A beginner bassist's foray into the unknown

Choosing Death: The Improbable History of Death Metal and Grindcore

So, wifey is strongly considering writing a thesis paper on women in death metal. As a fan of death and grindcore for almost 20 years now (and her better half), I might have had something to do with this, over the course of the last 11 years. Anyhow, she’s been grabbing scholarly papers about metal that I didn’t know existed (which I’ve been reading too) and she grabbed a few books from Amazon after I gave her my old copy of Lords of Chaos: The Bloody Rise of the Satanic Metal Underground a while ago.

Two nights ago, Choosing Death: The Improbable History of Death Metal and Grindcore, by Albert Mudrian came in. I actually tore into it before she did. I really enjoyed the book. Years ago, when I read Lords of Chaos, I was really impressed by the writing. The authors, Moynihan and Soderlind, are both journalists and did a great job. Its a very objective and detailed work. It took me a little while to read though, because as much as the subject matter interests me, I’m not the biggest fan of black metal.

Choosing Death, however went by much quicker for me. Its nearly as well-written as Lords of Chaos, and for me, it was much more readable (evidenced by my having read through it in one day). The subject matter is also near and dear to my heart, and reading it was like reliving history. I learned a lot of things about what was going on in the background with many of the pivotal bands and labels at the time as well, which I really like.

A lot of the book focuses on interviews and background information from Napalm Death, Morbid Angel, Earache Records and many bands who were related in some way to the rising scenes in England and Florida. Major players like Chuck Shuldiner (Death), Glen Benton (Deicide), John Tardy (Obituary), Justin Broadrick (Godflesh), John Peel from BBC Radio and producers like Scott Burns are also featured. Of course, there are tons of interviews and historical snippets from other sources like Relapse Records, Roadrunner Records (who grabbed Sepultura & Fear Factory when Earache initially turned them down – I never knew this happened), members of Carcass, Cannibal Corpse, Brutal Truth, Extreme Noise Terror, Bolt Thrower, Entombed, Immolation, Vader and more.

Background information from the bands also highlights bands like Seige, Discharge and Slayer, who were influential on much of the early grindcore movement. Its interesting to see how England and the United States influenced each other back and forth, especially with regard to the impact that Napalm Death (particularly Mick Harris’ drumming) had on Morbid Angel and that Mantas (proto-Death) had on a lot of European bands. Sweden is also looked at, but not quite as deeply as England and the US. It was interesting to see just how small the Swedish death and grind scenes really were at first, and how it grew into the whole Gothenburg sound that I personally take for granted today. I also never realized just how much tape trading shaped the sounds that became prevalent in these scenes. I’ve collected both tapes and CDs (demos and stuff that I have people bring back when they go abroad) but although I was aware of it, I hadn’t considered the potential that tape trading could have on not just fans, but musicians themselves.

I have one or two small issues with the book, but its not enough to detract from its excellence as a historic snapshot of the genres during the 1980’s-1990’s. There are some small details that I think are incorrect, but they’re not specifically band- or music-related. For example, the Necronomicon is not a satanic work. The idea of it was birthed by HP Lovecraft (one of my favorite authors when I was younger) and it was later written by “Simon”. Its not a real occult book. But that’s really inconsequential to the overall work. It only stands out to me because I enjoy Lovecraft’s work.

I’d actually love to see Mudrian write a follow-up to the book, as it ends at 2004. There have been changes to the bands that were featured since then and there have been changes in the scenes themselves (like the rise of deathcore and its relationship to death and grind, and wifey’s hot-button – the role of women in these scenes).

I’d also have loved to see more input from prominent bassists from the time, but that’s a biased slant, of course. Alex Webster offers input in several places in the book, and of course Glen Benton and David Vincent are bass players, but it would be wonderful to see Steve DiGiorgio, Tony Choy, more from Jo Bench (as she’s both a bassist and probably the earliest woman to prominently figure in the scene) and even producers’ takes on the role of bass in the genres, both as it existed at the time and with regard to how it evolved and what their desires and expectations were when working on bass during mixing.

Here are interviews with Albert Mudrian about Choosing Death from Earache & Voices from the Darkside, and the official website. Apparently Dean Jones from ENT wasn’t so easy to interview for the book:

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2 responses

  1. Pingback: Choosing Death: The Improbable History of Death Metal and Grindcore | Mortal Equality

  2. Pingback: Jo Bench (Bolt Thrower) – Collected interview snippets | Ugly Bass Face

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