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

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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 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.

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Editorial Reviews

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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HarperCollins Publishers
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Updated Edition
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Product dimensions:
6.04(w) x 10.88(h) x 1.12(d)

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