Slayer guitarist Jeff Hanneman dead at 49

Jeff Hanneman, a founding member in metal innovators Slayer, died Thursday at age 49.

“Slayer is devastated to inform that their bandmate and brother, Jeff Hanneman, passed away at about 11 a.m. this morning near his Southern California home,” the band’s publicist said in a statement Thursday. “Hanneman was in an area hospital when he suffered liver failure.”

Hanneman had not been touring regularly with the band in recent years because of various health problems. He contracted a skin disease in early 2011 from a spider bite, and was replaced on tour by former Exodus guitarist Gary Holt.

The guitarist, born in Oakland in 1964, formed Slayer in the early 1980s with guitarist Kerry King, singer-bassist Tom Araya and drummer Dave Lombardo. The band’s sound was equally influenced by punk and heavy metal, and blended technical virtuosity with fierce, high-speed tempos. The quartet was in the vanguard of the so-called “thrash metal” movement, which also included Metallica and Megadeth.

The riff architecture created by Hanneman and King was key to the band’s music, with the two playing rhythm-lead lines at opposite ends of the stage with blinding aggression. Hanneman also contributed to the band’s lyrics, which brought the band unwanted attention from would-be censors and moralizing arbiters of taste in the 1980s. Many of Slayer's songs addressed serious subjects – serial killers, nuclear war, the uprising in Tiananmen Square, Nazi death camps, psychopaths, the Apocalypse. Hanneman's “War Ensemble," for example, compared armed conflict to a demented symphony.

Some of these songs blurred the line between condemning evil and identifying with it. The band’s 1986 release "Reign in Blood" – now widely considered one of metal’s masterpieces --  was so laden with explicit imagery that the CBS label refused to release it, and the band was forced to find a new distributor.

Though the notoriety ensured that Slayer would be virtually banned from commercial radio, video channels and some chain record stores, the quartet developed an arena-level following around the world. Increasingly, the band’s 11 albums released between 1983 and 2009 were heard not as thrill-seeking provocation, but as a form of protest music, played with mighty resolve. Unlike some of its peers, Slayer never veered far from its initial sound, which limited its commercial prospects but endeared it to its fans.

As Hanneman’s longtime guitar partner, King, once told the Tribune, "When I put out an album, I want people to say `That's Slayer, they're ticked off at the world, and they sound angry as hell.'"

Hanneman is survived by his wife, Kathy, his sister Kathy and his brothers Michael and Larry.

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
Related Content
  • Ravinia Festival highlights
    Ravinia Festival highlights

    Here are some highlight from the upcoming Ravinia Festival calendar for 2012. (See the full schedule)

  • 2 wounded in South Side shootings
    2 wounded in South Side shootings

    A man was shot in a drive-by Tuesday evening on the Far South Side, and a teen was shot near a bus stop just north of Washington Park in the afternoon, said police.

  • Emanuel, mayoral challengers face off for first time
    Emanuel, mayoral challengers face off for first time

    The first face-to-face meeting of the Chicago mayor’s race featured Rahm Emanuel offering a measured defense of his first term against a barrage of attacks from challengers who assailed his record on neighborhood development and crime and even his temperament.

  • City lists 45 'problem landlords'
    City lists 45 'problem landlords'

    Chicago's Building Department published its first "problem landlords" list on its website Monday night in an attempt to crack down and publicly shame apartment building owners into providing tenants with basic services such as heat, hot water and working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

  • 'Ghostbusters' reboot scares up cast: Wiig, McCarthy, McKinnon, Jones
    'Ghostbusters' reboot scares up cast: Wiig, McCarthy, McKinnon, Jones

    Director Paul Feig's "Ghostbusters" reboot has found its leading ladies. Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon are in talks to star in the Sony comedy about a quartet of paranormal exterminators, The Times has confirmed.

  • CTA rider robbed at Taser-point: police
    CTA rider robbed at Taser-point: police

    A 23-year-old CTA rider was threatened with a Taser and robbed of her cellphone Friday as she transferred from the Red Line to the Green Line at the Roosevelt "L" station, police said Tuesday.