Sound of the Beast: The Complete Headbanging History of Heavy Metal

Sound of the Beast: The Complete Headbanging History of Heavy Metal

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by Ian Christe

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The definitive history of the first 30 years of heavy metal, containing over 100 interviews with members of Black Sabbath, Metallica, Judas Priest, Twisted Sister, Slipknot, Kiss, Megadeth, Public Enemy, Napalm Death, and more.

More than 30 years after Black Sabbath released the first complete heavy metal album, its founder, Ozzy Osbourne, is the star of


The definitive history of the first 30 years of heavy metal, containing over 100 interviews with members of Black Sabbath, Metallica, Judas Priest, Twisted Sister, Slipknot, Kiss, Megadeth, Public Enemy, Napalm Death, and more.

More than 30 years after Black Sabbath released the first complete heavy metal album, its founder, Ozzy Osbourne, is the star of The Osbournes, TV's favourite new reality show. Contrary to popular belief, headbangers and the music they love are more alive than ever. Yet there has never been a comprehensive book on the history of heavy metal - until now. Featuring interviews with members of the biggest bands in the genre, Sound of the Beast gives an overview of the past 30-plus years of heavy metal, delving into the personalities of those who created it. Everything is here, from the bootlegging beginnings of fans like Lars Ulrich (future founder of Metallica) to the sold-out stadiums and personal excesses of the biggest groups. From heavy metal's roots in the work of breakthrough groups such as Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin to MTV hair metal, courtroom controversies, black metal murderers and Ozzfest, Sound of the Beast offers the final word on this elusive, extreme, and far-reaching form of music.

Editorial Reviews

To produce this definite history of heavy metal music, world traveler Ian Christe conducted more than 100 interviews with members of Black Sabbath, Metallica, Judas Priest, Twisted Sister, Slipknot, Megadeth, KISS, and other equally ear-numbing bands. Long touted in heavy metal circles, Sound of the Beast bares the hidden past of these hard-driving headbangers. The large-format book contains 94 black-and-white photographs and a special 16-page color photo insert.
Terry Teachout
One can't help but wonder what Ozzy Osbourne would have said if, three decades ago, someone told him that in the twenty-first century, he would be best known as the foul-mouthed, half-witted star of a reality-TV series that attracts five million viewers. For once upon a time, the hapless head of the Osbourne household was a hope-I-die-before-I-get-old headbanger who was present at the creation of a fearfully loud, furiously angry musical genre that had yet to be dubbed "heavy metal."

It must have been in 1971 or 1972 that a high school friend loaned me a copy of Paranoid, the album in which Osbourne and the other members of Black Sabbath first unveiled the formula—shrieking guitars, thundering drums, catchy riffs and grim lyrics—that would bring joy to the hearts of two generations' worth of misunderstood teenage boys. After them came the deluge: Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Metallica, Motley Cr7#252;e, Napalm Death and a host of other ominously named groups that catered brilliantly to the insecurities of their adolescent fans. But no more than Ozzy did I suspect that I was witnessing rock and roll history in the making, or that more than a quarter-century later I'd be reading a thick tome entitled Sound of the Beast: The Complete Headbanging History of Heavy Metal.

Ian Christe, a journalist-musician who contributed some of his own metal to the soundtrack of Harmony Korine's film Gummo, takes his subject seriously—a reasonable approach to a genre that has never gotten much respect from most rock critics, who tend to find heavy metal too simple-minded for their liking. To be sure, Christe's prose occasionally runs to the rhapsodic ("Emerging likethe monolith in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, a contemporaneous influence, Black Sabbath were as irreducible as the bottomless sea, the everlasting sky and the mortal soul"). For the most part, though, he deftly walks the reader through the complicated story of heavy metal like the knowledgeable enthusiast he so clearly is.

Though Christe draws some sharp distinctions between and among subgenres, his basic position is that all heavy metal is good until proven bad. "Though metal is larger than life," he writes, "it ultimately comes from life: inflaming the intellect, shaking the senses and stroking the libido more completely than any sound before."

But Christe's forte is journalism, not criticism, and the best thing about Sound of the Beast is the quotes with which it is crammed, some of which are so revealing that one wonders whether he might have done better to publish not a semiformal history of heavy metal but an oral-history collection of first-person reminiscences. Why, for instance, were heavy metal bands more successful in concert than on the radio? One-time Black Sabbath frontman Ronnie James Dio has the answer: "I began getting big stages together soon after I saw the first Alice Cooper concert. I saw the first show where they hung him. The next show I saw with Alice, they electrocuted him. At the next one they chopped his head off. I was so impressed as a member of the audience that I was getting much more than I bargained for. I wasn't getting just music, I was getting this kind of Disneyland."

Similarly, nothing Christe has to say about the emotional content of the music is as illuminating as this remark by Tom Warrior, leader of Celtic Frost: "It's made for people in puberty, definitely. That's certainly the roots of heavy metal. That whole sense of revolution and wanting to be powerful is definitely a puberty thing. Fans don't have to be offended by that. Everybody goes through it. That's why heavy metal is so powerful." Indeed it is, and that is also why heavy metal is so humorless—because it is the quintessential expression of teen angst, that least amused of mental states.

Small wonder that heavy metal, for all its undeniable popularity and commercial success (250 million heavy metal albums have been sold since 1970 in the United States alone), has never been taken altogether seriously by grown-ups. You can't help but smile at its dogged, self-parodying earnestness, which gets a good going-over in This Is Spinal Tap, the 1984 movie in which heavy metal is knowingly skewered from snout to tail (and that Christe briefly dismisses as "a heavy metal mockumentary that lampoons rock excess but almost doesn't go far enough").

Would that Sound of the Beast were itself a little less earnest, but then it would be less true to its subject. While those who know nothing whatsoever about heavy metal may find Christe's sheer accumulation of detail somewhat daunting, full-fledged heavy metal enthusiasts will appreciate the care Christe takes with the music. Sound of the Beast contains everything anyone could possibly want to know about heavy metal, and much, much more.

Other rock-loving readers of a certain age, whatever their individual musical tastes, will likely be charmed by this nostalgic visit to the long-gone days when the star of The Osbournes was still capable of shocking superannuated congressmen and editorial writers with his onstage antics. Compared with the gangsta rap that has replaced headbanging on MTV, after all, Ozzy and his friends seem downright innocent.
Publishers Weekly
Few books on heavy metal music can compare to Christie's thoughtful and passionate history of the music of the beast. There is little argument that heavy metal began in earnest with Black Sabbath (though the Beatles' "Helter Skelter" is considered by some to be the first heavy metal song), and Christie holds to convention and begins his metal timeline in early 1970. Following in the jamming, bluesy tradition of the Yard Birds and Cream, Sabbath (then called Earth) wrote "Black Sabbath"-a song that changed not only the band's name, but the face of rock and roll. Black Sabbath set the pace, but bands like Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple "fleshed out the edges and gave it sex appeal." The next wave, the new wave of British heavy metal, saw the emergence of Motorhead, Saxon and Iron Maiden among many others. The movement then spread through America and found most bands cropping up out of L.A. (although many migrated from the Midwest). Van Halen, Ratt and M tley Cr e grew out of the then underground club scene. Christie doesn't get bogged down in anecdotes about bands and their groupies, but instead documents the music and its different genres. Each chapter contains helpful "genre boxes" giving a brief description of the style (e.g., Power Metal, Death Metal and Nu Metal). If Christie is to be faulted, it is on the grounds of hero worship: he's a metal fan, scribe (a music writer living in Brooklyn) and practitioner (in a digital metal band called Black Noerd), and readers might wish for more critical analysis about the culture of fans. But this is a minor point in a book otherwise worthy of having its dog-eared and beer-stained pages passed among friends and placed in motel-room bedside drawers. 94 b&w photos, and 16-page color insert not seen by PW. (Apr.) Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
A freelance journalist who has written extensively on technology and music, Christe might as well drop the "e" from his name because he has just delivered the gospel of heavy metal. Starting with its British roots, he draws on his expert background and numerous interviews with the likes of Black Sabbath to trace heavy metal's journey through 30-plus years of long hair, loud sounds, and lawsuits. While other histories have dwelled on the scene's decadence (e.g., David Konow's recent Bang Your Head), Christe's concentrates on the cultural and social significance of trends like the underground tape-traders who spread the metal message and extreme metal subgenres that became an outlet for young subversives spurning the 1990s mainstream. And though this encyclopedic take on metal's growth is pleasantly conversational, its hallmark is that Christe ignores critical convention to acknowledge finally that 1980s hair bands like Poison and Warrant were not heavy metal practitioners. Instead, definitive thrash metal masters like Megadeth and Metallica and underground legends like Saxon and Venom are given ample treatment. Not just an expert's guide, this book includes explanations of metal's subgenres, lists of pertinent bands, and the 25 "best" heavy metal albums of all time that should enlighten metal newcomers. Essential for all performing arts collections. [Stay tuned for a "Behind the Book" on Christe in LJ 3/1/03.-Ed.]-Robert Morast, "Argus Leader," Sioux Falls, SD Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-MTV's Headbanger's Ball, which debuted in 1987, was canceled in 1995-metal was officially "over." But it has returned to the schedule, and metal is making a comeback. In Christe's exhaustive history, readers watch metal rise, fall, change, and splinter into a massive number of genres (death metal, black metal, thrash metal, and more). As in David Konow's Bang Your Head (Three Rivers, 2002), the story begins with Black Sabbath (as if there would be any other choice); but while Konow kept to the well known, Christe gives just as much attention to the fringes. Also unlike Konow, he eschews gossip for almost scholarly explanations of the musicians' creative process and their works. Through it all, he shows the impact of competing forces (like punk, grunge, and rap). Chapters are arranged chronologically but also by genre, and each one is packed with black-and-white photographs and "genre boxes" that list the definitive recordings, ending with the author's choice for the 25 best metal albums of all time. The book is well indexed. New metal fans will run to the music store not only because of the knowledge gained from this volume, but also because of the enthusiastic (though sometimes a little overwrought) way the author shares it.-Jamie Watson, Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimore Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Fevered history of the underdog genre that has sold 75 million records in the US alone. In the decades since Black Sabbath’s 1970 debut launched heavy metal, says freelance journalist Christe, "100 million listeners sought refuge in the resounding cultural boom, finding a purity unmitigated by doubts or distractions." By the late ’70s, critical disdain was countered by the rising commercial presence of "protometal" bands like AC/DC, Kiss, and Led Zeppelin. During the ’80s, the popularity of the New Wave of British heavy metal (Motorhead, Def Leppard, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden) inspired a frantic tape-trading network in the US, from which arose numerous thrash and power metal bands, including Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax. While these bands stealthily developed large fan bases in Middle America without radio play, Los Angeles "glam metal" generated chart-toppers for image-obsessed bands like Motley Crüe and Poison. Christe also delves into the fresher territory of black and death metal--hyperfast, youthful music obsessed with perverse decay, supported by worldwide underground networks--and other regional phenomena that defy the stereotypes, such as the grass-roots "nu metal" of Slipknot and "digital metal" like the author’s own project, Dark Noerd. Christe discusses nearly all of it with a sense of uncritical wonder, mostly ignoring the seamy side of a genre notorious for misogyny and substance abuse, yet finds little positive to say about arguably more important forms like punk, funk, and rap except when they intersect with his beloved metal. David Konow’s greatly superior Bang Your Head (2002) approaches metal from a nuanced, humanized perspective; Christe, by comparison,offers a streamlined, unquestioning fan’s overview. Still, his command of the genre’s many detours and obscurities is admirable, and he sneaks in some shrewd analysis between hormonal commentary, e.g., his comparison of classic Gibson guitars to "magic wands for unlocking the power of a mighty wall of Marshall amps." Some pages are occupied by Spin-style charts and Top-10 lists. More for headbangers than outsiders.

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Sound of the Beast
The Complete Headbanging History of Heavy Metal

Chapter One

The 1970s:
Prelude to Heaviness

  • February 13, 1970: Black Sabbath debut released
  • June 4, 1971: Black Sabbath gold in America
  • December 1975: Judas Priest records Sad Wings of Destiny
  • October 28, 1978: Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park airs on NBC
  • December 11, 1978: last date of Ozzy Osbourne's final tour with Black Sabbath

Heavy metal came into being just as the previous generation's salvation, rock and roll, was in the midst of horrific disintegration. Four deaths at a free Rolling Stones concert at Altamont Raceway in December 1969 had shaken the rock community and left the youth culture disillusioned with pacifist ideals. Then, while Black Sabbath was marking the pop charts in April 1970, Paul McCartney effectively announced the breakup of the Beatles. Instead of comforting their audience in an uncertain world, rock giants Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Jim Morrison of the Doors all were dead of drug overdoses within a year.

Shortly after JFK, RFK, and MLK fell to the bullets of assassins, so, too, were the originators of rock and roll falling to naïve excess. Jaded and frustrated, the Love Generation that created counterculture left the cities in droves, returning to their homelands, heading to the hills -- anything to exorcise the communal nightmares of utopia gone awry. It was the end of the 1960s and of all they represented. As the nonviolent flower children gave way to the militant Black Panther party, Kent State campus massacres, and increasingly violent street revolts by frustrated students in Paris, Berlin, and Italy, it was out with the old hopes everywhere and in with the new pragmatism.

Black Sabbath seemed to thrive on such adversity, never pretending to offer answers beyond the occasional exhortation to love thy neighbor. Though legend likes to portray the band as scraggly underdogs, the band's debut soon took to the British Top 10 and stayed there for months. The band's maiden American tour, planned for summer 1970, was canceled in light of the Manson Family murder trial. There was an extremely inhospitable climate in the United States toward dangerous hippies. Still, the record charted high in America and sold over a half million copies within its first year.

Vertigo Records scrambled to get more material from its dire and mysterious conscripts, interrupting Sabbath's nonstop touring for another recording session in September 1970. Hotly rehearsed as ever, and with intensified creative purpose, the band emerged after two days with the mighty Paranoid, its bestselling album and home of classic Sabbath songs "War Pigs," "Paranoid," and "Iron Man."

While Paranoid retained the haunting spirit of Black Sabbath, the themes of the second album were less mystical and more tangible. Obsessed with damage and loss of control, Ozzy Osbourne in plaintive voice bemoaned the ills of drug addiction in "Hand of Doom," nuclear war in "Electric Funeral," and battle shock in "Iron Man." Like the mesmerizing title track of Black Sabbath, the soul of Paranoid still grew from an occult-oriented number, "Walpurgis," whose imagery powerfully summoned "witches at black masses" and "sorcerers of death's construction." When recorded for Paranoid, the song was slightly rewritten as "War Pigs," a cataclysmic antiwar anthem indicting politicians for sending young and poor men off to do the bloody work of banks and nations.

Now Sabbath was becoming experienced not just as musicians but as generational spokesmen. If change was to be brought by music, Sabbath lyricist Geezer Butler saw that he would have to fight ugliness on the front lines. The new Black Sabbath songs sought peace and love -- not in the flower patches of Donovan and Jefferson Airplane but in the grim reality of battlefields and human ovens. Ozzy Osbourne delivered these lyrics as if in a trance, reading messages of truth written in the sky.

Billboard magazine blithely wrote that Paranoid "promises to be as big as their first," and indeed the songs "Paranoid" and "Iron Man" both came close to cracking the U.S. Top 40 singles chart. It seemed that the music of the 1960s had existed just to ease audiences into Sabbath's hard prophecies. Written allegedly in less time than it takes to play, the frantic three-minute single "Paranoid" sent Sabbath's second album to number one on the British charts and number eight in America.

While the hierarchy of rock and roll collapsed around them, spectators were overwhelmed by the intuition that Black Sabbath was beginning an entirely new musical era. "Paranoid is just like an anchor," says Rob Halford, singer of Judas Priest, a local Birmingham band. "It really secures everything about the metal movement in one record. It's all there: the riffs, the vocal performance of Ozzy, the song titles, what the lyrics are about. It's just a classic defining moment."

Sabbath soon found squatters in their huge sonic space. Inspired acolytes, signed to one-off record deals while playing the university student-union circuit, brought early and short-lived aftershocks. Japan's outlandish Flower Travelin' Band and South Africa's clumsy Suck went so far as to record Black Sabbath cover songs as early as 1970, when the vinyl on the original records was barely dry. Others were motivated to mimic Sabbath by the prospect of a quick buck. A 1970 album by Attila presented young Long Island crooner Billy Joel (then a rock critic and sometime psychiatric patient) dressed in warrior garb, playing loud Hammond B3 organ to a hard rock beat, damaging ears with the songs "Amplifier Fire" and "Tear This Castle Down."

Before Black Sabbath, "heavy" had referred more to a feeling than a particular musical style, as in hippiespeak it described anything with potent mood. Jimi Hendrix and the Beatles often wrote songs that pointed toward a heavy break, a bridge between melodies that tried to resolve conflicting emotions and ideas. The "metal" in heavy metal put a steely resilience to that struggle, an unbreakable thematic strength that secured the tension and uninhibited emotion. As ordained by Black Sabbath, heavy metal was a complex maelstrom of neurosis and desire formed into an unbending force of deceptive simplicity. It had omnivorous appetite for life.

Sound of the Beast
The Complete Headbanging History of Heavy Metal
. Copyright © by Ian Christe. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Ian Christe grew up in the metal strongholds of Switzerland, NewMexico, Indiana, Germany, and Washington. He moved to New York Cityin 1992, and has covered emerging technology and fringe culture forReuters, Wired, and His hundreds of articles on heavymetal have appeared in Spin, AP, CMJ, Metal Maniacs, and the Trouser Press Guide to '90s Rock and been cited by The New York Times.

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Sound of the Beast: The Complete Headbanging History of Heavy Metal 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
painkiller More than 1 year ago
Great book for the Metal Head. The author really likes to use over the top adjectives, though.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is essetial for every Heavy Metal fan. It gives the complete history of not only Heavy Metal itself, but of the sub genres. It covers it all. Every Metal fan needs to go out and buy this book...
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is a bible for metal fans, and saves a lot of time explaining the ins and outs. When somebody comes to me with tons of questions about this or that, I hand them Sound of the Beast and say 'get it back to me in three days or I'll kill you.' The heaviest book I own, very well done.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I gave up on heavy metal along with my learner's permit and smoking habit, but it turns out those five solid years spent listening to Testament, King Diamond, and Obituary count for something. This book came to me via a Barnes and Noble gift certificate, and I have to say it worked a number on me like Viagra or laser eye surgery. I felt like a teenager again, bouncing off the walls and ready to blow my top. Spent more than my allotment on heavy metal CDs afterward (I recommend Haunted, Voivod, and Iron Maiden) and I realize there's a lot of value in this stuff. From one metal- loving MBA to the world: Heavy metal rules!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am extremely skeptical of books that purport to tell the story of heavy metal, but yowza! This book wraps your head around Celtic Frost, then unwraps it to twist you around glam metal and grindcore. Wow, I really appreciate this. for the first time, I tell a publisher thanks.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Nothing seems to be left out in this excellent book. It tells of the different sub-genres of metal and the bands that fall into those categories. Everything about metals history from the birth of metal at the hands of black sabbath to this generations nu metal. Inside there are color photos and a timeline. I really appreciated this book because i didnt grow up in the 80s when metal was at its strongest
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is excellent if you want to learn more about metal especially if you didnt grow up when metal was started and at its best. It lists differnt sub genres of metal and groups and it gos thru each phase of metal. Its worth every penny and the cover art is sweet as hell!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you think you know everything about metal music, I guarantee that this book will happily point you to music you've missed,personalities you never knew lurked behind the glorious noise, and insider music biz info that will open your eyes. A fascinating read that covers the enormous world-wide scope of head-banger music. At last!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have been waiting a long time for the story of heavy metal, and have been very happy to find this magnificent example. There are about three generations of music here, from the hard rock in the 1970s, the thrash/speed metal in the 1980s, and black metal and even new metal in the '90s. All of it belongs in the story of heavy metal, and this BEAST does it right. It is like a great novel, where the main character is not a person, but a kind of music. I thought the reviewer above was mistaken. This is the perfect book that explains heavy metal: if he wants a book about misogyny and drug abuse, yes he should read a book about his beloved funk, rap or punk. Iron Maiden and Metallica have too much respect for their audience to sing about these things. Obrigado!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
It's a disappointing book that focuses most of its attention on the darker side of metal and how Metallica was a central point of metal in the 80s and 90s (may or may not be true). I think that Christe tries to hit too many bands in such a short amount of time. I would have liked a book that was solely devoted to the rise of hard rock/heavy metal, covering bands like Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Jimi Hendrix, etc. Then, another book on the popularization of heavy metal with bands like revised Black Sabbath (Dio), Iron Maiden, etc. The book looks, primarily at the thrash side of metal more so than the popular side of metal and could have spent more time talking about what made metal popular and why in the 80s. I would argue that 'lite metal' was what was really popular in the 80s, not part of any subculture. They may be the ones who 'sold out' as Christe comments several times, but that opinion doesn't negate the legitimacy that lite metal gave heavy metal. I think that next book should really target the revival of the 80s bands. I still listen to the music and go to the concerts whenever they come to town and am amazed at the number of burnouts (myself among them) who turn out. Pretty soon I expect I'll hear Rime of the Ancient Mariner in a Safeway.