In past episodes, we have briefly touched upon the fact that is important to know where your music is coming from, and in Episode 22, I (Brian) mentioned a book called Choosing Death. This is just one of a few books that I think should be required reading for metal-head, despite what styles you are into. We all know Black Sabbath started it all, and we are all aware of classic bands like Metallica, Maiden, and Priest as well as other “classics” like Napalm Death, Carcass and Death…or Mayhem, Bathory and Immortal, if you are into Black Metal. But how did it all come about? How did one thing lead to another? Well, luckily some people already did the research for us and presented these non-fiction tales into interesting reads.
The books below will entertain and inform you so you don’t sound like a complete moron when you are talking metal with the random dude in the denim vest you are standing next to during set change at your next show.
Sound of the Beast: The Complete Headbanging History of Heavy Metal by Ian Christe: This book starts with the formation of Black Sabbath and takes you all the way to Slipknot and beyond, while covering everything in between. There is a strong focus on the American metal scene (particularly in the 80’s), but this is Heavy Metal 101: a comprehensive guide of where the music you love comes from.
Choosing Death: The Improbable History of Death Metal and Grindcore by Albert Mudrian and John Peel: The title says it all. Starting with English hardcore-punk bands of the early 80’s and guiding you through the the “popularity boom” (or at least what the major labels tried for) in the early 90’s, bringing you to today’s extreme, this book gives you the gritty details of DM and Grind’s trials and tribulations.
Lords of Chaos: The Bloody Rise of the Satanic Metal Underground New Edition by Michael Moynihan and Didrik Soderlind: Lords of Chaos takes a different approach than the previous two, but is no less important. The book focuses more on the Black Metal scene (particularly in it’s early years). It takes you through tabloid-ian actions of the church burnings in Norway and the murder of Euronymous (Øystein Aarseth) and all of the other mayhem (pun intended) that surrounded the scene. Later in the book, the authors cover some of the similarly extreme actions (cult rituals, killings, suicides, etc.) that surrounded the Metal scene in America and other countries. This book is disturbing as it is fascinating.
Swedish Death Metal by Daniel Ekeroth and Chris Reifert: While I have not read this one myself yet (I read the last three…haven’t gotten around to buying it), Swedish Death Metal, whether it be Entombed, Dismember, or At The Gates, played an important role the development of extreme music. My understanding is that the book doesn’t quite get into the depth of where the music came from (like Choosing Death) but it provides a strong insight into the movement and paints a picture of it’s formation, growth, and influence on metal today.
Here are some additional reading materials, if one was so inclined to educate themselves further and dive a little deeper:
Precious Metal: Decibel Presents the Stories Behind 25 Extreme Metal Masterpieces by Albert Mudrian
Extreme Metal: Music and Culture on the Edge by Keith Kahn-Harris
Cool list. I’ve read Sound of the Beast and Choosing Death. They are different books in their scope. Sound of the Beast tries to cover the entire history of metal including every aspect and subgenre that it can. Choosing Death focuses on only a handful of bands in telling the early history of grindcore and death metal. The story of Napalm Death probably makes up almost 50% of Choosing Death.
Sound of the Beast might be the single best book about the history of metal, but if you leave out all the biographies of Metallica, there are just not a lot of books about metal. In fact, you may have listed all the books that exist about death metal.
One other book I’ll point out that is more of a reference guide but is a good source for classic albums of many different subgenres is “The Top 500 Heavy Metal Albums of All Time” by Martin Popoff. It came out in 2004, so it has hardly anything from this century but it is a good way to discover stuff about the history of metal. While the top 50 albums have a lot of the predictable mainstream metal, once I got past the top 50 I found some stuff I wouldn’t have expected to be in a top list, such as some death metal and black metal stuff.
Their definitely aren’t a lot of books about extreme metal, that is for sure. There were a few others I saw (don’t remember them off the top of my head), but these are definitely the major players. However, there are a bunch of documentaries now, but I haven’t gotten to watching any of them.
I actually have that Top 500 book, but I never really read through the whole thing. I should revisit that soon.