Goldenberg, Matthew, & Krovatin, Christopher
Hellraisers (Book Review)
Released: 2017, Racepoint
It must be getting close to Christmas because it is time for the annual, generic, hardcover, Heavy Metal 101 book, timed nicely for gift buying season! This year it is HELLRAISERS: A Complete Visual History of Heavy Metal Mayhem published by Racepoint.
HELLRAISERS is the brainchild / collaboration of Christopher Krovatin (ex, editorial assistant at Revolver Magazine) and Matthew Goldenberg (Metalsucks). In case you are not familiar, Revolver is a big, glossy mainstream heavy music magazine and Metalsucks is a comedy/pop-culture website with a large focus on heavy music as well. I’ll state my bias upfront, I don’t read or follow either of them; Revolver doesn’t cover bands I’m interested in and I find Metalsucks to be quite mean-spirited and don’t share their sense of humour of making fun of Metal all the time. I didn’t have very high expectations but I was curious what they would come up with.
HELLRAISERS is rather unimaginatively titled with two or three previously published books about Heavy Metal already have the word Hellraisers in the title. The authors and their team did a great job with design. Layout presentation, this is a really nice book to look at and read. Nice glossy paper, great photos, lots of big colour, great easy-to-read layout, top marks all around. The book is presented like a school text/class. It has ‘Homework’ (Recommended listening) ‘Crash Courses’ (short introductions to certain genres) and ‘Cultural Studies’ which are spotlights on things like festivals, mascots and drum triggers. It is a fun and cool theme. It also has cool cover art courtesy of Mark Riddick.
There is a heavy-focus on the fringes of Metal with a strong emphasis on the newer styles with entire chapters on Nu-Metal, Metalcore and Deathcore/Djent giving the book an inclusive, encompassing feel. It’s not to my taste but good for them for including that stuff. Coincidentally, you will find that a lot of the bands in the aforementioned chapters also appear in Revolver and Metalsucks so they write about what they know and what they like. However, they are weaker on the older, more traditional genres. (i.e., the ones they don’t think are cool or relevant) Case in point; the foreword is by a guy from Trivium which is not really a selling point.
My assumptions were fairly accurate in terms of writing style; there is quite a lot of attempts at humour (lots of name-calling) and politically correct, left-wing politics. If you enjoy the cool kids who constantly poke fun at bands (the traditional whipping bands of Nickleback, Poison and Manowar etc) then this will be right up your alley. If you enjoying reading about misogyny, racism, bigotry, homophobia, safe–spaces and gender-identity issues in your Metal history, then this is also the book for you! It was all very predictable and reinforces why I don’t follow their main outlets.
They trot out the same tired old jokes and clichés; Death Metal vocals sound like gargling broken glass, glam guys have big hair that could catch on fire, doom guys are all sweaty stoners, Power Metal fans are geeks who can’t get laid, etc, etc, etc. I’m sure they think they are being very witty and original but it comes across as boring and lame. For guys who claim to love Metal they sure seem to spend a lot of time reinforcing negative stereotypes about bands and fans.
In terms of content, they retell all the same old stories that get told over and over and over… Ozzy bit a bat, Alice Cooper killed a chicken, Halford is gay, Cliff Burton died in a bus accident, Vince Neil killed a guy drinking and driving, Black Metal guys burned some churches; there is virtually nothing new in this book and they don’t even try to add any insight.
The book has a few mistakes, I’m not going to other to list them all here, but they range from technical errors to common misperceptions, and inaccurate generalizations. However they did state this is just a Metal-primer so we can’t nit-pick all the little details. It’s largely error free unless you really follow Metal closely then you may spot the mistakes.
Another common criticism of these types of books (this one included) is that the American authors generally have no clue what is happening outside of America in the global Metal scene. The book focused extremely heavily on the US scene and the only non-US bands that get referenced are ones that got onto the radar in the US. Some of the world’s (ie. non American) biggest, longest running, most prolific and most successful Metal bands on the planet are completely ignored or referenced in passing and dismissed. That is fairly typical of many of the American authors, they just don’t know or don’t care. It’s not very global in it’s approach, I’d suggest 80% of the bands they focus on are American and most the rest just get ignored.
I’ve spent quite a bit of time analyzing and criticizing this book but I want to switch and focus on the broad positives, and there are a lot of them. One of the same criticisms I levelled earlier was that they had they same old stories. Well, in this kind of 101 book they almost have to include all those classic tales! Assuming someone knows very little about Metal, this is very comprehensive and cover all the major bases. The tone and tempo are quick and if you like that kind of humour you will likely think this is hilarious. The book has a lot of insights and clever observations. For example on Page 231 they state, “…fans continue to flock to power metal as a place to hear the music at it’s purest”. This is actually a very good observation but since they didn’t do a chapter on arguably one of if not the largest, most successful, longest running genres of Metal, it makes you wonder why the ‘purest’ strain of Metal merely gets lip-service. HELLRAISERS is thorough, comprehensive, interesting and overall a really fine introduction to Metal.
As I alluded to in my opening paragraph there are a lot of these ‘intro to Metal’ books on the market. I must have 10 of these ‘visual history’ style books in my library. HELL RAISERS is slanted, wholly unnecessary and adds very little to Metal publishing overall, BUT! it is extremely well done for beginners and lovingly presented, so I’d split the difference and add it to your library or get two, one for a friend!