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Mudrian, Albert
Choosing Death-The Improbable History of Death Metal and Grindcore (Book Review)
June 2005
Released: 2004, Publisher: Feral House
Rating: 4.0/5
Reviewer: JP

The title say sit all and this book clocks in at a nice, manageable 285 pages. It has lots of pictures, all black and white, many of them blurry photos or reproductions from old magazines. The photos look cheap like they came from some guys scrapbook, which they probably are.



The book has a good font, it is easy read, well laid out and organized. It has many extra features such as a ‘Cast of Characters’ a rudimentary who’s who in the death/grind genre. It has a nice intro by John Peel who some say was instrumental in getting these (at the time) underground genres, some radio exposure.



There is a nice forward from Nick Terry an ex-editor of Terrorizer magazine as well. He makes a few key points which should not be ignored. Specifically he says that this book is NOT trying to be the most comprehensive accounting the genre. It is good to admit that up front because there really is an enormous amount of material that is (at times unfortunately) not touched on. It is not attempt to document everything and should not be seem as such. It is a focus on many of the main players, bands, labels that made up the bulk of the (dare I say it?) ‘mainstream’ death metal scene over the past 20 years. It is not really a look deep into the death metal underground but a focus on the times and stories of the big names that brought the genre (kicking and clawing) into the harsh light of public recognition if only briefly.



At the back end of the book there is a section of essential listening for the genre with some album cover shots, again all of the photos are too dark and blurry. The list is pretty good, like any list a few notable exceptions and a few favourites left out, a few choices included that probably should be there but were likely personal favourites of the author, but the list pretty much nails it. One minor complaint…why the heck are compilations included? Unless a compilation has 75% unreleased material, it isn’t essential. Go buy the original release from the bands that appear on the compilation. Death Metal comps are for people who are already late on the scene or more often than not, cash-grabs by record labels.



Another very interesting part of the book is the ‘Where Are They now?” section with the clever title Life After Death. it is a list of where people are now, what they are doing, I found it fascinating.



In terms of the main text, there are 10 chapters laid out relatively chronologically and broken down by England, North America, Europe etc… There are many interesting stories and quotes from the people who were there, sometimes two sides of a controversial story are presented for a nice balance. The research is quite thorough and I liked how there was a focus on the industry as well, magazines, radio, record labels and all the infrastructure behind the bands that brought the metal to the masses. It comes as no surprise that many people (some of who are still active in the industry today) were in it for the money from the very beginning and were directly or indirectly responsible for poor choices that damaged the genre in the mid-90’s.



One thing I found quite odd was despite being written by an American the book was heavily influenced by the scene in England. At first I noticed the bias and just assumed the author was a Brit who wasn’t really familiar with the metal scene in North America, but that is not the case. I personally think that the book favours bands like Napalm Death way too much in the development of the genres. There are bands and people from England whose influence is somewhat exaggerated and bands and people from the US who were not given nearly enough credit. For example bands like Concrete Sox and Extreme Noise Terror live albums are listed as essential listening but the first three releases by Cannibal Corpse are passed over? That doesn’t make sense. Why wasn’t Brian Slagel interviewed?

or Ron Quintana?



There are a few things here and there I would have liked to have seen more on, specifically the global underground scene. It would not have hurt at all to have a few paragraphs of text and to talk to the people from labels like Wild Rags & Unique Leader in the US, Osmose in France, Warhead in Australia, Galy in Canada, Cogumelo in Brazil and so on. I would have liked to have seen more on the underground independent fanzines and less on the big glossy commercial publications like Terrorizer. However, it was stated upfront this was not really an analysis of the death metal underground.



The final chapter about the future of the music is very interesting with two camps emerging, those who desire purity of the genre and those who feel it has to evolve to survive. An interesting debate for sure one that will continue to rage in bars around the globe for centuries to come.



Choosing Death is a very entertaining and informative book. It covers all the critical points with intelligence and flair. I would recommend it to any fan of heavy music. For more books in the Feral House Publishing group go to http://www.feralhouse.com
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