For more than three decades, Slayer has lingered at heavy metal’s more extreme outposts, earning a reputation for aggressive audio assaults matched only by survival stories and broken bones in notorious mosh pits at the band’s live shows.
Boasting an aural arsenal of frenetically picked guitar lines, hammering drums and howling lyrics dripping with blood, the horrors of war and satanic symbolism, Slayer has always stood apart from other bands in the metal genre—and thusly has inspired a rabid, cult-like devotion among fans.
But in 2013, Slayer finds itself at its most vulnerable, reemerging for its first tour since founding guitarist Jeff Hanneman died last May of liver failure. The tour stops Oct. 30 at the Event Center at San Jose State University.
GIVEAWAY: Enter to win tickets to see Slayer
“There was a lot of stuff that we had already lined up to do, and then we got the news about Jeff passing—so at the moment it’s more about fulfilling obligations—after this tour is over, we have to sit down and really discuss what the plans are, what the future is,” says bassist and vocalist Tom Araya.
Hanneman had not toured with Slayer since 2011 due to the effects of Necrotizing fasciitis, a flesh-eating disease that he may have contracted from a spider bite, so it was unexpected when it was revealed the condition that took his life was determined to be alcohol-related cirrhosis. Hanneman’s longtime friend and Exodus guitarist Gary Holt has filled in for the guitarist since he first stopped touring.
“We’re moving forward, and finishing up the year, basically so everyone can have closure,” Araya says. “It will allow fans to have closure too and we can all remember Jeff one last time.”
Thousands of people, including family, friends and fans, attended a public memorial for Hanneman in late May at the Hollywood Palladium, and Araya says that these shows also offer a way to pay tribute to their departed comrade.
“It’s the old cliché, no one is ever really respected for what they do until they pass, and then you realize the profound effect that he had on a lot of people, and the effect the band has on a lot of people,” Araya says. “We have a banner
that we had made with Hanneman’s name on it and at the end of the set we drop it and the whole place goes nuts. I’m touched by that alone, that the fans have been very supportive, and coming out in droves.”
After the tour is completed, Araya says he will begin working on Slayer’s next album, a process that actually began more than two and a half years ago, before Hanneman became ill.
“In the course of rehearsals Jeff brought in two or three things he was working on and I thought it was awesome,” Araya says. “It was really cool, but he never brought us finished products, they were things he was still working on, and that’s the stuff I want to see if I can find. I want to see how far he got with a lot of that music, because it was just amazing stuff; we listened to it in jaw-dropping awe.”
Hanneman’s contributions to Slayer were key to the formation of the band; he wrote or co-wrote many of their best-known songs, such as “Angel of Death” and “Raining Blood,” and it was his academic knowledge of and infatuation with World War II history that informed much of the group’s lyrical content and art design.
His wild guitar riffs and manic solos helped shape the musical foundation on which the group built their legendary status; a legacy that has been cited as hugely influential by a vast array of other guitarists in the metal realm.
While Araya says that he and guitarist Kerry King will need to hash out some differences that they have concerning the overall future of Slayer, he is determined to at least make an album truly befitting the spirit of his friend.
“This record has to be something special, it has to be extraordinary—it can’t just be another Slayer record,” Araya says. “There’s a lot on the plate for the band, and we’ve gotten quite a bit of support from a lot of fans.
“We’ve also gotten a lot of negative feedback about things that we’ve done [over the years], so we’ll see what the future holds. Usually our attitude about that has been ‘Fuck ‘em!’ It seems to have worked for us so far, so I doubt we’ll change that aspect of the band.”