Swinford, Dean- Death Metal Epic I: The Inverted Katabasis (Book Review)

Spread the metal:

Reviewed: March 2020
Released: 2013, Publisher: Atlatl Press
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: JP

The vast majority, (99% or higher)  of publications about Heavy Metal are non-fiction.  So when a Metal themed fiction piece is published it always catches my eye.  In this case the publication in question is the Death Metal Epic trilogy. I intended to review all of them individually.

Dean Swinford is an American professor of English who resides in North Carolina. He is a life-long Metal fan and has tried his hand at writing a Metal themed fiction piece.   Printed and presented by Atlatl Press the first part of the series was written in 2013. The book itself is a standard paperback with eye-catching cover art and just a few black and white images smattered across the pages.  At a compact 146 pages it is a quick, easy read.

THE INVERTED KATABASIS is part one of the trilogy.  In case the word katabasis is not familiar to you (I had to look it up too) it means roughly, a descent.  Therefore an inverted katabasis would be a rising up.  It is a clever title not only for the play on Black Metal inverting things like crucifixes and such, but also because this tale is one of the rise of a young man and his life’s journey. The abbreviated plot synopsis is the story of a young man, in his early 20’s living in Florida, playing in a mostly dead-end band, working at a dead-end job, recently dumped by his girl and not too much potential.  By chance he meets another musician, his muse in a sense, and they collaborate musically on a project which helps give me a glimmer of hope, a new record and a short tour of Europe. He grabs the brass ring and our two troubadours head to Europe.   While in Europe, in a rash and spontaneous decision he decides to abandon his return ticket and the return to his old life and stay and immerse himself in the Metal underground of Europe, specifically Belgium.  From there he meets a cast of characters and becomes further entrenched in the underground and eventually joining a band.  This is where Part I leaves us.  Part II, GOAT SONG SACRIFICE, was published in 2017 and I have reviewed that title as well.

I find reviewing non-fiction is so much easier because I don’t have to worry about giving away important plot-points, or spoilers as the hip kids like to say, and it is hard to be critical of prose and a story. There are professional critics who are far more experienced than I who can shred (or elevate) a book with a pithy phrase and quick, dry wit.  I am not that critic, nor would I want to be.  Suffice it to say I really enjoyed reading THE INVERTED KATABASIS. Was it high quality writing?  I thought so but that is pretty subjective. It flowed well, was free of errors  and kept me engaged and interested in the characters.  I was pleasantly surprised when it was slowly revealed that it was not a story about some lowly Metal dude getting possessed by some evil force in exchange for supernatural rock-star guitar powers.  That clichéd story has been done in print and in film.  At the end of the book there was a sense of a cliffhanger, but not a blunt one, just a feeling of the story moving to the next phase which made we want to read and enjoy Part II.   In addition there were a number of longer dream-like sequences with atmospheric explorations of the occult, mysticism, nightmares and metaphysical concepts.  These sections are interspersed with the main story and add a nice dark metallic sheen over the book,  possibly some slightly ominous foreshadowing.

It has been a long time since I’ve read any fiction, my reading is almost exclusively non-fiction Metal related stuff, it was a refreshing change of pace. The book was utterly loaded with Metal references. Jam packed.  A phrase, a lyric, a passing nod to a band name, some album art…and those are the ones that are not overtly mentioned!  Swinford obviously knows his stuff. The book is totally immersed in Metal culture and not in a cartoony or condescending way.  There are many, many clever little moments that Metal fans will appreciate.

If I had one criticism of the character, and a minor one at that, is that Fosberg (see what I mean by the Metal references?) does not seem to actually LISTEN to Metal very often or behave like a Metalhead.  He plays in a band, wears Cannibal Corpse shits, travels, goes to concerts, but never seems to have tapes or CD’s or a Discman (it was set in the mid-90’s) constantly plugged in.   He doesn’t seem to spend all of his money on music, seek out rarities, spend hours visiting record stores, buy magazines, the normal behaviour of the vast majority of Metal people. It is almost as if he is a bit aloof or detached from listening to music, the driving force behind the entire concept of the book.  Aside from that, the characters are not your common Metal clichés of dumb stoners or simply party people, but are portrayed in a far more realistic fashion, for better and worse, and I appreciated that.  He worries about money, tries to get laid, probably drinks a bit too much, drifts a bit aimlessly, has good days and bad days, but also tries to improve himself in small bursts, and generally tries to be a good person, you know…like many people in life.

THE INVERTED KATABASIS was very enjoyable story. It is a simple story without crazy hooks or plot-twists but one where I wanted to know how the journey of this young Metallion was going to turn out. I’m looking forward to Part II and III!