A Eulogy for the Scariest Spectacle in Rock

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“I had moved past the casual carnage that was so prevalent in the books I’d conceived in my twenties, past the severed heads and the soup made of blood and the woman vaginally penetrated with her own rib.

“Exploring that kind of violence had been “interesting” and “exciting” and it was all “metaphorical” anyway – at least to me at that moment in my life, when I was young and pissed off and had not yet grasped my own mortality, a time when physical pain and real suffering held no meaning for me.”

– Bret Easton Ellis,

Lunar Park.

You wonder what Hanneman’s – and indeed, the rest of the band’s – relationship to Nazism is, or was. I walked out of their show at Rod Laver Arena when, during the encore, they played ‘Angel of Death’ while projecting images of Joseph Mengele on a screen behind the band, interspersed with footage of Auschwitz.

My friend and I had seen every Slayer show in Melbourne since the age of fifteen. That was the first we had ever walked out of.

Hanneman’s father and brothers had all seen combat in Europe and Vietnam. In fact, his fascination with Nazi regalia was inspired by his father, who gave him Nazi artefacts bought back from his time in Europe during the Second World War.

One can only assume as suburban kids, they had no sense of the real spirit of Nazism, which is genocide. Sure, Hanneman denied being a Nazi sympathiser, but it’s hard to believe that where there is that much smoke, there isn’t a fire burning somewhere.

ESP, who manufactured the Jeff Hanneman signature guitar, refused to produce it to his exact specifications for commercial sale. The actual guitar Hanneman played had SS lightning bolts decorating the fretboard.

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Is it metaphorical? Not sure. Depends on who you ask. Slayer themselves have never been clear – or didactic – on the subject, and by refusing to do so, have succeeded in not reducing its power.

William Blake’s essay on the nature of Satan and evil in ‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell,’ is a profoundly exciting field of possibility. Then, when you consider that Slayer’s album, Seasons in the Abyss that kicks off with the track ‘War Ensemble’ was the most popular recording amongst American soldiers during the first Gulf War, it creates cause for concern.

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Reign in Blood’s closing song, ‘Raining Blood’ typifies their music at its strongest. It’s not just the particular frequency they invoke, but it’s also in the way they daub and splatter it across the imagination. Jack the Ripper meets Jackson Pollock.

The song is preceded by a thunderstorm. At its conclusion, as it gets faster and faster, devolving into atonal chaos, the music suddenly splits apart with a peal of thunder and the storm begins again. It is especially powerful wearing headphones; it feels as if the entire thing is cascading down, directly into the trench between the hemispheres of your brain.

Watch the end of the DVD Still Reigning. The show climaxes with a torrential downpour of blood, soaking the stage and the band. When they walk offstage, no one knows better than they do that the blood is fake, given it’s clotted throughout their clothes, hair and skin.

‘Now that’s a fuckin’ rock show,’ says guitarist Kerry King, but the last word on it belongs to the drummer, Dave Lombardo. He doesn’t speak. He just breathes heavy and shallow, his face the image of wall-eyed exhilaration.

Watch the end of the DVD. And remember that the blood that pours down from above the stage, the blood that is dripping from Lombardo’s hair and patterning his face, isn’t real.

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