“Necrophiliac” from Hell Awaits
Several years ago, I was growing from a young guitar-playing rock fan into a full-blown metalhead, and I had one very clear problem. I was still figuring out how to take the blues out of what I was doing and inject a little more grimness. I’d been spending some quality time with Slayer and the darker side of thrash – Dark Angel, Kreator, Coroner, Sadus – but my world got totally flipped when I put Darkthrone’s Transilvanian Hunger on in my dorm room for the first time and couldn’t tell whether my soul was being sacrificed or if I’d turned my vacuum cleaner on by mistake. Lo-fi production wasn’t my bag, but those hypnotic riffs were really interesting to me, and I ended up writing a real dirge of a riff that I thought was the most metal thing I’d ever made.
I played that riff I thought I’d written for months before listening to Hell Awaits in full for the first time and discovering a terrible truth: Jeff Hanneman wrote it first. It was called “Necrophiliac,” and I had been playing it at half-speed the whole time.
Wait a second! I wasn’t being original? Shit! That dude beat me to it!
And hey, that’s really the point. If you wrote a great metal riff and Tony Iommi didn’t write it already, there’s a good chance Jeff Hanneman did. In blues and folk music, there’s a lot of fondness for passing down tradition. Metal has some of that too, but there’s a certain side of the extreme underground that steadfastly clings to the idea that every band must be unique. Though there have been no shortage of innovations to metal and music itself in the time since Show No Mercy introduced the world to Slayer in 1983, Hanneman’s fractured sense of melody and dissonance in permanent contrast wrote an undeniable blueprint for death, black and even grind bands. “Necrophiliac,” then, is that blueprint in its purest form.
Ever notice how that riff at 2:10 of “Necrophiliac” is basically an Iron Maiden riff twisted into something of more ominous form? Slayer didn’t just do what Metallica did in speeding up the NWOBHM sound – Jeff Hanneman took it, sped it up, and then went one step further by forcing it to gaze into the abyss. And the creepiest part is, it’s not unlikely that Hanneman wrote the famous main hook as a half-speed dirge and then practiced it until it was up to speed without a hitch, as many guitarists do. He was thinking in that dark of a melodic mindset. Slayer was exploring the sound of impending doom at 100 miles per hour, and despite the legend surrounding all four members of the band’s classic lineup, there’s no doubt that Hanneman was the man driving the car.
For the record, I have yet to write a riff that perfectly metal since realizing my “Necrophiliac” overlap. Jeff Hanneman, on the other hand, would go on to write Reign in Blood, South of Heaven and Seasons of the Abyss. This is why he’s the metal legend, and I’m the one writing about him.
– Kodi McKinney