Sound of the Beast: Calling All Metalheads
Mike Hess
5/9/2003 2:33:30 AM

There are two types of metalheads on this Earth: the intellectual purists -- who live, breathe and exist solely for the next iconic band to deepen the caverns of hell with their lyrics and cave in some foreheads with sheer power. And then there’s the less intricate bunch, normally referred to as the "jocks" who just like the crunch and aggression as an excuse to beat people up at concerts. Both keep the genre alive, but the purists are the ones that keep the scene fresh and respectable. Ian Christe’s Sound of the Beast: The Complete Headbanging History of Heavy Metal [HarperCollins] seems to be the diary of a purist that's been edited by some big sweaty meathead jock.

The preferences of the two types of metalheads will also likely apply while reading Christe’s profile of the genre. There will be the readers who are looking for vivid insight into their favorite bands, what inspired the lyrics and so forth. The others will turn directly to the 16-page glossy photo centerpiece, wanting to read about how much a certain band drank or who punched who. For those looking to learn, this book is all you. For the cheap thrill seeker, go read Motley Crue’s The Dirt.

Christe is certainly a foundationist. Of its 362 pages, I’d estimate that at least 175 of Sound’s pages have a mention of either Black Sabbath or Metallica. Now, not to say that this is incorrect or misrepresentative of heavy metal as a whole. Without Sabbath… who knows if there would even be heavy metal? As for Metallica, well, they were the first to be able to successfully appeal to both the meatheads and the purists. But I guarantee that at some points of the book, each reader will eventually say to themselves “okay, enough already about Sabbath and Metallica.”

Both bands truly are the reason heavy metal is so popular today, but Christe’s tireless transitions and comparisons overextend the already short attention spans of most metallers. He’s certainly done his homework and knows his shit, but like most music history books that draw a timeline of the bands that have crusaded in different eras, at times the author’s preferences take will precedence over importance.

For instance, after endless talk of Sabbath and Metallica for 200-something pages, there’s nary a mention of Rage Against the Machine or Nirvana, the two most influential heavy metal/hard rock artists of the 1990s. Sure, some call Nirvana punk or grunge, but they're most certainly heavy metal in its basest form. Introspective, haunting lyrics with pummeling drumlines and highly distorted guitars… what the hell else can you call it? As for Rage, well, aside from the slew of rap metal they inspired in the late 90s, nobody can challenge that their self-titled debut isn’t one of the best metal albums of the 90s. Musical presence aside, true accounts of history are about how one event or happening affects the future. Nobody had more of an impact than Rage on late the late 90s metal scene – whether it be recorded or during live shows. Even Korn (who barely get a mention in the book) can’t go toe-to-toe with Rage.

Any true metal lover will tell you Metallica’s last great “metal” album was 1988’s …And Justice for All. But Christe continues to boast and toast their Black Album and Load records. Dude, Load sucked some serious shit.

To be fair, the book has its perks too. Many would have completely overlooked the crossover thrashmasters D.R.I. (a personal favorite), and I doubt any other author would dedicate an entire chapter to gut-churning black metal bands like Cradle of Filth and Mayhem.

Again, a key problem that Christe himself -- or any heavy metal author could avoid facing is the split demographic. They’re likely to be band-specific, biased and easily fed up with the author’s tone.

Heavy metal fans are brutal critics. Especially ones that go and write reviews.


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