In his first Spine of Overkill column since the passing of Jeff Hanneman, Chris “Woody High” MacDermott pays homage to the late Slayer guitarist and recalls the glory days of Haunting the Chapel and Hell Awaits. It’s as fitting a tribute as I could imagine.
Should you happen to be in the area, Woody‘s band, Mighty High, have a gig this Friday in Brooklyn. The show is at The Grand Victory and Black Thai, Infernal Overdrive and Tarpit Boogie share the bill. More info on Thee Facebooks.
The death of Jeff Hanneman hit every metal fan hard. Fuckin’ SLLLAAAAYYYEEERRR are one of the few bands that all metal heads agree on. When it was announced earlier this month that Jeff had passed away from liver failure everyone was reaching for their favorite fuckin’ SLLLAAAAYYYEEERRR album to blast at maximum volume. For most, it’s the 1986 classic Reign in Blood, one of the greatest metal albums of all time for sure. But when old dudes like me want to get nostalgic, we reach for the ones that came before the Reign.
My last Spine of Overkill column was all about picking sides in 1983. Great bands were beginning to get stale and a new breed were emphasizing everything faster, louder and more intense. Fuckin’ SLLLAAAAYYYEEERRR‘s debut Show No Mercy came out in December 1983 and there was no turning back for me. Show No Mercy was a great album of Venom-fueled Satanic panic but there was a lot of competition out there. Every month there was at least one new demo tape of blasphemous speed arriving in my mailbox, not to mention the deluge hitting the racks at the record stores. How was fuckin’ SLLLAAAAYYYEEERRR going to keep my attention and avoid getting confused with another band called Slayer from San Antonio? The answer arrived in June 1984, when Metal Blade issued the three-song Haunting the Chapel 12″ single. EPs (extended plays) were kind of unusual for metal, even more so in America. British bands like Motörhead, Iron Maiden, Saxon, etc., had a tradition of releasing singles in both 7″ and 12″ formats with great artwork and killer jams on the B-side, usually one unreleased song or exclusive live versions. Diehards would buy both versions but if you could only afford one, it was always the 12″. In early ’84, Metallica put out a 12″ of “Jump in the Fire” with supposedly live versions of “Seek and Destroy” and “Phantom Lord” on the flip side. The cover art was cool even if it was kind of an unexciting release. Later in ’84, Metallica would put out a 12″ of “Creeping Death” from their forthcoming Ride the Lightning album with great covers of Diamond Head‘s “Am I Evil?” and Blitzkrieg‘s “Blitzkrieg” on the back. Still one of the best things they ever put out and my blue vinyl version is one of my prize possessions.
But fuckin’ SLLLAAAAYYYEEERRR‘s Haunting the Chapel was a totally different story. This was three brand new songs and no mention anywhere on the sleeve of “from the forthcoming album…” It was also in a legit cardboard album cover, not one of those flimsy, top loading sleeves that 12″ import singles came in. As usual, I waited to read what Bob Muldowney had to say about it in his essential zine Kick*Ass. He gave it a rave review and I picked it up immediately. As great as Show No Mercy was, fuckin’ SLLLAAAAYYYEEERRR made a huge leap forward on this release. The six minute “Chemical Warfare” was the only song on side A. The first thing I thought of was of the Dead Kennedy‘s song with the same title. As soon as I dropped the needle down, I instantly forgot it. With “Chemical Warfare” fuckin’ SLLLAAAAYYYEEERRR also made me forget about most bands. Holy shit. I knew right away that any band bragging about being the fastest and heaviest was now full of shit. After playing “Chemical Warfare” a few times in a row I decided to give the other side a try, figuring it probably wouldn’t be as good. Turns out I was wrong. “Captor of Sin” starts off with a drumstick count off and someone yelling in the background before launching into a frenzied Mercyful Fate-inspired romp. The pounding chorus is still one of my favorites to yell along with – “Hot! Wings of hell! Burns! In my wake! Death! Is what you pray! BEHOLD! Captor of Sin!” The Venom-inspired title-track wraps up the blasphemy. Apparently, recording engineer Bill Metoyer was a religious sort and the opening lyrics of “the holy cross, symbol of lies” made him question his career path. Another fun fact is that while recording this EP, Dave Lombardo‘s drums were sliding around on the floor. I guess no cinder blocks were around so Dark Angel drummer and fuckin’ SLLLAAAAYYYEEERRR roadie Gene Hoglan held the kit together while Dave bashed the skins.
The Haunting the Chapel EP only made impatient headbangers like me want more fuckin’ SLLLAAAAYYYEEERRR. Luckily there were new albums from Venom, Exciter, Celtic Frost and VoiVod to keep me happy when I wasn’t blasting Motörhead’s No Remorse for the rest of 1984. Fuckin’ SLLLAAAAYYYEEERRR threw us a bone later in the year with another EP, this one a picture disc called Live Undead. Side one had three songs from Show No Mercy recorded live in a New York studio — “Black Magic,” “Die by the Sword” and “Show No Mercy.” The performances were definitely live but the people screaming in the background sounded like they were added later. The other side had the same studio versions of “Captor of Sin” and “Haunting the Chapel” from the EP as well as “The Final Command” from Show No Mercy. I had heard it was going to include a cover of Judas Priest‘s “Dissident Aggressor” but that didn’t get recorded until 1988′s South of Heaven. Live Undead was cool to have for the artwork but only made me want new fuckin’ SLLLAAAAYYYEEERRR as soon as possible.
Thankfully, the wait wasn’t too long and in the spring I got my hands on Hell Awaits. I had trouble finding it at first but a dude I was tape trading with on Long Island grabbed a copy for me at Slipped Disc in Valley Stream and mailed it to me. Can’t remember the dude’s name but whoever you are, wherever you are, thanks again. Hell Awaits is still my favorite fuckin’ SLLLAAAAYYYEEERRR album. The front cover is low budget but scary. The back cover is even cooler with all the live photos of the band. No more raccoon eye makeup for fuckin’ SLLLAAAAYYYEEERRR. Kerry’s armband full of nails immediately made me think of the one Richie Stotts wears on the cover of Coup D’Etat by the Plasmatics. Someone should ask Kerry if that’s where he got his inspiration. The full band shot is awesome. They’re all headbanging, there are upside down crosses on the amps and a huge cloud of smoke so you can’t see the drummer just like on Priest‘s Unleashed in the East. I interviewed Reed Mullin of Corrosion of Conformity for my high school newspaper right around this time and we were both really psyched that Jeff was wearing a C.O.C. shirt on the back cover.
The first spin of Hell Awaits is something I’ll never forget. The long intro with the chanting seemed to go on forever. It sounded like they were saying “synot” over and over but I knew this was a backwards message just like at the start of Venom‘s “In League with Satan.” When I stopped the turntable and began spinning it back I was thrilled to discover they were saying “join us!” Hell yeah, I knew this was gonna be good. Once the music kicked in, it was exactly what I had hoped for. Seven long songs that were totally heavy, totally fast, totally Satanic, drowning in reverb. It sounded like they had snuck into a cathedral and recorded it there under a full moon. I loved every song but side one with “Hell Awaits,” “Kill Again” and “At Dawn They Sleep” remains my favorite SLLLAAAAYYYEEERRR side to this day. The photo collage on the lyric sheet is still fun to look at. There’s a shot of all four members of VoiVod wearing Show No Mercy shirts. There’s another cool photo of them partying with Mercyful Fate. Every tiny photo is jam packed with stuff that I wanted to do back then — snort giant rails off the bar, harass a life size Michael Jackson cutout, hold a can of beer and scream, etc. A fun fact about Hell Awaits is that it was mixed by Ron Fair, who would later go on to be a big pop music producer for the Black Eyed Peas, Pussycat Dolls, etc. Only in Hollywood!
Farewell, Jeff. Thank you for helping to accelerate my bad habits and antisocial behavior the last 30 years. Kill again!