Category Archives: Books

Robert Walser Running With the Devil re-editioned

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One of the first-wave works of heavy metal academia will see a new edition in the coming weeks as Robert Walser Running With the Devil: Power, Gender, and Madness in Heavy Metal Music sees a re-issue with an expanded introduction by Harris M. Berger, co-editor of Metal Rules the Globe.

While its research focus is on gender, which was the most popular topic of music study in the decade in which it emerged, the 1993 first edition of this book shocked the world awake to the possibilities of heavy metal by drawing connections to other social movements, classical music and extremist political movements. Its strength is an understanding of the metal spirit and its implications both socially and in the individual. Walser writes convincingly and sparsely, understanding the root of good academic writing to be clarity and not a posturing of vocabulary and prose conventions.

It will be interesting to see how this book is updated over time. Many of the tropes of gender from the 1990s have themselves been updated, whether for better or worse being left as an exercise to the reader, and much of heavy metal has evolved. As with most books from that decade, Walser’s first edition does not distinguish between hard rock and heavy metal, leading to a bleedover of commercial heavy metal with the separate genre itself. This is a minor quibble, as Walser sees with insight into several areas that every other book at the time missed, which made Running With the Devil: Power, Gender, and Madness in Heavy Metal Music 1.0 the ideal starting point for academics in its time.

Copies are shipping now from University Press of New England with copies showing up on Amazon and in e-Book form shortly.

Isten zine compilation Isten Fanzine: Don’t Break the Ghost released December 12, 2014

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Svart Records will release a compilation of Isten zine from 1984-2014 on December 12, 2014. Entitled Isten Fanzine: Don’t Break the Ghost, the anthology will be published in hardcover and contain 800 pages of all things published and unpublished by Isten during those years.

Isten creator Mikko Mattila, who began the zine in his hometown of Tampere, Finland three decades ago, said, “Isten has always been characterized by murkiness and a lingering quality. Indeed, it took us nearly five years to do this anthology. It truly is a treasure chest, a time machine, and an open grave.”

My Bloody Roots: From Sepultura to Soulfly and Beyond by Max Cavalera with Joel McIver

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With all of the unanswered questions behind Sepultura lurking in the minds of metal fans, it makes sense that Max Cavalera would launch a guided autobiography like My Bloody Roots: From Sepultura to Soulfly and Beyond. Together with metal writer Joel McIver, Cavalera pens a work that fits within the genre of rock ‘n’ roll confessional-biographies but underneath the surface, a careful hand edited this narrative into a smoothly-flowing storyline that hits the points of interest to Sepultura fans.

Since the fragmentation of Sepultura, fan rumors and lore have obscured the complex dynamic of interacting personalities that made up the Sepultura camp and led to the consequent splintering off of Soulfly and other related projects. McIver shows his prowess in debunking lore by tracing it back to its origins and exploring the context of the time, which tends to show the lore as anomalous, and then making suggestions as to what was more likely to have happened. Cavalera seems amenable to this process.

My Bloody Roots: From Sepultura to Soulfly and Beyond reads like McIver accompanied Cavalera for months asking him questions about the past and then stitched together the chaotic responses into a single line of thought. The result is both genial and informative, since with multiple choices for any data point, McIver picked the one that was most thoughtful. As a result the text tends to frequently read as a pleasant narrative that suddenly gets serious in tone and detailed when an important point arises but does not, like most rock bios, leave fundamental questions unanswered by glossing over them with a trivial acknowledgment or anecdote.

The result knits together many complex threads in a narrative that has been both shrouded in mystery and inundated in propaganda from multiple warring points of view during the later years of Cavalera’s career. McIver makes the text flow so that the whole book resembles a campfire conversation. He brings out the texture in Cavalera’s voice by allowing as much as possible of his original statements to persist but seems to have re-ordered them and edited them to make them more efficient and thus intense than your average rock interview.

I started using only four strings on my guitar right after Bestial Devastation. My B-string broke at a practice, and we had a roadie, Silvio, who ended up singing for a band called Mutilator. He said, ‘We have a bit of money left, so we can buy a new string or booze,’ and I was like, ‘Fuck the strings, I never use that one anyway, so let’s get drunk.’ He said, ‘Why don’t you take the top E-string off as well and make it four?’ and I was like, ‘Why not?’

I got used to it, and it became my trademark. I never learned to play lead guitar, and I still can’t, to this day.I could learn if I worked really hard on it, and if I just did a simple, slow solo, but I always wanted to be rhythm only. I wanted to take riff-making to a new level. (61)

From this approach comes a wealth of information about the early days of Sepultura, but it is best read in its full form without an attempt at summary here which would miss the richness of detail and character it reveals. Over half of the book focuses on the post-Sepultura years, which for those of us whose interest in this band died with Arise seems like it would be extraneous, but surprisingly was not. I started reading this like any other story and found Max Cavalera a compelling subject as presented by McIver, and was curious to see how the story fully developed. As the story of a musician trying to find his path, it was ultimately satisfying to see Cavalera achieve the commercial success he has desired for years.

While many metalheads shudder at the mention of Soulfly or Cavalera’s extensive projects after that time, My Bloody Roots: From Sepultura to Soulfly and Beyond correctly identifies the origin of this tendency in Chaos A.D. and also shows how this was the fulfillment of Cavalera’s original intent. For him, death metal was a transition toward what he liked, which was the simple roots rock and early punk in which a catchy riff and chorus made the song. Through careful storytelling, this fact emerges fully-documented by the backstory of Cavalera’s early life and musical inspirations, and changes what seems like a sinister sell-out to a quiet disagreement. Similarly, seeing the narrative leading up to the Cavalera brothers Igor and Max feuding in the post-Sepultura landscape explains many of the mysteries and lore that surround them to this day.

Although rock biography is not known for its depth and is generally assumed to be more of a public relations exercise than historical fact-based mission, My Bloody Roots: From Sepultura to Soulfly and Beyond does its best to balance the two and let Max tell the stories as he sees them, while uncovering a factual framework that puts his words in context. Thanks to some inspired interviewing and editing, it is now easy to delve into the fascinating history of the Sepultura experience and how it shaped metal.

International Journal of Community Music releases its heavy metal special

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Image from The Musical Autist.

The International Journal of Community Music recently released its June 2014 issue which focuses on heavy metal through writings by the heavy metal studies academic community which explore heavy metal and its social effects in many different forms.

Centered around the concept of “community music,” the journal investigates interactions between music and the surrounding community, but peers most deeply into how music can be a voice for events, values or changes in a community. Its general list of topics includes:

  • Music and informal educational settings
  • Music in areas of conflict and former conflict
  • Music and the youth service
  • Music in prisons and probation services
  • Music in health settings / Music and cultural policy
  • Music and Life-long learning
  • Genres and musical styles e.g. music-making of all kinds and all styles, listening, music technology
  • Philosophy of Community Music
  • Music, faith and spirituality

The “heavy metal special” issue concentrates its analysis on some of the more controversial areas of the interaction between heavy metal and culture. The topics of these essays seem ready to dig into the type of conflict that would make a good basis for a shredding album of brutally intense music.

International Journal of Community Music June 2014 issue contains the following contents:

  • Raising the horns: Heavy metal communities and community heavy metal music

    Authors: Gabby Riches And Karl Spracklen
  • Kami semua headbangers: Heavy metal as multiethnic community builder in Penang Island, Malaysia

    Authors: Marco Ferrarese
  • Reconceptualizing hard rock and metal fans as a group: Imaginary community

    Authors: Rosemary Lucy Hill
  • ‘Ons is saam’ – Afrikaans metal and rebuilding whiteness in the Rainbow Nation

    Authors: Catherine Hoad
  • Metal made me who I am: Seven adult men reflect on their engagement with metal music during adolescence

    Authors: Michelle Hines And Katrina Skewes McFerran
  • Mapping the underground: An ethnographic cartography of the Leeds extreme metal scene

    Authors: Gabby Riches And Brett Lashua
  • On your knees and pray! The role of religion in the development of a metal scene in the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico

    Authors: Nelson Varas-Díaz And Eliut Rivera-Segarra And Sigrid Mendoza And Osvaldo González-Sepúlveda
  • Hamburgers of Devastation: The pleasures and politics of heavy metal cooking

    Authors: Michelle Phillipov
  • ‘The Black Sheep of the Family’: Bogans, borders and New Zealand society

    Authors: Dave Snell

The journal can be purchased at this location.

Cannibal Corpse: Bible of Butchery by Joel McIver

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Derided mostly by casual noticers of their cover art, Cannibal Corpse created a public face for death metal by becoming the most popular death metal band in history. Outselling the rest of the genre, they have kept on tour and pushing out albums for two and a half decades and now have unleashed their thirteenth album. Veteran music journalist and metal writer Joel McIver caught up with the band and wrote a history and explanation of Cannibal Corpse.

Intelligently, McIver opted not to try to make a narrative of his own. Instead he took a Glorious Times approach and let the band speak for itself for the most part, then knitting the disparate statements together into single narratives. The first two thirds of the book consists of statements from the band members which come across as unedited although their length suggests they were assembled from multiple interviews. The last third of the book contains a history of the band as a whole told through excerpts from interviews with the band, managers and other members of the underground community. The entire book is interspersed with song lyrics with brief explanations from the band. As a result, this book becomes easily readable and very personal, avoiding the pitfalls of trying to become overly formal or over-analytical with a band that does not want to be taken overly seriously.

In our twenties, we weren’t thinking too seriously about this stuff. Chris wrote the lyrics and we gave him free rein to be as offensive and disturbing as he thought necessary. Nowadays we probably think a little more about the subject matter of our songs, and the end result can be lyrics that are still horrifying but less overtly offensive. I think that sometimes a more subtle approach can be more effective for horror fiction anyway—‘subtle’ being a very relative term in our case, maybe the difference between a hatchet to the genitals and a hatchet to the head. But that’s what our band is doing really: putting horror fiction to music. We don’t back what the characters in our songs are doing: they’re just evil characters who are appropriate for stories like these. – Alex Webster (121-122)

If the book has a theme, it can be found in the normalcy of Cannibal Corpse. The band member biographies detail their early interest in heavy metal, then in musicianship, and their desire to be part of the new movement of harder and heavier music coming out after Metallica and later, after the first nascent death metal. They mention the classics of proto-underground metal like Sodom and Slayer, but focus on not the extremity of lyrics but the music itself. These men wanted to make music that did what their musical heroes did, but took it to a new level of intensity. They also wanted to have a sense of humor about it. And, going back to their earliest influences, they found idols who had also made it big on a commercial level: the 1970s hard rock and heavy metal acts that shocked the uptight citizenry but delighted mischievous and alienated kids everywhere. The comedic lyrics of torture, sadism, butchery, gore and mass killing arise not from a fascination with the dark and morbid, but a joy in disturbing social pretense that has more in common with Kiss or Judas Priest on the big stage, gyrating away as church ladies gasped.

When assembling the narrative of the band, McIver stacked statements from band members in such a way to tell the narrative through its strongest voices, inserting summaries of major events so that the least specific material is told from a third-person perspective. This gives more space to the band to speak about their own intentions and analysis, which enables this book to move along at a fast pace and never wind down into the kind of rambling anecdotes that blighted rock journalism in the 1970s and 1980s. As a result, it is both a short book and complete in its recounting of the Cannibal Corpse story. Through skillful editing, McIver avoids having the history drag or become tangential, and with the voices of the band members he brings up every essential topic in short, readable fashion. We also hear from band members and crucial actors like label boss Brian Slagel whose voices are not normally heard in the telling of this history.

In my downtime, I shoot guns. I’ve been interested in them since I was a kid. It’s the other thing I’m interested in apart from guitars, and it’s a great way to let off aggression. I go to ranges and shoot targets. Playing loud music is another good way to release stress. I like to go to the gym and work out, and I like to go out and drink and have fun with my buddies. Luckily, I’ve always been able to go anywhere and make friends. I live day by day. I would never have guessed that I’d still be doing this after all this time… — Pat O’Brien (46)

In the history of metal, Cannibal Corpse: Bible of Butchery will be remembered as a book that started a debate instead of ended one. Most analysis of Cannibal Corpse so far has focused on the reactions of others and has been unable to get around the disturbing imagery and lyrics. By mixing lyrics with histories, and looking at the motivation of band members for personal and artistic goals instead of reading the band as an advocate of what is described in its lyrics, Cannibal Corpse: Bible of Butchery reveals the commonality of Cannibal Corpse with heavy metal bands since the dawning of the genre. Instead of serving as a kind of unpaid advocate for serial killers everywhere, this band acted as a continuation of the heavy metal tradition of upsetting parents and delighting kids. By getting past the elephant in the outsider viewpoint room, McIver shows us Cannibal Corpse as they are, and lets their story tell itself and reveal the undiscovered history behind what for most people is the public face of death metal.

Extreme Metal II by Joel McIver

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For a short book that you can finish in an afternoon, Extreme Metal by Joel McIver packs a great density of information of unusual breadth into this deceptively simple volume. Comprised of brief introductions and then combination profile, history and review of the major works of each band, this book applies a flexible strategy to information and dishes out more on the more important bands but refuses to leave out essential minor ones.

McIver released two versions of this book: an original (2000) and this update (2005). With each edition, the book gains more factual information and the writing kicks it up a notch. I first read Extreme Metal I shortly after it came out in a bookstore and noted how some of the writing was boxy and distant, but how (thankfully) it did not drop into the hipster habit of insider lingo and extensive pointless imagery. In Extreme Metal II, McIver writes according to the journalistic standards of the broader media and skips over the conventions of music journalism and especially metal journalism which are less stringent. If there is an Extreme Metal III, the language will be even more streamlined and relaxed.

A good book on metal includes not only information but interpretations; all books filter by what their authors think is important, and one of the strengths of Extreme Metal is its ability to zoom in on not just the larger bands but a number of smaller ones that contributed to the growth of the genre. With each of these bands, McIver presents the information as relevant to a metal fan interested in learning the genre but also in hearing the best of its music. After an introduction by Mille Petrozza of Kreator, Extreme Metal launches into a brief history and afterward is essentially band profiles in alphabetical order. McIver includes all of the big names that one must include especially in any book that wishes to have commercial success, but devotes a fair amount of time to focus on the underground and the odd details that complete its story. He displays a canny instinct for rooting out the important, even if obscure, and relating it to the progress of the genre as a whole.

Written in a conversational but professional style, the book unloads a large amount of information with a low amount of stress and reads much like an extended magazine article covering the growth of the extreme metal genres. Depending on what sub-genres a listener enjoys, parts of the book will be skimmed, much as some Hessians glaze over whenever anything related to nu-metal emerges. McIver displays the instincts of a metal listener and refuses to sugar-coat his opinions, but does not drift into the trendy internet sweetness-and-acid diatribes that afflict those who rage at the excesses of the underground. Instead, the book assumes that its readers are open-minded enough to listen to any good heavy metal and tries to dig out the best of it, even if those standards need to expand when nu-metal or metalcore float by.

Massacra

Massacra was a French ‘neo-classical death metal’ band and was formed in 1986. Three demos landed them a deal with Shark Records from Germany and later, the major label Phonogram. However, the band was put on hold in 1997 when a founding member, Fred Duval, died of skin cancer at only 29. Some members of the band formed an industrial band, Zero Tolerance, and released an album on the Active label.

Recommended Album: Final Holocaust (Shark, 1990)

Among the truckloads of paper published since Lords of Chaos convinced the industry that money could be made in books about underground metal, Extreme Metal distinguishes itself by being open-minded and yet straight to the point. Most books pass over perceived minor bands like Massacra, Autumn Leaves and Onslaught, but this book fits them into context and explains their relevance in a way that is both enjoyable and informative. While major bands like Metallica will always get more coverage, here McIver works to tie his write-ups of those bands in with traits of other bands who both helped make that success happen and carried it forward.

McIver has gone on to write other books including a best-seller about Metallica, a biography of Max Cavalera of Sepultura, retrospectives of Motorhead and Black Sabbath, a band history of Cannibal Corpse and most recently, a book about alternative band Rage Against the Machine. He demonstrates comfort at every level of above-ground and underground bands, but his instinct as a fan makes him a writer worth reading as he tears through metal, sorting the entropy from the growth. While one can write about underground metal to any depth, Extreme Metal strikes the right balance of information and expediency and produces an excellent first step for any fan or researcher looking into these sub-genres of heavy metal.

Hardcore, Punk, and Other Junk: Aggressive Sounds in Contemporary Music edited by Eric James Abbey and Colin Helb

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Metalheads tend to distrust academia. We distrust the machine in all of its forms, and since the machine accepts academia, we believe the voice of academia is tainted by interest toward social acceptance. Academia also has a habit of finding ways to cram reality into its theories rather than the other way around. However, some academics make insightful contributions to the study of metal and Hardcore, Punk, and Other Junk: Aggressive Sounds in Contemporary Music provides an example of the best of this process.

This collection of essays looks at extreme music in general and extends this to metal, hardcore punk and punk rock communities. Sadly many authors make the mistake many do of incorporating recent pseudo-metal hybrids as some form of legitimate metal, which spams their results with some nonsense. The balance of results however turns out for the best because these academics look at detail-level reproducible phenomena and so are able to avoid the kind of craziness that would happen if they took “modern death metal” to be a legitimate form of the genre. Since metal and hardcore punk share a heritage both influencing and as influences of one another, the multiple pieces on that topic serve to bolster the understanding of metal.

Ross Hagen‘s piece “No Fun: Noise Music, Avant-garde expression and Sonic Punishment” ventures into the world of noise as music and explores a number of theories of its appeal. His most tantalizing riff zeroes in on the idea that society attempts to control noise and categorize it by the containers used to sample it, thus the tendency of irregular acoustic noise is to overthrow the social control imposed for the convenience of society having categorical dominance. While this piece does not seem to be directly on point to metal, it explores the same sonic space that metal uses and suggests reasons for it that may overlap with the psychology of metalheads.

Nelson Varas-Diaz contributes writing that analyzes Puerto Rico as a metal scene and the historical antecedents for appreciation of metal in this unique context. While his research involves statistical analysis, the best part of it may be the narrative aspect where he explains the history of metal in Puerto Rico as a type of struggle to be heard. In this piece also can be found extensive information about founding and contemporary Puerto Rican metal bands.

While it is beyond the scope of this review to cover every piece in the book, several others merit immediate attention by the wandering metalhead. Mika Elovaara looks into the meaning of metal lyrics and finds something akin to the mythical-historical view expounded upon in these digital pages. As if clarifying Lords of Chaos, one of his research subjects from Norway opines:

I feel that it is important that people understand why they have been born and that other people fought for our well-being and to preserve our culture and society. Our cultural heritage is going to die because people ignore it or do not even realize its significance. Viking and Norse mythology have been described as something evil and distant, but in reality, it is close to home and not necessarily evil at all. That it is not Christian does not mean it is evil. I use the mythology to describe situations in the world and politics, actual topics that were part of our lives a thousand years ago just as they are today. One can be proud of one’s heritage and identity without any racist or nationalistic tendencies. And Satanism is quite outside of this.

His extensive interviews bring up other similar flirtations with the taboo which makes sense as metal is “edge music” that exists to push social standards beyond what they normally accept. He probes the filaments of metal’s obsession with the evil and dark, and yet finds a certain kind of benevolence. “They mean critical thinking and encourage independent thinking,” said one fan about metal lyrics. The entire study is too complex to summarize here but at a minimum provides food for thought about what metal is attempting to communicate.

Another metal-related piece by Marcus Erbe looks into the science of producing death metal vocals and what that type of sound might mean in the unconscious and shared experience of being human. He finds that human vocals universally split between a melodic voice and a textural voice, with the latter expressing “monstrous” sensations. He then explores the nature of the monstrous in psychology and finds that it includes both the other and our fears for what is within us. This thought-provoking essay fuels further the question about what it is in metal that is really socially unacceptable, its rejection of social mores or its seeing through them.

Other articles explore more specific topics. On the whole, the book shows a new face for academia in looking into metal that is less afraid of certain areas of metal that are alien to what academia customarily writes about and may reject attitudes held by the majority of academics. The insight offered into the mechanics of metal and the associated symbols that it invokes also suggests new areas for academics and thinkers to pry into this interesting genre. Hardcore, Punk, and Other Junk: Aggressive Sounds in Contemporary Music lives up to its title and presents a window into the troubling questions that most would ignore raised by these dissident genres.

Tony Iommi – Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven & Hell with Black Sabbath

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When Black Sabbath shifted from trying to be a hard rock band to trying to make a horror movie sound appear in guitar music, they opened a new world. It was not a world that would resist opening for long anyway, since if you mix Iggy and the Stooges with the prog rock of the same era like Jethro Tull and King Crimson, you get something a lot like Black Sabbath.

But guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler, vocalist Ozzy Osbourne and drummer Bill Ward did it first, and during the first decade of their career fought through the enduring questions of the genre in prototype form. While Black Sabbath gets classed by most as “proto-metal,” or not quite yet metal, it is also clearly not quite still rock ‘n’ roll. In this perpetual liminal state Black Sabbath, like metal itself would a generation removed, rediscovers itself again and again as a way of outracing the calcification and corruption of message that is common in modern life.

In Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven & Hell with Black Sabbath, Tony Iommi writes his memoirs for a book that is both everything and Black Sabbath fan could want, and not enough. He writes about everything important and brings out some moments of great clarity, but then at some point the book expands like a drunken conversation and spills too much ink on the less important later Black Sabbath works. Iommi also has an offhand and conversational way of explaining things from his point of view that does not flesh out the details and background enough to let people know what was really going on. However, the juicy stories of rock ‘n’ roll excess, and most of the potent decision points in the Black Sabbath career, are not missed.

Those first songs are often described as scary. I liked horror films and so did Geezer. We used to go to the cinema across the street from our rehearsal place to see them, so maybe it was something that subconsciously directed us to that sort of thing. I know there is a Boris Karloff movie called Black Sabbath, but we never saw it at that time. Geezer came up with the name Black Sabbath and it just sounded like a good one to use. (54)

The narrative starts out fairly crisply and over time slouches into many unresolved threads the way most retrospectives do. The early days were clarity, but after that chaos reigns. Sensibly, Iommi does not spend too long on the days before Black Sabbath, but does set enough of the scene to get the narrative rolling. After that, very little detail is given, and the conversational takes over. Iommi will say that they went to a house or studio somewhere and mention no other detail, but he does spend a lot of time on human relationships. He describes people and their patterns. He also talks a good deal about relationships in the bands and the states of mind of the various players as albums were released.

It may be that a Black Sabbath fanbase wants to hear more about the mechanics behind the later Black Sabbath albums, solos and side projects, but to this writer much of this material was redundant. Not that it was mentioned at all, but that it was internally duplicative and went through similar patterns without identifying them. Like a night at the bar, the description of events begins with a clear context, direction and development of events, but devolves into a description of personalities and factual data that seems to focus on complexities.

I hope it is not insulting to say this, but people are not as interested in the later Black Sabbath works as they are the earlier ones. We would have preferred the same crispness, detail and narrative integration of the first three chapters be applied to the middle three, with the later ones giving less detail and more of a linear narrative. The reason for this is that the formation of those early albums and the Black Sabbath sound is what defined this band for eternity and will make it forever important. The later stuff shows us four guys out of their depth reacting to the changes in their lives.

We used one of Ronnie’s ideas in its entirety, which was ‘Atom and Evil’, the first track on the album. And we used bits of each other idea. Some of Geezer’s riffs would come halfway through, or some of mine. We just swapped them around, building songs. It was a great way of working. INstead of having to come up with everything myself, everybody was completely involved in it from day one, and that helped me immensely. We wrote about six songs this way. (352)

Details such as the above provide meaning to the listener because we are curious about such things. What made some albums more listenable or more interesting than others? In the compositional process, and the formation of decisions, we can see how they are distinct. Sometimes too much focus on personality and politics not only obscures the narrative, but is a substitute for discussing how decisions were made. Buried throughout are nuggets of clarity such as the above. These make the book not only memorable but poignant, as you can see why so much attachment occurs between these musicians, and how their knowledge of each other was more than practical, but a deep appreciation.

Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven & Hell with Black Sabbath will stay on the shelves because of its subject’s importance to rock music and heavy metal. It will also provide much fodder for others to discuss, as it touches on everything once. While some of us might prefer a two-volume set, with Volume I for the Black Sabbath albums from 1970-1976 and all of the depth of narrative that makes the creative decisions made during that time relevant still, as a quick read and overlook of the Black Sabbath experience Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven & Hell with Black Sabbath succeeds and also gives us rare if erratic insights into the story behind the band.

Jason Netherton (Dying Fetus) releases Extremity Retained: Notes from the Death Metal Underground

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Former Dying Fetus member Jason Netherton, now proprietor Send Back My Stamps!, releases his latest creation in the form of a 480-page book of interview with figures in the death metal underground called Extremity Retained: Notes from the Death Metal Underground. The product of over 100 interviews over a three-year period, the book is comprised entirely of first-hand stories, anecdotes, memories and opinions.

The book attempts to “explore the scene through the voices of those who helped create it” and thus focuses its questions on zines, tape-trading and other rituals of the underground. These lengthy narratives are complemented by original cover and section art by Matt “Putrid Gore” Carr, incidental art by Gary Ronaldson, with design and typography from Tilmann Benninghaus, and title page by Timo Ketola.

Contributors to Extremity Retained: Notes from the Death Metal Underground include (but are not limited to): Luc Lemay (Gorguts), Alex Webster (Cannibal Corpse), King Fowley (Deceased), Stephan Gebidi (Thanatos, Hail of Bullets), Dan Swanö (Edge of Sanity), Doug Cerrito (Suffocation), John McEntee (Incantation, Funerus), Marc Grewe (Morgoth), Ola Lindgren (Grave), Paul Ryan (Origin), Kam Lee (ex-Massacre, ex-Death), Tomas Lindberg (At the Gates, Lock Up), Travis Ryan (Cattle Decapitation), Robert Vigna and Ross Dolan (Immolation), Jacob Schmidt (Defeated Sanity), Esa Linden (Demigod), Dan Seagrave (Artist), Rick Rozz (ex-Death, Massacre), Steve Asheim (Deicide), Jim Morris (Morrisound Studios), Terry Butler (Obituary, Massacre, ex-Death), Mitch Harris (Napalm Death, Righteous Pigs), Scott Hull (Pig Destroyer), John Gallagher (Dying Fetus), Robin Mazen (Derketa, Demonomacy), George Fisher (Cannibal Corpse), Ed Warby (Gorefest, Hail of Bullets), Rob Barrett (Cannibal Corpse, ex-Solstice), Donald Tardy (Obituary), Moyses Kolesne (Krisiun), Takaaki Ohkuma (Necrophile), Paul Speckmann (Master, Abomination), Anders Jacobson (Nasum, Necrony), Carl Fulli (Epidemic), Matt Harvey (Exhumed), Steve Goldberg (Cephalic Carnage), Ben Falgoust (Soilent Green, Goatwhore), Phil Fasciana (Malevolent Creation), Tony Laureno (ex-Nile, ex-Angelcorpse), Alan Averill (Primordial, Twilight of the Gods), Jason Fuller (Blood Duster), Alex Okendo (Masacre), Dave Witte (Municipal Waste, Human Remains), Lee Harrison (Monstrosity) and many more

Precious Metal: Decibel Presents the Stories Behind 25 Extreme Metal Masterpieces, by Albert Mudrian


Precious Metal:
Decibel Presents the Stories Behind 25 Extreme Metal Masterpieces
edited by Albert Mudrian
365 pages, Da Capo Press, $14

The 25 Masterpieces
Black Sabbath – Heaven and Hell
Diamond Head – Lightning to the Nations
Celtic Frost – Morbid Tales
Slayer – Reign in Blood
Napalm Death – Scum
Repulsion – Horrified
Morbid Angel – Altars of Madness
Obituary – Cause of Death
Entombed – Left Hand Path
Paradise Lost – Gothic
Carcass – Necroticism — Descanting the Insalubrious
Cannibal Corpse – Tomb of the Mutilated
Darkthrone – Transilvanian Hunger
Kyuss – Welcome to Sky Valley
Meshuggah – Destroy Erase Improve
Monster Magnet – Dopes to Infinity
At the Gates – Slaughter of the Soul
Opeth – Orchid
Down – NOLA
Emperor – In the Nightside Eclipse
Sleep – Jerusalem
The Dillinger Escape Plan – Calculating Infinity
Botch – We Are the Romans
Converge – Jane Doe
Eyehategod – Take as Needed for Pain

 

albert_mudrian-precious_metal_decibel_presents_the_stories_behind_25_extreme_metal_masterpiecesRock journalism challenges even the bravest writer. Musicians are not known for being articulate, nor is it easy to pin them down, and lore snowballs in that vacuum. For this reason it’s great to see the series of in-depth explorations that have come about recently regarding many classic events of metal. As musicians age, given that musicians have a shorter life-span than average, this is also a race against time in many cases.

Albert Mudrian’s Precious Metal: Decibel Presents the Stories Behind 25 Extreme Metal Masterpieces presents a welcome addition to the genre of historical metal journalism. Combing through archives, the writers of each piece compiled band statements about the album and put them together in linear form, like a conversation. The result is a whole lot of information delivered in a very digestible form, with the extraneous confusion of live interviews edited right out of the picture. It’s a good starting point for anyone looking into these historical nodal points in the evolution of metal.

Mudrian seems aware how easily a book like this could become repetitive. Not just in the answers, where musicians might make roughly similar statements about touring, band formation, the troubles of collaboration and so forth, but in the similarity of bands. If for example he added another three Swedish death metal bands, it might start to get a little bit stuffy in the virtual room he’s created. Instead, he gives us space between acts and a wide variety of acts, but avoids the really awful nu-metal and tek-deth. However, the price of that spaciousness is that he includes bands like Monster Magnet and Kyuss which really aren’t metal at all.

There are some shockers in content, too. Some of these bands, despite their professions of various depraved behaviors, are insanely business-like in how they go about getting recorded and published. Sleep, Cannibal Corpse, Dillinger Escape Plan, Botch and Converge really had their act together. For a few moments, it was more like reading Forbes than Decibel, but it’s really gratifying to see this side of the business portrayed honestly. If you want your music heard, there’s a certain amount of business activity that must precede that event.

On the whole, these chapters are extremely well edited including the choice of material. They are in question-answer form, where the questions are usually prompts about historical events or general questions applied to specific moments or activities. When an incidental or minor character is cited, he or she speaks up for a few questions and then fades out. The bulk of the material favors the most articulate band members and major actors, but the writers shoehorn in as many diverse perspectives as they can. This makes reading Precious Metal: Decibel Presents the Stories Behind 25 Extreme Metal Masterpieces feel like being in a comfortable pub with these bands, on a rainy day, with a tape recorder next to the ashtray.

Each chapter corresponds to a classic album and comes with an intro paragraph. If anything, here’s where the book could benefit from some uniformity and toning down the “rock journalism” aspects. Perhaps not a just-the-facts-ma’am approach, but more of an assessment of where the band fits into history and why people like them, and leave it at that. Some of these were over the top for the actual function they serve. However, among the bombast is a lot of good information.

At that point the interview(s) compiled into a single form take over. Most of Precious Metal: Decibel Presents the Stories Behind 25 Extreme Metal Masterpieces is the bands speaking, and that is the power of Mudrian’s editing and the work of his colleagues. They’ve trimmed out the transient stuff, the window dressing and repetition, and left us with clear statements from the bands that show them in their own voices and approaching the situation at their own angle. This also helps create an epic feel to the epic interviews because it’s a compilation of the best moments of the band commenting on this album, put into one form that flows naturally.

Was the intro, “Human,” something you had conceived of before you went into the studio?
Ain: Yes, we had the idea before we went into the studio — we wanted to loop a scream and make it perpetual. We also wanted to use it as an intro for the live shows. A regular human scream would never last that long, so we wanted to loop it and make it sound like a scream from hell, like how you would scream if the pain was everlasting.
Warrior: We had talked about it, but we were basically still laymen, so we had no idea how we could put it together. So we told Horst what we wanted to do, and he proposed how to do it. But as I said, we only had six days to do everything. If one thing failed, we would’ve gone over budget or had to go home. So, in hindsight, it’s a miracle that tracks like “Human” or “Danse Macabre” came out the way we wanted them to. We couldn’t rehearse some of those parts, you know? I have no idea how we did that in just a few days, especially given our lack of experience. But therein lies one of the strengths of Celtic Frost to this day: Martin and I usually visualize certain pieces of music down to the last detail without even touching an instrument.

This excerpt reveals the power of Precious Metal: Decibel Presents the Stories Behind 25 Extreme Metal Masterpieces. In the midst of the mundane description of studio struggles, Tom Warrior articulates part of the essence of his band. Many such moments of insight, casually and offhandedly mentioned in describing some rather ordinary thing, flesh out this book and make it more than a fan’s quest but a resource for musicians and anyone else curious about the origins and process of creating extreme metal.

Not everyone will agree on certain aspects of this book and naturally any choices made along these lines are divisive. However, the book has enough to offer just about anyone who loves metal so that the purchase will not be regretted, even if there are chapters you skipped. In fact, I recommend skipping those chapters and approaching this book as a buffet. No matter what sub-genres you adore, you’re going to have at least five you’re dying to read, another five you’re very excited to read, and another five you’re curious about, and the rest will be uncertain but you might find some interesting information there, as I did.

It is impossible to find just 25 to represent metal. Some of these choices are nods to the music industry and mainstream fanbase, like Dillinger Escape Plan, or to history, like Botch, who were the vanguard of the metalcore movement. Some are near-misses like the apologetic At the Gates treatment of their best-seller, but this interview also confirms a lot that reviewers said about this album, namely that it was retro to the past generation of metal and somewhat hasty. Some others, like Converge and Eyehategod, seem marginal in that these bands spent a lot of time disclaiming metal back in the day.

On the whole however Precious Metal: Decibel Presents the Stories Behind 25 Extreme Metal Masterpieces offers a good pan-and-scan perspective of what was going on in metal at the time, and by showing us the fly-over accumulation of variety, Mudrian and Decibel show us not only what these bands were doing, but the forces against which they were struggling to define themselves. The result is a treasure hunt of a book, bristling with secrets and previously undiscovered pathways, for those who enjoy extreme heavy metal.