Released: 2014, Handshake Inc.
Death Metal is arguable approaching it’s 30th anniversary in 2015. Some might even argue the 30th anniversary is 2014 with the release of the Noise Records , four-band compilation record, DEATH METAL. If that was the spark, most observers figure 1985 was the flashpoint with releases by Death and Possessed starting the flame that still burns to this day. It is quite fitting then, that for the first time we have an extensive book covering the early days of the global Death Metal scene as told by the very people who were there deep in the underground.
EXTREMITY RETAINED is a monster tome running over 475 pages. There are not a lot of extra frills, it is all black and white, no foreword, no afterword, no discography of seminal bands but it does have lots of cool little drawing inhabiting the margins courtesy of Matt Carr and Gary Ronaldson, giving it the homemade look of a ‘zine. I don’t begrudge the book for looking glossy, because it was likely fully intentional to make it look and feel like an 80’s underground fanzine. There are tons and tons of shots of flyers, posters album covers cut and paste into a collage style that was so popular in many ‘zines. The cover art is really well done as well, lots of to look at with many little references to Death Metal.
EXTREMITY RETAINED primarily focuses on the first era of Death Metal, roughly 1985-1995. The book is divided into five key sections; the origins of the genre, regional scenes, album production, touring, and it closes with some commentary on the past, present and future of the genre. Jason Netherton has opted to go with an oral history instead of an academic treatment like Mudrian’s book. The list of contributors in the back tells us that there are over 100 contributors. In fact, Netherton writes very little except for the introduction and a few bridge passages at the beginning of each section. His legwork came in the form of compiling and editing dozens, even hundreds of interviews from people involved with Death Metal. He is more than qualified as he was a founding member of Dying Fetus dating back to 1991, so it is not just some University Professor who was never there. However, for the record Netherton is seeking his PhD as well, so he combines the best of both worlds; frontline experience and an intelligent approach.
The book is extremely comprehensive with band members from countless bands as well as producers, engineers, journalists, artists, fanzine editors and more. Of course there are always those people who cannot or will not contribute to a book, and I was a little surprised that a few bigger names were not contributors like some of the Morbid Angel guys or Mortician guys or Carcass guys, or Jeremy of Broken Hope. but they were all referenced many, many times. The book is already huge as it is and Netherton could not include everyone. The book is anchored by my interviews with members of Death, Obituary, Massacre, Cannibal Corpse and Malevolent Creation, Suffocation and many more.
One major advantage I felt was that the author had a very good grasp on the vast scale of the international underground Death Metal scene. He included interviews from members of bands from America, Canada, Japan, Australia, Malta, Brazil, Columbia, Chile, England, Ireland, and a couple dozen European countries. I’ve read some histories of Metal that basically focus on the US and the UK and Netherton wisely avoids that common mistake.
The only minor drawback I discovered while reading this long book was that was that the scene was so small and so insular in the early days that many of the stories get rehashed over and over and over. How many times can you read about the same guys from the US Death Metal scene all talking about hanging out at a bar in New Jersey or some record store in Tampa or going to Milwaukee Metalfest? At points when they all have the same story and shared experinces, it felt repetitive. On the positive side, there are countless stories, tales of adventure and legends that are discussed and revealed by the people who were there on ill-fated tours and legendary recording sessions. I think my favorite section was ‘Rotting In The Van’ (Touring And The Road) in terms of new information and stories. Other highlights include an extensive interview with legendary Morrisound producer, Tom Morris and while it would have been great to capture an interview with Scott Burns, Morris covers that era in fascinating detail.
I had so much nostalgia reading this book it was a very pleasurable journey. Although I was not actively involved in the scene in terms of tape-trading or making a fanzine, I was just a fan, buying albums and going to shows, but there was a lot of history and common experiences that I was very familiar with. I can’t recommend EXTREMITY RETAINED enough to fans of the classic era of Death Metal and for young fans seeking to learn more about the golden age.