The music industry is a brutal battlefield. It's strewn with the bodies of talented artists who were suffocated by success (Kurt Cobain), swallowed whole by indulgence (Keith Moon), or taken by tragedy (Randy Rhoads). No genre is safe: The path to the top of the charts is paved with some of the finest souls from classic rock, punk, hard rock, hip-hop, and pop.
However, one genre arguably has seen more than its fair share of shocking deaths, be they from stereotypically debauched lifestyles, unsafe touring conditions, or rabid fans. That genre would be heavy metal.
Perhaps that's why fans and surviving musicians are so good at paying homage to the fallen.
Take Dimefest, for example, an annual celebration of Darrell "Dimebag" Abbott, who was slain December 8, 2004, by a fan who shot one of the most talented and influential guitarists in rock as he performed onstage in Columbus, Ohio.
"A few years back, I noticed Dimefest was in other cities, but no one was setting it up here. So I called up a few fellow heavy hitters to throw it down here in town," says Billy Gonzales, singer of local metal band Motive and a part-time promoter. "It was so successful [that] everyone kept asking if I was gonna keep doing it, so it just stuck."
Now Gonzales, along with production company Death Weddle, is giving similar treatment to another lost hero: Slayer's Jeff Hanneman, who died May 2, 2013, of liver failure in Southern California.
"The band Souless suggested doing a Hannemanfest," says Death Weddle's Jason Weddle. "It makes sense, especially since Slayer has more of a rabid cult following, as opposed to [Abbott's] Pantera."
Slated for what would've been Hanneman's 50th birthday, January 31, the inaugural Hannemanfest will feature at least 10 local metal bands scheduled to perform at Joe's Grotto.
The bands include Pelvic Meatloaf, Back From Ashes, Souless, Motive, Sectas, Talk to Sheep, Scattered Guts, Warhead, Sounds Like Murder, Twelve Gates, and more. Each band will play at least one Slayer song, and some are even playing as many as five.
"I grew up listening to Slayer, so he was obviously a huge influence in my life. He also was known for being an avid beer drinker, which I find respectable in a metal music icon," says Pelvic Meatloaf vocalist Rich Fourmy. "I am a fan of many of the bands on the bill, and I plan on getting there early to enjoy the whole show from start to finish."
As one of the founding members of Slayer, Hanneman contributed both lyrics and music to every Slayer album and wrote some of the band's most popular songs -- think "Angel of Death," "Seasons in the Abyss," "War Ensemble," and the beloved "Raining Blood." From a young age, he was influenced heavily by hardcore and punk, which led to Slayer playing on a faster and more aggressive level than many metal bands at the time.
For the most part, Hanneman's signature songs are performed at every single Slayer show -- as they should be. Hanneman's presence and songwriting were legendary, and even though he stopped regularly touring with Slayer in early 2011, it never felt as though he weren't part of the band at every single performance.
It was during 2011 that Hanneman contracted necrotizing fasciitis from a spider bite. According to an interview with Metal Injection in 2011, the guitarist said, "Unbelievably, the doctor was a Slayer fan. First thing he said to me was: 'First, I am going to save your life. Then I am going to save your arm. Then I am going to save your career.'"
Hanneman was unable to play guitar for quite some time, eventually recovering to the point that he could hop onstage for a handful of Slayer performances. But his liver was giving out due to alcohol-related cirrhosis, and Hanneman and his family apparently had been unaware of the extent of the condition until shortly before his death.
His passing hit the music industry hard, but this show is all about celebrating Hanneman's life, which is why it is being held on his birthday and not the date of his death.
"It's fun for all of these bands to get together to pay homage to a common hero of ours and add a bit of Slayer music into their set," says Fourmy. "We hardly ever play cover songs, so it's gonna be especially fun -- and challenging -- for us."
"I'd have to say that Scattered Guts is one of my favorites in the Valley," added Fourmy. "I'm digging on Sounds Like Murder lately, too. I'm anxious to see Randy Davis play onstage with Motive again, too."
Weddle also feels that the variety of Hannemanfest's lineup is ideal. "Twelve Gates and Warhead are the retro thrash kids, with the high-tops and vests and skinny jeans and heavy metal concert T-shirts. They are right in that genre of old-school Slayer and Metallica," he says. "Then there's bands like Pelvic Meatloaf, who aren't really thrash, but they grew up loving Slayer. Motive will be playing quite a few Slayer songs. And bands are bringing up guest musicians, too."
Gonzales is looking forward to Pelvic Meatloaf and Sectas. "Those bands have lasted awhile for a reason," he adds. "The youngsters in Warhead and Twelve Gates give the future of thrash in Arizona a lot to look forward to. And I gotta say, my bandmates in Motive and I are really looking forward to performing."
"It was tragic thing when Jeff died, but this is about the fans and the bands coming out and getting up there and having a good time, celebrating one of the great thrash metal guitarists -- and songwriters -- of all time," says Weddle.
"It hasn't been an easy event to put together. Any event with, like, 10 bands and two stages is always going to be a process. It's the inaugural year, and I'm hoping for a really good response so we can make it an annual thing."
As a promoter, Gonzales always feels that local fans' energy is the best part, so it seems they already have a solid following to make Hannemanfest a yearly event.
If that happens, will they report to Slayer's camp with coverage of the event to show the AZ support?
"We will be now," Gonzales says.
Hannemanfest will takes place at 6 p.m. on Friday, January 31, at Joe's Grotto. Admission is $10 in advance, $13 at the door.