played the cut "Postmortem" off the Reign in Blood album. They jumped into "Die By the Sword" from their first album, Show No Mercy. Then, surprisingly, the band played the classic "Chemical Warfare" from their debut EP, Haunting the Chapel. Through the first part of the set, I couldn't help but notice three things. First, I studied Holt's performance. It was my first time seeing him after Hanneman died. I could tell he had more determination in his play. He was no longer the fill-in. He was the guy replacing Hanneman and he had to rise for the occasion.
Second, Kerry King's guitar work had improved. Long decried by many of the Slayer die-hards as merely an untalented mascot, King's performance showed me that he was conscious of the commentary. The performance made me think King just knew what needed to be done in lieu of his fallen brother. The sight of it made me respect King more than I had in years.
Third, Araya looked out of sorts. As much as Hanneman's health had received attention in recent years, Araya's health has been failing for a long time as well (notably his back). This night it showed. He didn't hold notes as much as he used to. His trademark banter wasn't there anymore either (save for a brief intro to "Dead Skin Mask").
The set was mostly classics. I have to give it to Slayer: They are conscious of their audience's demands. They played "War Ensemble," "Mandatory Suicide," "Necrophiliac" and "Hell Awaits" in one block. It was the stuff dreams are made of. The next block featured the classics "At Dawn They Sleep" and the legendary combo from Reign in Blood of "Altar Of Sacrifice" into "Jesus Saves." The band closed the set with "Dead Skin Mask" and then "South of Heaven" into "Angel of Death." For "Angel of Death", the band dropped the last banner and there it was: A Heineken logo that said "Hanneman" with the dates of birth and death. It got me. There it was; the reality that he was really gone.
The whole thing was a reminder of what Slayer is. It is violent, it is angry and above all else, it is forever. The band taught me last night that they won't let anyone forget about Jeff Hanneman. He will be with them going forward. The final thing I learned last night at the show is that Slayer is not Jeff Hanneman. Slayer is not Tom Araya. Slayer is not Kerry King. It is a sum of its parts: The music, the members and, most of all, the fanatical fans that will always follow the band into the depths of hell.
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