Friday, June 14, 2013
Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History Of Metal by Jon Wiederhorn & Katherine Turman
I really wanted to give this book a glowing review. It was given to me by the singer of the band Runny, Brooklyn's most confusing punk band. He got a free copy and gleefully told me that I would hate it. I went into it with an open mind hoping to prove him wrong. Besides, I'm really too old to hate anything these days. Except for indie rock, of course.
Right off the bat this book let me down. On the first page of the "proto metal" chapter, the authors give credit to Dave Davies of The Kinks for pioneering guitar distortion. The Kinks are a classic band and 1964's "You Really Got Me" is indeed a great example of power chord riffing. But come on, Link Wray did all this and more on "Rumble," released in 1958. Link is mentioned only one time in the entire book and he's incorrectly labeled a "surf guitarist." There's no mention at all of the king of surf guitar, Dick Dale, who was blowing up amps and setting the template for all lead guitarists that followed him. There's also no mention at all of 1951's "Rocket 88" by Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats. It's often referred to as the first rock n roll record because of it's use of distorted guitar. Legend has it the guitar amp fell off the roof of the car on Highway 61 on the way to record it at Sun Records. Everyone liked the way the amp sounded and didn't bother to fix it. Ike Turner plays piano on that classic cut and he would go on to record his own really wild guitar instrumentals later in the 1950's featuring extensive use of his brand new Fender Stratocaster's whammy bar. Paul Burlison of the Rock & Roll Trio was another guitarist who had a broken amp that caused it to distort on killer jams like "Train Kept A Rollin." Every British guitar hero you can think of copied his licks. Paul would occasionally substitute for the great Hubert Sumlin in Howlin' Wolf's band in Memphis. Hubert's sinister riffing on "Spoonful" and many other classics deeply influenced Tony Iommi. No mention of any of these important facts. I don't understand this kind of lazy journalism. The best part of the proto metal chapter is acknowledging the work of the MC5, The Stooges and Blue Cheer. These important bands used to get overlooked in the history of heavy.
Once you get into the meat of the book, things improve. The chapters on the early days of Black Sabbath don't really offer any new insights but you can't have a history of metal without covering Sabbath in depth. There's not much coverage beyond Judas Priest, AC/DC and Kiss for 70's metal. The histories of Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin aren't covered since they're not officially "metal" bands, more of an influence on metal. Hard rock or "heavy rock" bands like Budgie, UFO, Thin Lizzy, Blue Oyster Cult, Humble Pie, Montrose, Grand Funk, Aerosmith, etc aren't included for the same reason.
The New Wave Of British Heavy Metal chapter focuses on Iron Maiden and the thrash one centers on Metallica. Metal fans love to debate the merits of the bands they worship or despise and there's plenty of fuel to fan those flames. I knew there'd be a lengthy chapter on hair metal, since it was so popular. Typically, there's not much music discussed in that chapter but plenty of sleazy antedates of backstage debauchery. Most of the chapters include sordid tales that could have been left out to make room for more good bands. The second half of the book is where I really checked out. I skipped the majority of industrial metal, nu metal, "metalcore" and "millennial metal." I know very little about this kind of stuff and have no interest in learning. I understand that the authors want present the entire history of the genre and, for better or worse, Limp Bizkit has to be included.
If you're already a metal fanatic, chances are you won't learn anything new. Go immerse yourself in Martin Popoff's extensive histories. If you know a young kid that's just getting into heavy music this isn't a bad overview. Just tell 'em to avoid the second half.
Buy from Amazon
Link Wray on Dick Clark
Howlin Wolf - Spoonful