Cover Image: Death Metal

Death Metal

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As a sister series to a humongous shelf full of books each looking at a famous album, we now get a look at niche musics seldom covered in the reading material of the typical commuter. Death Metal is my first look, and it's very decent – discussing the founding of it, the characters producing it from the early sludgy recordings (the track from Possessed that ultimately gave the genre its name) to the near-mainstream, the issues behind tracks moaning on about licking out zombie punani, or whatever the teen-friendly song subjects were, and so much more. Throughout it doesn't really disguise anybody's surprise that books even more academic than this are being written about such a grungy, trashy, misogynistic pile of poop, that really should not have hooks in anyone for more than about three spotty, unwashed years, but it does show the instant, immediate appeal, and gives as good an attempt at a canon as surely is possible.

Take the reaction to Napalm Death's "You Suffer", though – four or five drum beats, one chord and a bit of vocal, and that's a song whose exegesis is worthy of a full paragraph? No, it's as meaningful as a John Lewis advert. This is tripe, with only some outfit called Anaal Nathrakh (bless me) counting as anything like a discovery here. I remain so much more "Blackened" than "Cosmic Sea", that's for sure. And when you get to whole albums that only show the creators swallowed a medical dictionary, I'm outta here.

But that doesn't mean the book is a weak one. Yes it goes down the woke, USA academe road a bit by the end, but it sustains its mission, to discuss and critique what sparsely adds up to forty years of this stuff. It is stuff that you should never have got fat on (just youtube 'Napalm Death, Wacken 2009') and should by all tastes and decencies remain a gimmick for the teenaged, but it's there and the curious definitely deserve a book about it. This to my mind is as good as I would have wanted. Now, there's some body parts I've not perfected my death growl about, so if you don't mind...

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I've never been a fan of Death Metal but the books in 33 1/3 series are always comprehensive and entertaining.
This was a short but extensive guide to death metal: bands, albums, song, and story.
I enjoyed it even if some song text were a bit disturbing.
Highly recommended.
Many thanks to the publisher for this arc, all opinions are mine

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A really fun book on the genre. It dives into deep cuts / origins / nuances of the genre / subcategories and new developments. If you like death metal or heavy music, this is a really fun and intriguing read.

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Death metal is very much not my scene, but music documentaries are; Coles references the documentary Metal Evolution from some years ago, which I adored. As a musical history of the last four decades, I found this really quite fascinating. Although it must be noted that reading the names of some of the albums and songs, as well as a description of what they're singing about, wasn't always pleasant. So if you're really not in the zone for some lightly gross description, avoid this!

Surprising things include the fact that I actually recognised some names of bands! More surprising though is that the second chapter begins with a mention of Hildegard von Bingen, and the fact that in the morality play attributed to her from 1151, the instructions are for the Devil to be played with a harsh voice. Coles draws a comparison here to the 'death growl' that helps make death metal what it is. So that was quite a moment.

The book follows a straightforward historical line from the beginnings of death metal and its early influences in the 1980s, through to when they are finishing the book in late 2021. This means that some of what is being discussed is coming from that a period when stuff that's regarded today as on nose was still accepted by most of the scene. The main issue here is the misogyny of some of the lyrics, and I was very relieved that in the final chapter Coles does reflect on how problematic much of that early stuff is, and how at least some modern bands are actively pushing back.

Does this make me want to listen to death metal? Nope. Does it make me appreciate it more as a musical genre? On an abstract level, yes. It's good that books like this exist.

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Death Metal by T Coles is a short history of the death metal genre. Coles defines the musical(?) characteristics emblematic of this genre and then details the timeline of the genre highlighting the major artists and releases.

In general, I am not a fan of the genre, but did recognize some of the bands named. The book is organized in a typical fashion, an introduction delineating how the book was organized and why your favorite band might not be featured, followed by a chronological history broken into different eras.

It was interesting to learn of its development and how death metal's period of commercial success was related to grunge boom. Coles also detailed the lyrical subject matter, offshoot genres such as grindcore or black metal. A useful primer for those interested in the genre, but did not leave me feeling the need to explore further.

I did love the inclusion of the Mountain Goats song "The Best Ever Death metal band out of Denton" at the beginning of chapter 5, "New Frontiers."

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