Sound Of The Beast: A Complete Headbanging History Of Heavy Metal. It’s Anything But.

Ian Christe’s groundbreaking book, titled above, was a watershed moment as far as those “big book of x genre” tomes go. Metalheads worldwide cheered almost unanimously, I imagine, as its ink dried in the saturnine glow of hellfire. Its cover art, a twisted adaptation yanked most blasphemously from the Sistine chapel. Its attention to every last minute detail of all that’s heavy would bring warmth to the hearts of metal fans, while educating and (hopefully) bringing new recruits. It’s a timeless, deathless volume, and it got everything right.
And now for what really happened.
This review has been slow simmering for a while in my mind. I really want to like this book, being that there aren’t a terrible lot of comprehensive studies, emic or etic, that look at Metal from front to back, starting at Blue Cheer and ending wherever the publish date happens to be. I’ll be the first to say that this book certainly does cover a lot, and no one can expect one person and perhaps a team of editors and acquaintances to cover the entire metalverse in a single book, but honestly, this book should have been pushed back for another five years, at least.
I will suggest that this book be renamed “Read ‘Em All: A Headbanging History At A Glance Of Metallica, And Other Kinda Important Bands”, because by Jove, this guy has a Metallica boner the size of Vesuvius.

Pictured: A reason to never make music again, because this just about covers it.

It’s almost embarrassing how diehard this guy is about Metallica to the point where he can’t even make it through a chapter on Death Metal without haphazardly throwing their name in. This book is bogged down in passages that essentially read like this: “X movement and x band(s) were important, but here’s what Metallica was doing.” It’s fucked.
To say nothing of the painfully obvious oversight in the case of bands like Suffocation, Swans, D.R.I., and Entombed, to say the very least. Sure, these names are mentioned, but only once. Now, like I said, it’s nearly impossible to give every band equal face time, but to just skimp over the New York Death Metal, Swedish Death Metal, Folk/Pagan Metal, and even Japanese movements (though Sigh, S.O.B., and Sabbat do get a mention apiece, what of equally important X Japan or G.I.S.M.? Nothing) is nothing short of criminally lazy. How about the Finnish scene, and the (then) new sounds being brought forth by Children Of Bodom, fusing Yngwie Malmsteen pretentiousness with the frosty aggression of Black Metal? Tim “Angel Ripper” Owens’ first band, Winter’s Bane is not even brought up, and speaking of Winter, why are they not mentioned despite their influence in agonizingly slow and heavy Doom Metal? When speaking of the confluence of Techno and Metal, why were The Berzerker nowhere to be found, despite having formed in 1995 and thus being readily available for observation by the time Christe drooled on his proverbial typewriter? What about the brief stint that Blaze Bailey had in Iron Maiden? The man’s name isn’t mentioned, though perhaps this is for the better, because he sucked the talent right out of them, despite being a capable solo artist.

Pictured: The reason why Nicko McBrain lies awake at night in tears

For a guy who tracked every waking movement of Metallica and to a lesser extent, Megadeth, and seems to have no shortage of quotes from Katon de Peña of Hirax, he seems rather blasé when discussing Grindcore, not even throwing a mention to pivotal bands like Assück or Extortion. Sludge, Stoner, and Doom metal get their treatments, but besides Black Sabbath, Sleep, Cathedral and Saint Vitus, nothing is spoken of in true depth, and the latter two are only given a few paragraphs, which, yes, in this book is depth in comparison to the two mentions given to The Melvins.

Clearly not important enough to warrant more than two whole pages.

Christe is decidedly a tryhard, as evidenced by his overdescribing and overinflating of adjectives. At some points, he refers to Kiss as heavy, and uses the word ‘blasting’ to refer to Lars Ulrich’s drumming. Highly inaccurate on both counts. To say nothing of his being off the mark sub-genre wise, but then again, maybe I’m off the mark and don’t know it yet. All I know is that Metallica is not Power Metal, and that by the time Chaos A.D. rolled around, Sepultura were no longer Death Metal. The man seems content with bumping everything up a level or two higher than it actually is for some strange reason. In the same fashion that an average 20-something today would use the word ‘literally’ to mean “kinda”, Ian Christe calls Manowar ‘crushing’, and makes Death Metal seem like a deliberate counterculture set on proving that growls and police siren solos can be beautiful too. Guy, it ain’t all that serious, some guys decided to hail Satan with gruff vocals and rip-roarin’ speed is all.

One must read deep into the genius proclamation of “Fuck your God”.

Don’t know what genre to call a band, but it’s fast and old school sounding? Lump ‘em all into Speed Metal, that’s fine. Nu-Metal? Oh yeah, that’s definitely all Death Metal + Hip Hop. Talk about D.R.I.? No need, S.O.D.’s the only crossover thrash band that matters. Oh and for that matter let’s call Crossover Metalcore instead, that’ll make a lot of sense. We could go deeper into the history of Pantera, and Kurt Cobain’s involvement in bands like Earth, but let’s make this chapter about Metallica before I lose interest. Crust Punk? What’s that? I’ll just call it Grindcore, that’s fine. Slayer had rough record quality on their early releases? Black Metal, fo sho. Bolt Thrower? Not even gonna discuss that shit when Metallica’s sold-out dates worldwide in support of The Whack Album are oh so important.

Such is the writing process behind Sound Of The Beast: A(n In)Complete History Of Heavy Metal. It’s a testament to patchy music journalism, something I dearly hope I have successfully avoided, in that it briefly touches on a lot, and certainly does delve into specifics on the major innovators and small-time foundation shakers, but is too stuck on something the author personally feels has captured “it”, it being a band they feel encapsulates the spirit of Heavy Metal as a whole. Should I have written a history of Metal, I sure as hell wouldn’t end up basing it around Iron Maiden or Black Sabbath or some shit with the attitude of “This is what happened while X member of Y band was addicted to screwing mangos”, so why would Ian Christe? It’s a shame that an informative book, despite its many downfalls, was written by a flamboyant Metallica fanboy with a penchant for exaggeration and hyperbole coupled with some mildly impairing spatial perception, because this man seems unfortunately colourblind when it comes to detailing the finer points of the genre he clearly loves.

Man writes book on Heavy Metal. Eats half of it. Publishes vomit.

It’s imperative that if anyone attempts to take Metal into their custody and write about it as though documenting the growth and development of a child, that they feed it a balanced diet, or else it’ll actually grow up to think the Black Album was actually Metal. But you know what really, truly upsets me about this book? Like, really rocks me to the core and makes me more prone to colon cancer? The fact that the man called “In The End” by Linkin Park a Metal power ballad. Oh, you dirty rat, I’m going to find you, and the pigs will never take me alive after they see what I do to you for this most egregious offence against all that is sacred and intellectual. The whole “Metal Lists” appendix is cringeworthy, and calls the credibility of the whole book into question, moreso than the shoddy writing itself. I must apply corpsepaint, headbang into a pot of boiling sulfuric acid, and cleanse myself.

A negative book review wouldn’t be worth its salt if it didn’t have some quotes demonstrating the utmost stupidity with which this material was at times handled. I’ll also include some quotes from interviewees that just don’t make any sense when applicable.

Presenting: The Most WTF of SOTB.

“Heartwork was a brilliant standard-setting accomplishment. It was the Metallica Black Album of death metal.” p. 246

I don’t see the relationship between Carcass and Metallica aside from the fact that they both use guitars and are white, personally.

If not exactly living up to Metallica’s sales precedent, death metal remained profitable into the mid-1990s.” 256

The man can scarcely go more than 5 pages without saying the M word. It’s as if he held his breath for as long as he could while typing and wrote about Metallica on impulse when he reached his limit without passing out.

‘Limp Bizkit’s Fred Durst and Kid Rock are rappers,’ says Chuck D from influential rap group Public Enemy. ‘They probably rebelled against rock in their teenage years, because it was too white-boy or something. Now it’s available to them, and you have to tip your hat to these guys for doing it.’” 325

Chuck, just because you were one of the main driving forces behind Hip-Hop doesn’t mean that makes any sense.

“’Metallica can do whatever they want’, says Shawn Crahan of the band Slipknot. ‘They won. They earned the right to do what they want today’.” 307

Including sue the world for essentially tape-trading online?

“Combining the spectral influence of Faith No More with snippets of the hardest death metal, the nu metal bands proved that pancultural metal could pay off.” 329

Dude.

I would search for even more, but this is painful enough.

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2 responses to “Sound Of The Beast: A Complete Headbanging History Of Heavy Metal. It’s Anything But.

  1. I remember a friend recommending this slim book a couple years back. Coming from him I knew to proceed with caution. He often falls for the discourses of “authorities” like those found on VH1. After skimming through I decided, overall, it was a very weak, half-assed attempt at the Heavy Metal story. I wasn’t surprised but what really did infuriate me later was to see so much praise and respect for it posted all over the place. I knew that this book was crap and there surely had to be plenty other metalheads of like-mind out there. Who the hell is Ian Christe anyway? What kind of self-respecting metalhead reveres the Black Album? Whatever. I guess this is all too typical for Heavy Metal–always short-changed. What upsets me is that many young, prospective listeners will be mislead into thinking that Christe’s history is a one-stop, crash-course on Heavy Metal and all its sub-genres.

  2. I’m reading this book now, and so far I’m enjoying it. I mean, it’s okay and appeard to touch a lot of base. I’ve mostly forgiven the occasional mistaking of hard rock for metal, but that was even done at the time, plus hard rock and metal had a lot of bleed through in the early days. Then again, I just finished the chapter on the 1970s, and the next is the 1980s. From what you’re saying, from here on out it’ll be nothing but Metallica? I mean, Metallica were pretty influential in thrash metal, but by 1990, they stopped being a genre leader and abandoned the subgenre they helped to popularize. I can understand mentioning or even going into depth on nu-metal for the sake of completeness, but that subject should probably be written objectively. When he starts praising it, I’m going to cringe. I mean, A Complete History should have its highs and lows documented, as well. I might as well finish it sincr I paid for it. Kickass title, kickass cover art. I was hoping that this book would be it. And if it really starts to suck what some other metalheads are claiming, then I can only hope someone else can finally get it right.

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