Friday, 3 May 2013

Monarch to the Kingdom of the Dead

I’ll never forget the day I first heard Reign in Blood. I don’t think my neighbours will either. I was the only metal kid in my street and I’d just discovered the ability to wind people up by playing metal obnoxiously loud. I was only young, so don’t hate me too much.

Neckbrace covering "Angel of Death". (C) Scott Morgan 2013

I couldn’t believe the ferocity and the intensity of RIB. I’d never heard anything quite like it. If you’ll forgive a clumsy mixed metaphor, it was like I jumped from a Madras to a Phall. That first riff in Jeff Hanneman’s Angel of Death, the stabs, Tom’s scream…Or there’s the version on Decade of Aggression when out of the feedback from Mandatory Suicide, Tom introduces the song, and the crowd screams its approval…  I don’t know how many times I’ve heard or played the song, but when I hear the original it pushes my pulse way up.

On the other hand, my mum was horrified, she thought it was just noise, the worst noise I’d subjected her to. My dad quite liked it, in fact it was the start of a long period of me not being album to find albums as my dad had “borrowed” them. But anyway, I instantly loved the effect that the music had on me, and on other people.

I’d always loved watching Slayer videos, and my favourite memory was seeing them live at Donington in 1992. It was very odd seeing Slayer in the early afternoon whilst standing in a puddle, but the boys were awesome. Jeff  in his LA Kings shirt, Kerry actually having hair and Tom being amused at the “you fat bastard” chants, in the middle of a wet and windy field in Leicestershire. That was the first of many trips around the country to see Slayer. I think they’re the band I’ve seen the most and I saw them in small venues as well as at the large festivals.
I always felt Jeff was an underrated guitarist – I think his guitar was always quieter than Kerry’s and it’s a shame. My favourite solo of his was in Seasons in the Abyss, and I’m pretty sure that is the first solo I ever truly learnt. He wrote some of my favourite songs – War Ensemble, Seasons in the Abyss, Raining Blood and of course, Angel of Death. Hardly original I know, but we used to end the Parricide set with Raining Blood, and in my Neckbrace days, Angel of Death was one of our two covers (the other was Gung Ho).  So as a band, Slayer were a major part of my life growing up and of course they were the impossibly high benchmark against which we set ourselves in bands.

You see people on Twitter and Facebook moaning when people RIP celebrities, and of course one person’s hero is another’s zero. Yes, tens / hundreds of thousands of people die every day and for the individual’s family each death is tragic.  But when band members die, you have to remember that they had an integral part in their fans’ lives. Clearly Jeff wasn’t a superstar, but I never saw him as a celeb. For a good part of my life I felt that he and the rest of the band were just distant friends. And to die in such a bizarre way is horrendous for anyone.

A truly awful last few months of life followed what for us in the UK is the strangest thing, a spider bite. He was in a medically induced coma for a while, and originally there were concerns he’d have to have his arm amputated. The band thought he was on the way back to recovery but he fell ill again and died of liver failure on Thursday at the ridiculous age of 49.

Sleep well Jeff, and thanks for the inspiration. Monarch to the Kingdom of the Dead.

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