Canada’s Rush keeps its fingers in many worlds, including that of 70s heavy metal, and as a result often attracts metalheads. Durrell Bowman attempts to explain the appeal of this band through perhaps the best method possible, which is to analyze the music itself and only secondarily and sparingly reinforce what is learned with extracts from interviews. Unlike most rock writers, he focuses on the output from the band rather than the discussion or buzz surrounding it, and as a result is able to pull out intention through the band and its reaction to the changes in the experience of its members of the years and how that translates into artistic voicing.
Experiencing Rush: A Listener’s Companion walks through Rush by eras of the band from its early hard rock days to its more progressive-rock influenced middle period to the later middle period of AOR (although this term is not used) very similar to 80s music like Boston, Asia, ZZ Top and the Eagles. In his analysis, Bowman attempts to answer one of the fundamental questions: is Rush a progressive rock band? If not, what are they? And how does this reconcile with their many different internal influences and the many different external styles, including a technologically-hip 90s format, which have cloaked the music of this band? Bowman gives his conclusions in a short introduction and then analyzes the work of the band song by song, divided into albums and the aforementioned eras. The result is a picture slowly emerging of a rock band with many different influences who wanted to play essentially power pop but with a guitar-driven appeal, like later Yes albums such as 90215. Into this, the self-taught musicians mix material from a wide range of influences as part of a philosophy of the band which Bowman slowly peels away during successive chapters: a leftist-libertarian political outlook, a personal individualism, dogmatic atheism and a studied eclecticism to find support for these ideas across different cultures and disciplines. Like their music, their philosophies are a grab-bag of what supports their fundamental worldview, which Bowman reveals as very much localized to and shaped by their experience growing up.
What Experiencing Rush: A Listener’s Companion offers to the world of music is not so much conclusions, however, as critical points for analysis. The entire book functions as an outline of the output of the artist with vital points addressed such as musical techniques used, including juicy details on time signature and scale/harmony, but also rather intelligently looking into the music as a series of patterns and avoiding a deep immersion in music theory. As a result, Bowman compares abstract patterns found in the music to what they symbolize in life, which works well for progressive rock bands who tend to be mimetic in their approach generally, but works doubly well for Rush, who are differentiated from progressive rock (although they incorporate many of its techniques) by their tendency toward music that is more symbolic or defined in human terms rather than imitating the objects or experiences the humans are undergoing. This rather fine distinction highlights why many progressive rock fans find Rush distasteful, and why many Rush fans find progressive rock inscrutable: the two take different approaches, and the Rush approach is closer to that taken by power pop bands than what progressive rock bands attempt. It both makes the music easier to comprehend, because the meaning in the lyrics is “acted out” by the music, and explains how Rush is able to escape its normative AOR format by incorporating so many different styles as if they were brush techniques in a painting, namely that it uses whatever techniques are appropriate for rendering its vision, much like it picks from disparate philosophies, literature and religion bits and pieces which it can use to illustrate its own philosophy and ideology. Through this insight Bowman stands heads above the other writers on this topic.
Turning from the technical arts of the band to the technique of the writer, Experiencing Rush: A Listener’s Companion shows us what rock journalism could be — some of us would say should be — by digging into this band in the only way that honors their efforts, which is to take them seriously as people by investigating their art for what it attempts to express as a communication between artist and fans. DMU has always taken this approach to death metal which has made us a minority in not just a metal underground but a rock scene which would rather write about where a band is from, their ironic personalities, the production of albums, how much the fans love it, or what trend the band belongs to. This treats artists like simpletons and fans like yeast with credit cards (although some might say this accurately portrays humanity anno 2015). Bowman takes the opposite approach, which is to avoid academic-ese and also rock journalist ideo-jive, and instead to look at this band with an intelligent common sense approach by picking apart each song to see what makes it work, both as a communications device and as an experience to enjoy. With the force of Rush fans behind him, hopefully Bowman can convince more of the music world to join him in this approach, which like the scientific method for materials should be the de facto standard for music.
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 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.
The second of May makes many of us uneasy because we remember the death of Jeff Hanneman, composer and architect of the Slayer approach to mythological alienation. The world isn’t the same without him, and many of us felt like we had lost a parent, since when adults refuse to grow up and speak honestly about life, children have to turn to other sources of information. Hanneman made sense of the modern world, no matter how apocalyptic the outlook ultimately turned out to be.
We are fortunate to get a few words in with D.X. Ferris, author of the books Slayer’s Reign in Blood (33 1/3) and Slayer 66 2/3: The Jeff & Dave Years. A Metal Band Biography. Ferris has spent the last several years writing about Slayer and understands the importance of this historic act not just to metal, but to the society around us all. Read on for the inner truths of writing about Slayer on this day we commemorate Hanneman’s life.
You’ve written two books on Slayer. What’s your relationship to Slayer? When did it begin?
My life is very clearly divided into Before Slayer and Since Slayer. I tell the story in my first book: Over the years, I had edged toward metal. I thought Metallica was as hard & heavy as it got. Then I read a review of Hell Awaits, and the review talked it up like a thrash masterpiece. So bought it. The first time I played it, it started with that big three-minute slow intro. I thought I had bought a bad album based on a bad review. But then the track kicked into the thrash part, and it was the universe cracked and a new dimension opened. And almost 30 years later, here I am, talking about Slayer.
Over the ’90s, I wasn’t as into metal as I was and am, but Slayer always stayed with me. My college notebooks are filled with Slayer lyrics and pentagrams. After college, when I’d sit in meetings, I looked like I was taking notes, but half the time, I was sketching Slayer logos — that’s one of the reasons why the new paperback looks like it does.
And the older I get, the more the band means to me. I think it’s curious how people get old and forget about metal. When you’re younger, metal is great music for when you’re pissed off. But when you get older and you have to deal with questionable coworkers and pinhead middle managers, that’s when you really need angry music. Slayer is always here for you!
How did you become a writer?
Writing is my one rare ability. I have tried doing literally everything else I though I could do: being a businessman in a suit, bartending, entering a doctoral program for corporate communication. Writing just keeps dragging me back to it. I wrote for school newspapers. I used the school newspaper as an outlet for record reviews. And gradually parlayed those clips into paying gigs as a writer.
Are you a metal fan “in general,” a Slayer fan or a writer who found this topic intriguing?
I primarily identify as A Metal Guy. I love a lot of other music. In high school, I was deeply into hardcore and punk, too. But I had long hair and the metal outfit: denim and some leather. In the picture I sent, that’s my same Anthrax back-patch from high school. The last three albums I bought were Triptykon, Behemoth, and High School Musical 2. Hey, I have kids. I could have scored free promo copies, but those dudes deserve my money.
What do you think is Slayer’s cultural impact?
Great question. Early in the book, I say “This is Slayer’s world, and we’re just living in it.” Look around is: The Twilight series is a phenomenon. It’s about vampires. There are four vampire shows in primetime TV — well, three now that NBC canceled Dracula. Walking Dead is the most popular TV show with young audiences. Game of Thrones is the most popular HBO show since The Sopranos, and it is metal as hell. In fact, I write weekly Heavy Metal Reviews of it for a website called Diffuser.fm, where I evaluate how metal the episode was. Since the days of Hell Awaits, long hair, violence, the undead, and the supernatural have saturated society. And that’s just the fantasy aspect, not to mention the fact that we’ve been at war over a decade.
Can you trace all that directly to Slayer? Maybe not. But they sure were ahead of the curve.
Your first Slayer-themed book appears to be Slayer’s Reign in Blood (33 1/3). What can you tell us about this book, and how did you end up being the one to write it?
I was a fan of the series. Each book is by a different author, writing about a single classic album, from the Beach Boys to the Beastie Boys. And something about it just called me and made me think “Go write a Slayer book for it.” I would have liked to write the Beastie Boys one, but Dan LeRoy beat me to it. When I looked down the list, I saw there was no metal in the series. So I pitched Reign. I knew it was a stretch. But, one, I thought there should be some metal. Two, if you look at the people who made the record, the album is an intriguing nexus in the history of rock: It was produced by Rick Rubin, who was known strictly as a rap guy at the time. It was his first rock record. And he would go on to work with about 10% of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee groups. Engineer Andy Wallace mixed everybody, basically, from Nirvana to Guns ‘N Roses. It was released on the rap label Def Jam. So it was the perfect metal choice, because the album reaches beyond metal.
Did writing this book change how you viewed Slayer?
It did. With pretty much any group, when you really dig into the credits and start crunching numbers, you realize that your impressions of the band aren’t necessarily right. Like, there are a lot of Who fans who assume Roger Daltrey wrote the words, because he’s the singer. I thought I knew a lot about the band, but it was really interesting to see how the leadership roles changed over the years, and how the artistic division of labor changed over time. And with the splits between Dave Lombardo and the band… Well, when I started the second book, I was partial to one side of the division. And when I was done, I had switched sides.
Last year, you unveiled Slayer 66 2/3: The Jeff & Dave Years. A Metal Band Biography. This looks to be more of a historical book. How did you come up with material, and what’s in it?
It’s a combination of new research, material that was breaking news at the time, and great stuff that wouldn’t fit in the first book: They wanted 25,000 words, I wrote 67,000, and they took 42,000. The new book is 110,000 words, with 59 chapters, 33 photos, 3 indexes (2 in the paperback), and 400 footnotes. Its full title is Slayer 66 & 2/3: The Jeff & Dave Years, A Metal Band Biography. From Birth to Reborn, Including Slaytanic Profiles, a New History of the Thrash Kings’ Early Days, Reign in Blood Tours, a European Invasion, the Palladium Riot, the Seat Cushion Chaos Concert, the Whole Diabolical Discography, Newly Unearthed Details From Dave Lombardo’s Turbulent History With the Band, Artwork and Some Photos You’ve Probably Never Seen Before, Jeff Hanneman’s Hard Times, the Big Four’s Big Year, Lombardo’s Final Exit, the Top 11 Hanneman Tributes, the Mosh Memorial Service, Untold Stories, Updates, Relevant Digressions, and More Scenes From the Abyss.
What prompted you to write a second book on Slayer?
Lombardo left the band for the third, and finally final, time in February 2013. Well, he didn’t exactly leave. But he was gone. It was a fresh shock in the metal world. And it should have been. But Slayer fans who knew history knew he had left twice before. So I decided I would write a short e-book about his trouble with the band: He was never in step with the rest of them. The first time he quit was during the Reign in Blood tour. And their relationship never recovered.
I figured it would be a 12,000-word e-book. I wanted to have it out by the end of April. All spring long, I kept getting sick. If I wasn’t sick, one of my kids was. I just couldn’t get the book done. April ended, the book wasn’t out, and I was pissed. Furious. May 1, I was fuckin’ pissed. May 2, I was even more furious. Then the evening of May 2, word breaks that Jeff Hanneman died. And there I was, with a Slayer book halfway written. So for the rest of the year, as the story unfolded, it grew from a little project to a full-on rock biography. One thing after another stopped me from getting it done, and every time, the delays helped, until at the very end, famous metal photographer and musician Harald O found some amazing photos that he had totally forgotten about. And that’s where the cover came from.
What’s an interesting Slayer fact most people don’t know?
Man… They just split with Rick Rubin after almost 30 years. And they were his only client from the 1980s. I don’t know how many younger metal fans realize how influential Dave Lombardo was for all metal percussion. He gets respect in the metal world, but rock fans don’t realize he’s one of the all-time great drummers. When Lars Ulrich was sick and Lombardo played two songs with Metallica, Ulrich was actually nervous. He said something like, “You try sitting in a hospital bed while Dave Lombardo is playing with your band.”
Writing the second book, though, the biggest thing I learned was how little Slayer has toured over the years. I mean, they’re a regular presence on the touring world. But the South of Heaven tour was something like, if I remember right, 60 shows. They took a lot of time off.
Do you write on other things besides Slayer? If so, what and where do we find them? If anonymously, can you tell us why?
I transitioned from music writing to news journalism a few years back, and I won some awards for journalism. But lately, I mostly teach college. I write some popular-culture stuff for Diffuser and The AV Club. And I’m working on a couple non-fiction projects I can’t talk about yet; one is a collaboration, so it’s not mine to talk about. I write a terrible webcomic called Suburban Metal Dad that’s not as autobiographical as you’d think, for a website called Popdose.
International Day of Slayer organizers Dag Hansen and Jim Tate are great! Hansen is among the people I interviewed for the book. I just heard on the radio that today is actually the International Day of Prayer, which was the original inspiration for International Day of Slayer. Last year, I thought it was really something when Kerry King took time to acknowledge Slayer Day and talk about Jeff’s absence. As I discuss in the book, I think it’s about as emotional as we’ve ever seen him in public.
What do you think Slayer’s lasting influence on metal has been?
Like I said, Lombardo practically invented modern metal drumming. They’ve been the standard-bearers for thrash. Metallica are huge, but Slayer has been the Big Four band that stayed true to their original sound and style. They never tried to cash in or cross over. They’re the gold standard for a credible long-term metal career.
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
Rock 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.
There have been many publications written about black metal, in an attempt to understand a difficult and enigmatic genre. Most focus on either the musical style of the genre from a historical viewpoint or on the ideology and views of the genre – including the illegal actions taken by a few energetic participants.
Author Dayal Patterson has attempted to combine those methods in his soon to be published book, Black Metal: Evolution of the Cult. Featuring numerous interviews and photography, the book aims to be the most complete resource for black metal research:
“It captures the progress of the genre, from its infancy in the early eighties through to its resurrection in the nineties and onwards to the fascinating scene we see today. Combining interviews with the key individuals involved with editorial insight and iconic photography this epic tome examines the artistic, musical, spiritual development of the genre and the creative work, ideologies and often colourful lives of some of its most significant bands.”
The participants interviewed include the most respected among black metal’s elite: Fenriz, Nuclear Holocausto, Tom Warrior, Rob Darken, and others; guaranteeing that there will be a level of quality already present in the tome that hopefully that rest of the book can carry.
Black Metal: Evolution of the Cult can be pre-ordered through Amazon, with a projected release date of November 13th. See the facebook page for more details.
Although somewhat uneven, this book chronicles the events in Norway as black metal rose and intelligently presents the ideological viewpoints behind the actions of these musicians, as well as giving insight to the mechanations of bands and personalities in the turbulent world of underground metal.