As much as I love to read, it’s been tough to get in a book lately. I’ve mostly stuck to comic books and magazines that I can get through in a sitting or two, but when I read about “Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal,” I couldn’t help but dive into the pit.
It did not disappoint. Written and compiled from over 400 interviews by music journalists Jon Wiederhorn and Katherine Turman, this thing is packed with over 700 pages of practically everything you’d ever want to know about the genre. It covers metal’s early formation and growth into the many sub-genres we know today, breaking things up chronologically by the various trends and waves that have swept hard rock since the ‘60s, from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal to thrash to hardcore to industrial to nu metal to death and black metal and into the present.
The organization of all this information would have been impressive enough, but it’s the way it reads that makes this book so interesting. The interviews are broken up in such a way that the entire thing reads like a conversation, as if Ozzy Osbourne, Axl Rose, Rob Zombie, Trent Reznor, Lemmy Kilmister, Cory Taylor, Ronnie James Dio, Lars Ulrich, Kerry King, and hundreds more were all just sitting in the same room with you telling this story. Other than the occasional paragraph to transition from one subject to the next, almost the entire thing is straight from the dark horse’s mouth.
It doesn’t shy away from any topic, either, explicitly describing drug use, sexual escapades, controversies, arrests, and even murder. If you’re one of those people that love the “juicy” stuff, there’s plenty of that in “Louder Than Hell,” but there’s also a lot of focus on the music itself: where famous songs came from, what was running through their minds at the time, and how they went from no-name bums to cultural icons. As you may have noted in many of my music articles in The Weekender, I enjoy letting the interview subject guide the piece by using extensive quotes and letting them tell their own story in their own words, so with this book so heavily focused on quotations, I knew I would find it that much more fascinating because rock stars are extremely quotable.
It’s honest, brutal, hilarious, and sad all at once, and whenever I had to put it down, I wondered when I would be able to pick it up again. In fact, my only gripe is when I was finished, I wanted more. Considering the authors had so much ground to cover in only so much space, I can see why they breezed over some things like Swedish melodic death metal, so really all I’m asking for is a sequel. What got left on the cutting room floor? I need to know!
Much like Scott Ian describes in his foreword and Rob Halford discusses in his afterword, metal fans are voracious followers who cannot help but immerse themselves in the music and its rebellious attitude, as I have since I was a teenager, so this book allowed me to continue that quest for every scrap of verified information I could find, and who better to verify it than those who lived it?
Even if you’re not the most hardcore metalhead, if you consider yourself a music nerd in any way or just enjoy reading about music and/or extreme lifestyles, then pick up “Louder Than Hell.” It truly captures the power of this genre and what it drives people to do, whether that is succeed and become millionaires or break off from society and become devil worshippers. It dispels rumors and confesses the truth in an unflinching and exceptionally readable format, and best of all, I related to the musician’s stories in the same way I’ve related to their work.
Well, except for the devil worshipping part, but most of that is just for show anyway. You’ve got to put on a good show, after all, but sometimes what goes on backstage is just as fascinating.
-Rich Howells is a lifelong Marvel Comics collector, wannabe Jedi master, and cult film fan. E-mail him at [email protected]