Why are the albums Raw Power, British Steel, Reign in Blood, and Age of Quarrel so goddamned important? Name the Metal Blade Records compilation and demo that launched Metallica’s career. Who were the original singers in Judas Priest, Anthrax, and Pantera? Why is Def Leppard considered heavy metal? Why are they not?
These and more questions are answered in a new cinderblock sized book from It. Compiled by renowned journalist Jon Wiederhorn (Revolver, Guitar World, Spin) and Katherine Turman (RIP, SPIN, Metal Hammer), Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal takes readers on an exciting, raunchy, action-packed trip through four decades of a musical genre marked by decibels, distortion, and double-bass drums. Jam-packed with factoids, trivia, and metal miscellany, Louder Than Hell could serve as the go-to textbook for a college course on heavy music of the late 20th century.
Assembling and editing over 400 interviews with such noted leather and denim-clad luminaries as Ozzy Osbourne, Ronnie James Dio, James Hetfield, Dave Mustaine, Dave Grohl, Slash, Trent Reznor, and more, the authors trace metal’s history from its mid-‘60s inception to its modern glory, scrutinizing nearly a dozen movements and sub-genres that swelled (and burst) in between. The stories behind the music—and the socioeconomic factors inspiring it—are laid out and dissected in microscopic detail under harsh lights, with the confessions, anecdotes, and color commentary from the players (and those close to them) giving readers the kind of immediate—and endlessly entertaining—firsthand impressions the average bland, academic nonfiction journal just can’t provide.
“Stories in this book…give me the same kind of teenage excited-dork feeling I get when I’m onstage,” writes Scott Ian in his funny foreword.
“That’s what makes metal special. No matter how old you get, you never outgrow it.”
Watch Alice Cooper give Louder Than Hell a thumbs-up here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BAEy_ifPOjE
Borrowing chapter titles from metal’s most seminal works, Wiederhorn and Turman hopscotch through the acid rock of the ‘60s and ‘70s that served as metal’s protoplasm and tackle the tide of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. We review the formations and early years of pioneers like Black Sabbath and Judas Priest from the performers themselves (Ozzy, Geezer Butler, Rob Halford, K.K. Downing, etc.) and discover just what were they thinking when they plugged in and tuned up. “Iron Man” scribe Tony Iommi explains how he lost his fingertips in a factory accident—and how he replaced them with homemade digits later.
Middle sections survey the mainstreaming of metal, with “hair bands” like Dokken, Warrant, Twisted Sister, RATT, and Motley Crue updating Sabbath’s cudgel-heavy sound for the ‘80s with theatrical sleaze. We revisit L.A.’s Sunset Strip, where rock and roll hopefuls competed for large slices of small economic pies. The musicians recall plastering utility poles with show flyers, stealing each other’s girlfriends, and sabotaging the equipment of rival bands. Guns ‘n’ Roses members tell of their time scrounging for cash—and reveal the horrors of Hollywood’s seedy underbelly, wherein desperate, displaced people often resorted to desperate (and disgusting) measures for attention. We learn that spandex was favored not just for mobility onstage, but because the fabric breathes well and could be easily washed in Woolite in hotel room sinks.
A chapter on thrash covers the decade from 1981-91, tracking the rise of “Big Four” giants Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, and Slayer—and equally influential bands Exodus and Testament. We learn how introverted James Hetfield paired up with amateur tennis player-turned tape trader Lars Ulrich to form their own NWOBHM-influenced group in San Francisco, and how bassist Cliff Burton’s overdriven bass became a key component of Metallica’s sound. Readers become flies on the proverbial wall for guitarist Dave Mustaine’s ostentatious outing from the band and accompany the alcohol-addled young musician on a Greyhound as he plots his comeback with Megadeth. Old wounds are reopened as friends and family recount the freakish bus crash that killed Burton in 1986. Meanwhile, Slayer’s Kerry King and Tom Araya ditch their makeup for maximum velocity and—on the East Coast—Scott Ian, Dan Spitz, and Charlie Benante conspire with Neil Turbin in Anthrax.
Named for the Cro-Mags’ classic album, “Age of Quarrel” examines the crossover / hardcore movement from 1977-92. Drawing on the personal ruminations and reflections of those who responsible for the marriage of punk and metal, Wiederhorn and Turman outline the significance of groups like The Misfits, Black Flag, Minor Threat, Bad Brains, Prong, and Suicidal Tendencies. A subsequent chapter is devoted almost entirely to Pantera, the Texas-based quartet who reinvented thrash for the Nineties after Metallica blunted their aural attack. We follow brothers Vinnie Paul and Daryl “Dimebag” Abbott as they sharpen their skills on drums and bass, respectively, under their record-producer father’s tutelage and witness the band’s evolution with a feral (and unapologetic) Philip Anselmo at the microphone.
The book’s second half explores Industrial music and its purveyors by considering the work of Nine Inch Nails, KMFDM, Ministry, Skinny Puppy, and White Zombie. We dip into Nu Metal with Limp Bizkit, Korn, Faith No More, and Rage Against the Machine, and reconcile the uneasy relationship between rap and rock.
Institutionalized religion and spirituality are questioned, dismissed, and defended in lengthy segments on Death Metal and Black Metal, whose Satan-crazed practitioners toyed with tempo, dynamics, and volume in their pursuit of all things evil on record. Guilty parties here include Mayhem, Obituary, Autopsy, Cannibal Corpse, Morbid Angel, Venom, and Emperor. The lines separating reality from theatricality become hopelessly blurred (and bloodily smeared) as misguided musicians indulge grave robbing, self-mutilation, even murder in order to become one with their own inner darkness.
Dave Grohl shares memories of watching Venom singer “Cronos” devour a meal: “I don’t know if he’s really Satanic, but he drank like a Viking and ate a piece of meat that was almost still alive. It was cold and bloody. And he told us about going into supermarkets and eating raw meat when he didn’t have any money.”The authors delve into the feud between Mayhem guitarist Oystein “Euronymous” Aarseth and Burzum singer / arsonist Varg “Count Grishnackh” Vikernes (which culminated in 1993 with a fatal stabbing) and psychoanalyze vocalist Per Yngve Ohlin, who in 1991 lived up to his nickname (Dead) in a grisly suicide-by-shotgun. Members of Deicide and other dark outfits debate the legitimacy of Satanism as a lifestyle and source of lyrical content, and their grotesque efforts to outdo one another on stage would be hilarious were they not so hurtful or disturbingly self-destructive. Other metal gods—including Slayer’s Kerry King—simply laugh off all references to Lucifer as being mere schtick.
Older readers (like yours truly) might not find the material on “millennial” bands like Avenged Sevenfold and Godsmack as interesting as the stuff on legends like Sabbath or Priest simply because the newer acts aren’t as familiar. Still, if there’s one thing metal isn’t, it’s boring—and some of these newcomers give the old guard a run for their money in the shenanigans department.
Louder features three 16-page color glossy photo sections, and an alphabetical “Cast of Characters” is tucked at the end.