Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Above: The original 'Banger Bible: Necronomicon Exmortis, by the Mad Arab Abdul Alhazred.
Metalheads are a surprisingly literate bunch. From the deeply-researched Sumerian mythology present in the lyrics of bands like Morbid Angel to the complex medical terminology used by Carcass and Impaled, many thrashers have done their best to dispel the myth that headbangers are just a bunch of greasy-haired knuckle-draggers without two brain cells to rub together. Egyptian-themed Nile have obviously studied up on their share of cryptic lore, and Lovecraft worship is a prevalent theme amongst hundreds, if not thousands, of extreme metal acts. Here's a quick list of some books about metal that I've read over the course of the last decade or so. Some are better than others, and this list is by no means complete, but if you're interested in metal, either as a musical genre or as a sociological phenomena, these books are all good places to study up.
LORDS OF CHAOS: THE BLOODY RISE OF THE SATANIC METAL UNDERGROUND by Michael Moynihan and Didrik Soderlind
This is one I read a long time ago, and a battered copy still sits on the shelf in my kitchen to this day. Basically a study on the radical and violent Black Metal subculture, I really think it exposes the early 90's Norweigan BM scene as what it was, a bunch of scared teenagers peer-pressured into committing atrocious acts in the name of their music.
Thorough to a fault, 'Lords of Chaos' spends way too much time on interviews with Manson-esque cult figure Varg Vikernes (of Burzum and Mayhem fame), devoting entire chapters to him explaining his narcissistic, fascist views. Interviews with Ihsahn (Emperor) and Tom Warrior (Celtic Frost) are much more intelligent and informative, and I wish the authors would have spent more time interviewing non-douchebags. Despite a few skippable chapters, it's still a Hell of a read, and deserves a spot on any Hessian's bookshelf.
Other redeeming factors: A complete history of Satanic music, from bluesman Robert Johnson to Black Sabbath (and other obscure 60's and 70's rockers like Black Widow and Coven) to the present, and lots of cool graphics to steal for flyers and/or tattoos.
CHOOSING DEATH: THE IMPROBABLE HISTORY OF DEATH METAL AND GRINDCORE by Albert Mudrian (with Forward by John Peel)
Pretty much exactly what it says, a breakdown of the entire history of Death Metal as both a musical movement and a culture. Albert Mudrian is an editor at the always-dependable metal mag Decibel, and dots all the i's and crosses all the t's when it comes to documenting this dark form of art. From grindcore's punk rock beginnings in the early 80's to Napalm Death to the most extreme metal bands around today, everyone gets some print time. Solid from start to finish, 'Choosing Death' is a good book to cuddle up with next to the fireplace on a rainy night, a nostalgic walk down memory lane for all the metal legions that were there since day one.
The forward by John Peel (written just months before his death) is a highlight too, as he name-drops Oregon's Teen Cthulhu as the metal wave of the future. Good stuff, definitely worth the 15 or 20 bucks they'll want for it on Amazon.
AMERICAN HARDCORE: A TRIBAL HISTORY by Steven Blush
Although not exactly about metal (it says it right there in the title, 'American HARDCORE'), this one's still a keeper, exhaustively researched by the author and containing loads and loads of sweet photos and old flyers. Hardcore and metal, although enemies at one time, have grown to be almost synonymous, a fact that Blush hits on often. This guy has been in the scene FOREVER, and his personal anecdotes and asides are some of the high points of this book. Some of my favorite stuff is the trash-talking on Bad Brains, as they are exposed not as equality-loving Rasta punks, but as total sexist dickheads. Blush doesn't hesitate to slaughter any sacred cows, speaking freely about who was an asshole and who wasn't. Part history and part memoir, this is a great read, something that should always be sitting on the coffee table at any punk house (until, of course, it's stolen by some over-zealous crusty kid).
They made this one into a documentary film, too, which I haven't actually seen yet.
THE DIRT: CONFESSIONS OF THE WORLD'S MOST NOTORIOUS ROCK BAND by Motley Crue with Neil Strauss
It's debatable whether or not Motley Crue can actually even be considered a Metal band. They pioneered a ridiculous glam-punk LOOK that has been aped by many a lousy band since, but their music was pure bubblegum hard rock, heavy at times but commercially accessible enough to make these assholes multi-millionaires. Motley Crue are best known for their over-the-top antics offstage, and if you can get past the fact that these foolish bastards are stupid as Hell and complete douchewands (except for possibly Mick Mars), this book is actually really entertaining. Delving deep into the realm of the ludicrous, it documents even the sad, sad John Corabi years, Tommy Lee's work(?) with post-Crue nu-metallers Methods of Mayhem, and bouts of stupidity with infamous jizz-dumpster Pamela Anderson. I felt like I was covered in a dirty tabloid sheen when I finished this book, but I still dug it. Maybe these guys don't have a heck of a lot of substance, but it was definitely a long, dark, drug-addled walk through the 80's, and morbid curiosity kept the pages a-turnin'.
The Crue: FUCK YOU, FUCK YOU, YOU'RE COOL, FUCK YOU, I'M OUT.
SOUNDS OF THE BEAST: A COMPLETE HEADBANGING HISTORY OF HEAVY METAL by Ian Christe
Author Ian Christe put together a truly ambitious piece of literature here, almost true to its title (can anyone ever really write a COMPLETE history of anything?). Attempting to cover EVERY aspect of Heavy Metal music, 'Sounds of the Beast' does a damn fine job, from its fuzzy start in the late 60's to the multitude of subgenres present today. This is the ultimate headbanger's coffee table book, something to pick up and leaf through whenever you're trying to TOTALLY KILL 15 minutes or so. My only beef with this book is all the attention and praise heaped onto Metallica. Literally every other chapter revolves around them and what they were doing at the time, and as I realize how they were instrumental in bringing metal to the mainstream, I also think they ceased being relevant in any way almost 20 years ago, with the release of 'The Black Album'. But Metallica-humping aside, this book rules. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in The Metal, and it would also come in handy for any Hot Topic poser looking to gain a little "street cred".
SWEDISH DEATH METAL by Daniel Ekeroth
I haven't actually read this yet. I've heard it's really great but was discouraged when I saw the picture below of Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore using it as a fashion accessory (along with Ian MacKaye).
REIGN IN BLOOD by D.X. Ferris (part of the 33 1/3 Series)
This little treasure is part of the 33 1/3 Series, a line of books dedicated to a single album, the processes it took to record it, the personalities present at the time, and the drugs consumed in the process. I haven't read any other books in the series (I'm interested in Sabbath's 'Master of Reality' and The Minutemen's 'Double Nickels On The Dime'), but this one really blew me away. If you dig metal, you know the album 'Reign In Blood' is a fucking masterpiece, a chunk of shredding evil forever lodged in the Hessian psyche. What really got me about this book, though, was the LACK of Satanic excess going down in the studio when this classic was recorded. Slayer are some really mellow dudes, and were just a bunch of 20-year-old kids living with their parents back in '86, trying to play the sweetest metal possible. This may sound like it would make for a boring read, but it's quite to the contrary. Slayer never wanted to stand on a pedestal, and never really indulged in the rock star antics that made laughingstocks out of their contemporaries. They went into a studio, played some killer music, and put it out on Rick Rubin's fledgling rap label. End of story. What makes it so engrossing, I think, is that these guys were just some bros doing their thing, and much to the opposite effect of 'The Dirt', we can all relate to their story.
WHITE LINE FEVER: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY by Lemmy Kilmister and Janiss Garza
I won't spend a bunch of time gushing about what a Total Bro Lemmy is. Either you know or you don't. This autobiography is his story, in his words, told with that great, self-deprecating Lemmy sense of humor that made him a legend. It's really the literary equivalent of sitting with him in The Rainbow Room for a couple nights, downing Jack and puffing Marlboros. Lemmy has a whole shitload of stories to tell, and much like that cool uncle your parents don't want you to hang out with too much, by God he's gonna tell 'em. An awesome look at metal, rock and roll, and the music industry in general, told through the crooked teeth of the guy who started it all but is still humble enough to sit and have a beer with you. God bless Lemmy, God bless books, and His Majesty The Dark Lord Satan bless Heavy Metal. Without it, I would be a sad, empty little man.
Below: the trailer for the Lemmy movie, out early next year.