City Slang: Louder Than Hell

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Many, many words have been written on the subject of heavy metal music. Not necessarily the bands, but the label. As with any other genre tag, most of which are nonsensical to begin with, people seem determined to pin down the ultimate definition of what metal is. The movie that came out a few years back, A Headbanger’s Journey, and the Metal Evolution TV show, saw Sam Dunn do a good job of tracing the roots of the genre. Authors Jon Wiederhorn & Katherine Turman have pretty much followed the same route with their new book, Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal. The book is hefty too, coming in at around 700 pages, and yet it still feels like the authors skirted around the subject rather than diving right in.

Like Please Kill Me or Steve Miller’s Detroit Rock City, this book is largely made up of a series of quotes. That’s fine – it’s an approach proven to work. They also picked the right starting point; there’s a chapter called “Kick Out the Jams” which takes in the MC5, the Stooges and Alice Cooper, among others.

There’s a great quote from James Williamson which reads, “I don’t know of anyone [who was more decadent than the Stooges]. The drugs and decadence weren’t an act: it was the real deal. It’s hard to imagine living a harder life than that and still surviving. And we nearly didn’t.”

So there’s much fun to be had. The book takes in the beginnings of metal with Sabbath, Kiss and Judas Priest, then the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, hair metal, thrash, black, death and so on. The quotes cover the debauchery and even some of the music, but it still seems to come up short, especially when dealing with the metal bands of the here and now. The final chapter is called “New American Gospel: Millennial Metal, 1992-Present,” which means that it takes in over 20 years of quality music in far too few pages. Slipknot are not the last great metal band, though that’s what this book would have you believe.

Louder Than Hell isn’t a bad book. Far from it, it’s a very enjoyable read. But when you’re done reading, you feel a little short-changed.

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