Released: 2013, DaCapo Press
The public seems to have an insatiable appetite for books about Metallica. This month I review another three. First is WHIPLASH (1990) being one of the very first books on Metallica, the second, METALLICA (2010) and the last is BIRTH SCHOOL METALLICA DEATH (2013) being one of the most recent books. Please feel free to enjoy all the reviews in this mini-Metallica feature.
Man, I am getting so sick of Metallica books. I know that is not a very positive or enthusiastic way to start a book review, but c’mon, how many times came the same story be told over and over and over? There are already several definitive books about the band on the market, (McIver, Popoff, Wall etc and still in print no less) what would possibly possess a writer to think they could add anything new to the Metallica story? What publisher would think that this could possibly be a profitable endeavor? Well, those authors and publishers are wise people because they know the market. Metallica fans will pretty much buy anything with the bands name on it, and so here we go with the 20th + book about the band in the past decade, yet another biography.
I really took my time with this review and set aside my skepticism and viewed this book through the lens of someone who has never read a book about Metallica before. In that aspect, BIRTH SCHOOL METALLICA DEATH is a fantastic work. The hard cover is a generous 378 pages long and has 20 pictures on glossy plates in the middle. The book is divided into ten chapters and covers the bands biography from the beginning to the release of the self-titled METALLICA album in 1990. The last chapter is just a short teaser before the band jumps from big to one of the world's biggest and is a nice lead in for the next book, due in late 2014. The book itself has a neat design with a snake logo embossed in the all black hard cover to replicate the METALLICA album cover art. I hope they do not try to replicate the /blood and semen cover art for Part II!
Naturally the book follows a chronological timeline starting with the early childhood of James Hetfeild, before doing the same for Ulrich, Burton, Mustaine, Hammett, and so on. The biography is a conventional retelling of a story that has been told many times before. There are a few interviews that add a tiny bit of new information here or there but it is not much room to manoeuvre in the biography format, so that has to be taken into account.
The authors Brannigan and Winwood are big name music journalists in the UK writing for the BBC, Rolling Stone, (is that even still a thing?) NME, Mojo, The Guardian and others and they don't really strike me as Metal fans. In fact they often make fun of bands like Twisted Sister and Manowar and even Metallica. If I was the author I would not make fun of the subject I was writing about, but the UK press is notorious for tearing down their subjects so I was not surprised that there was a negative, cynical and critical tone for many parts of the book. On the positive side, the authors are very entertaining writers and although there were a few creative liberties taken with the recounting of anecdotes with no source material, I found the book very easy and fun to read in terms of prose pacing and storytelling.
As I mentioned in my introduction, my main hesitation is that I've heard all these stories so many times before it was a pretty uninspiring read in terms of factual information. The same old stories are faithfully trotted out. Lars' father was a professional tennis player. Mustaine kicked a dog a he fought with Hetfield. Anthrax lent Metallica a toaster oven in NYC. A bus fell on Cliff. etc, etc etc...there was very little information that I had not read or seen before in any number of other books and documentaries about the band. But that is precisely one of the books strengths is that is does collect all that info into one excellent package.
I've said this before many times on this site, I pretty much gave up on Metallica after JUSTICE. I am one of the loyalists or the 'True' as they were labelled from the Bay-area. METALLICA (the album) was such a crushing and heartfelt disappointment that I gave up on the band for almost 20 years. That is precisely the reason why I'm really looking forward to BIRTH SCHOOL METALLICA DEATH Part II coming in the fall of 2014. I'm going to learn something new and enjoy trying to reconnect with the 'lost years' as I call them as the Metallica machine marched around the planet playing monster gigs with non-Metal acts and sporadically releasing experimental rock albums. In the meantime, this bio is as good as any on the market and a great starting point for your Metallica library.