In the beginning there was Thrash Metal.
Thrash metal has been a big part of my life since I was able to earn enough of my own money to buy music. Attack of the Killer B’s from Anthrax and Metallica’s Ride the Lightning were my first tapes I actually owned. And I basically had to listen to them in secret (I grew up Southern Baptist and we weren’t even allowed to watch the Ghostbusters cartoon because… Satan. I knew that if I ever brought home a Slayer album, with a giant satanic pentagram on the cover, I would be toast. So, with NO radio play on the “rock stations” in San Diego, I had to make friends with the “bad” kids and listen to Slayer over at their houses. I will never forget the moment I heard the opening to South of Heaven (1988). ”Waa Naa Naa NAAA NAAA NAA NAAA WAA NAA NAA NAAAAA”…. (you know what I’m talking about!) I was hooked. Slayer was it, Metallica sucked, and I was officially a thrash kid. I never had the jean vest with band patches and my hair was short (I had to keep up appearances) but on the inside I was a Thrasher. (Inside beats the heart of a Thrash Metal Head!)
Mourning the loss.
One of the saddest days when it comes to metal for me was the day Jeff Hanneman passed . I remember reading the news in Istanbul about Hanneman getting bitten by a spider and suffering from Necrotizing fasciitis. (you can see the scaring in the picture below) Later it was revealed that his death was alcohol related. Either way, I was crushed and I wondered if Slayer was going to continue or if they would ever play a concert again. Before each hour of class I blasted Slayer during the ten minute break over the classroom speakers to the horror of my bright eyed university students whose favorite music was the BiebTaylor ManajCyrus Corporate Whore Handjob Band. I was crushed, and my students were gonna feel my pain.
Imagine my surprise when I heard of Slayer’s latest album, produced by a different label, Nuclear Blast Records. Repentless, which dropped September 11th, 2015 is an evil nod and a wink to Slayer’s ninth album God Hates us All, which was released on the same day as the September 11th, 2001 Terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. I wondered how the album would sound without Hanneman’s punk influence against Kerry King’s brooding technicality along with Paul Bostaph, who also returned to replace Dave Lombardo on the drums. Tom Araya is legendary as usual as the vocals and Bass. However, I was apprehensive even before I listened to the first opening song if this would be another epic Slayer release, or would the absence of Hanneman effect the sound drastically, even catastrophically?
Lets just make something clear. I really liked Repentless, I just didn’t want to like it. It is a great and powerful album. It starts out with a pounding two minute intro to set up the title song (embedded below). Repentless sounds like Slayer. It’s fast, it’s brutal, it has plenty of “fuck yous” to society and religion and nothing seems to be able to slow down Slayer. Even though these guys are all in their fifties, they still play with an intensity that I wish carried over to my other adolescent-hood thrash heroes who get a little old and a lot up their own asses (I’m talking about you Lars Ulrich!) Repentless also delivers on the signature Slayer rolling bass drum and high powered fills. The album is top notch, as I was listening to it though, I couldn’t put my finger on it. Something was missing.
After listening to Repentless, it was pretty much what I expected from a Slayer album. However the overall loss of Hanneman and his contribution the the band really made a difference to me. I really liked Repentless and they tried to preserve their sound, but without that wonton punk guitar giving a thrash band the insane speed and attitude. Repentless is a very solid and chunky metal album. To me it was like working on a huge jigsaw puzzle and the last satisfying piece has been lost. They brought on Exodus’ Gary Holt to fill in for Hanneman, but what you get is the feeling that Kerry King dominated the guitar discussions and just told him what to play. Which I hope isn’t true because Gary Holt is an epic guitarist and a legend in his own right. The dueling solos seem to mirror each other. The end result is that you get a Slayer with two Kerry Kings… and no Jeff Hanneman. Which isn’t terrible but it also isn’t Slayer. The album is a very strong effort and it hits on most cylinders, but it lacks that viscous fish hook that draws you into their songs like Raining Blood (1986) or War Ensemble (1990). The album is great, it’s just missing one thing… the Thrash part. It’s missing my hero, picking out a speedy, thrashy, high pitched, I DON’T GIVE A FUCK ABOUT SPIDER BITES, song that makes me want to punch God in the face for forbidding me to watch Ghostbusters cartoons on Saturday morning!! Sorry… I’m still working through some issues…
So is there life after Hanneman? Sure, but it wasn’t the life we thought we would have. Slayer will carry on for the time being and I will always love them, but when a band loses such an integral part of themselves, it’s hard to regain what was lost, what we all lost. We miss you, Jeff. Rest in Peace in the abyss…
Born and raised in San Diego California, I grew up loving the action horror and sci-fi genres. The first R rated film I saw was Predator back when I was 8 years old. Aliens blew me away as a youngster and I made a M41-A pulse rifle out of paper towel rolls and rubber bands. I ran around for hours avoiding face huggers and blasting xenomorphs in my back yard and I am bringing that big imagination to Nevermore Horror.