Book Report: ‘Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History Of Metal’
October is Metal Month at Radio.com. Throughout the month, we’ll have artist interviews as well as mini-documentaries about metal, metal fans and the birthplace of metal. And book reports: reading is fundamental, even for headbangers, and we’ll have reviews of some of the best recent metal biographies and retrospectives. Horns up!
Whether you’re just passing by the history of metal or you have been ingrained in it for years, you must read Louder Than Hell, an extensive, nearly-700 page record of the genre.
Metal fans will surely recognize the names of both authors: Wiederhorn writes for Revolver, Guitar World and has written for Metal Hammer and has also worked for non-metal mags including Rolling Stone, Spin and even TV Guide. Plus, he can tolerate insanity: he co-wrote Ministry frontman Al Jourgensen’s recent autobiography, Ministry: The Lost Gospels Of Al Jourgensen (read more: Hate and War: A Phone Conversation With Al Jourgensen). Turman, meanwhile, was the editor of RIP magazine, and also wrote for the Los Angeles Times, Rolling Stone, Spin and Billboard and used to work as a music producer on The Sharon Osbourne Show.
Adding to the book’s cred is the fact that Scott Ian of Anthrax wrote the forward, while the “Metal God” Rob Halford of Judas Priest penned the afterword. From the earliest days of metal to more recent artists playing black metal, death metal and the much maligned subgenre, nu-metal, the book covers it all (although Wiederhorn and Turman told Radio.com that a chapter on “grunge” and ’90s alternative rock had to be cut, as the book was getting to be too long).
The book starts off in the pre-metal era of the ’60s, covering the Stooges, the MC5 and Alice Cooper (when “Alice Cooper” represented a band, not just the frontman). It quickly moves to the early ’70s, starting with the formation of Black Sabbath and, shortly after fellow Brummies Judas Priest.
WHAT WE LEARNED:
- When Judas Priest’s Ian Hill and K.K. Downing went to Rob Halford’s house to meet him for the first time, he was singing an Ella Fitzgerald song. Hill recalled saying, “At least the guy can do harmonies.”
- While Black Sabbath are a huge influence on the “stoner metal” genre, they were pretty sober… at least for the recording of their first two albums, Black Sabbath and Paranoid. As guitarist Tony Iommi recalled, “We didn’t have time.” The debut was recorded in one day, Paranoid took just slightly longer. Bassist Geezer Butler says, “We couldn’t afford anything. When we first started we’d have one joint between us all. We couldn’t afford booze, either, so none of us drank.”
WHAT WE LEARNED:
- Through the ’80s and early ’90s, there was huge animosity between Ozzy (and Sharon) Osbourne and his former bandmates in Sabbath. But, it was actually Sharon Osbourne who introduced the guys from Sabbath to Dio. As Tony Iommi says, “Of course, that was before she was managine Ozzy.” At the time, she worked for her father: notorious Black Sabbath manager Don Arden, whom she would fall out with as well.
- Ozzy didn’t actually know what Aleister Crowley looked like, despite singing about him for decades in his song “Mr. Crowley.” Ozzy’s former guitarist Zakk Wylde bought a poster and hunt it up in the studio and Ozzy asked who it was. When Wylde informed him, he replied, “Oh, is that what the bald-headed c*** looks like?”
- The members of Iron Maiden started out as skinhead punks. Guitarist Dave Murray remembers the moment he changed: “I heard [Jimi Hendrix's] ‘Voodoo Chile’ on the radio and I thought, ‘F****** hell! What is that?’ I started wearing an Afghan coat, playing guitar and going to gigs.”
The “Youth Gone Wild” chapter covers the “hair metal” era. The authors treat it with respect, although not all of the people interviewed felt the same way.
WHAT WE LEARNED:
- Tom Morello didn’t have the hair for hair metal: He recalled having a great phone conversation with a metal bass player and agreeing to meet his band. Until the manager called, asking about the length of his hair. “Not that long,” the future Rage Against The Machine/Audioslave guitarist recalled saying. The manager asked if he’d be willing to wear a wig.
- A Tommy Lee car accident helped to pay for Armored Saint’s demo when that band’s bassist Joey Vera was in a car accident (Lee was driving). The girl who owned the car had insurance, and Vera got a payout to cover his injuries. He had enough money left over from that to fund the sessions which ended up as their 1983 self-titled EP.
There’s much more where that came from. Other chapters cover thrash metal, industrial metal, and “millennial” metal, as well as death metal, black metal and nu-metal. And while it’s unlikely that even the most hardcore metal fans like all the music covered in the book, every chapter is interesting and entertaining, even if you don’t have all the records being written about. As Halford says in the afterword, “Discovering a new subgenre of metal music is like finding the key to an exotic kingdom.” Even if you don’t want to hang out in each kingdom, they’re fun to learn about.