There are moments in your “music”-life when you know that something special happened. This took place when I listened the first time to ENTOMBED’s “Left Hand Path” as an example but the same happened to me when I started reading the book “Choosing Death – The Improbable History Of Death Metal & Grindcore” from Albert Mudrian. I never read a book as great as this and I think I already read it 3 times now. The effort Albert did for this book can’t be paid good enough and I still wonder how he ever managed to get in touch with all these persons he interviewed. The book is already available in English, German, Finnish and French and should be quite easy for you to purchase it and therefore I can only advice all of you who still don’t owe it to buy it and read all the details about Death Metal & Grindcore which I’m sure no one knows as detailed as written in this book. If you already have it in one language you should buy it in an additional language as well, haha! Thanks to Albert for this great interview and for this great book. Go on reading
Hi Albert, thanks for showing interest in answering my questions. Anything important to start with?
"Just a thanks to you Thomas and Voices From the Darkside for the interest in the book. It’s flattering to be interviewed in such a well-respected webzine."
Please explain yourself to the Voices From The Darkside readers.
"Sure, I was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania in 1975. I’m the Editor-in-Chief of Decibel, a monthly US publication that covers all forms of extreme Metal. My book "Choosing Death: The Improbable History of Death Metal & Grindcore" was released in September 2004 via Feral House. I enjoy deep conversation, long walks on the beach and blast beats."
The reason for this interview is for sure your great book “Choosing Death – The Improbable History Of Death Metal & Grindcore”. A great title but this title also requests to ask why you think you wrote the “improbable” history?
"There are a few of reasons. For example, I don’t think anyone could have predicted that John Peel would be so supportive of Napalm Death on national radio in England, or that Morbid Angel would release a pair of albums on a major label in the United States. That global success and acceptance for music so extreme is still pretty shocking even today. As it relates to Choosing Death and the broader picture, in the early to mid 90s, there were a lot of bigger labels that thought it was going to be the next big thing. For a band like Napalm Death, from where they started out, playing little shows and clubs in Birmingham England, and almost doing it as a joke at their onset, to graduate to a point where they're distributed through Sony, getting large advertising budgets and full-scale marketing campaigns, and people pouring money into them as a product -- to get it to that point, even though it didn't cross over to big commercial success, seems an unlikely story to me."
Who’s the brain behind the idea of writing this book? What did you want to achieve with it?
"Earache founder Digby Pearson was actually the first person I interviewed. I initially conceived of the project when I spoke him in May of 2000 for a label profile I was writing for a magazine coinciding with the release of the Earache’s Immortalized box set. Alex Mulcahy, who is now the publisher of Decibel, suggested that there was a strong enough of a story within that 1,000-word piece to form the skeletal outline of an entire book documenting the history of Death Metal and Grindcore. I put off the idea until January of 2002, when I worked up enough courage to begin working on the project. So I guess I’m technically the “brains” behind the book. I just wanted to tell the story of these bands that really shaped my musical tastes growing up. It probably sounds clichéd, but I did it just because I’m a fan."
For me seeing that a book like “Choosing Death” was written made a dream come true for me. You know, “Lords Of Chaos” was a pretty good read, but your book was a revelation! What is your personal opinion about the book?
"Thanks for the kind words! Overall, I’m happy with the book. However, there are certainly some things I’d love to change about it. There are individual bands that I wish I spent a little more time on, but I am happy with the overall coverage of the locations and scenes. There are several typos and a couple factual inaccuracies (i.e. Atheist bassist Roger Patterson’s cause of death), but hopefully some day I’ll get an opportunity to correct these errors."
How long did it take to get all the information, contacts, statements, the preparation at all, to write and collect everything and finally find a publisher to release it?
"The entire process from the first interview I conducted to the day the book actually hit the shelves took just over two-and-a-half years. However, I was working a full-time job as I was assembling the book, so if not for that, it could have been finished much faster."
Was Feral House the only one? Guess they already did a lot of stuff comparable to your book like the above mentioned “Lords Of Chaos” or “American Hardcore”?
"I actually pitched it to four publishers; two passed on it and two liked it. In the end, I think it made the most sense to go with Feral House. As you mentioned, they had experience in publishing other extreme music books like "Lords of Chaos" and "American Hardcore". Plus, they have fantastic distribution in the United States — the book is pretty much available in every major chain bookseller in the country."
Before I got your book I thought this guy can only fail with his book as he can’t write about all the bands I’m expecting and that was the truth, but you were not failing. Indeed the story doesn’t request a full coverage of the bands. But tell me what would you change now if you could write it again?
"Yeah, it was a conscious decision early on not to make the book encyclopaedic, but instead to focus on the bands and people that left the greatest impact on the genres. Glad to hear you think I picked the right ones! As for things I‘d change, other than what I mentioned in your earlier question, I‘m not really sure. I haven't actually read the book since it's been finished. I reread it in its final editing stages but I haven't read it since it's been published. I'm a little reluctant to just because I'm sure there's things that I'll read and cringe at and think I should have written differently or it should have just been done better."
How did you get John Peel to write the introduction to your book?
"I wanted to interview John because he was such an important part of how things developed over in the UK. I eventually got a hold of his agent, who at the time kept brushing me off, saying, "He's busy," or "He's on holiday," or "Try back in a month." I kept at her, and one day she said, "I spoke with John, and he said to just give him a call at home." So I called him at home and had a great interview with him. As we were getting off the phone, he said, "If you ever need anything, just give me a ring." Several months later, as I was working on the book, it dawned on me that it would be great to get him to write an introduction to. So I just called him up at home and asked him to do it. I had this big windup, as I was very nervous. And he just said, "Oh yeah, sure, no problem." So it was great. It took three, four months of me having to hound him to finish it up and get it to me, but he was fantastic. He refused to accept any money or anything at all for it. So I eventually talked to his wife, and I asked what does John like? He was a big red wine fan, so I sent him a couple bottles of red wine from a winery near his house. And that was it."
I think your way of interpreting the history of Death Metal and Grindcore is very interesting and to say (in my words) ‘Punk started it all’ was a courageous interpretation. Or let’s say at least that Punk music was the biggest influence for the British Grinders NAPALM DEATH. Usually you hear names like CELTIC FROST, VENOM, BATHORY, POSSESSED (though you wrote a few pages about them) or SODOM, but you say DISCHARGE or SIEGE. That was kind of unexpected
"Personally, I’m not a huge fan of Punk. Sure, there are bands I really enjoy (Bad Religion, Social Distortion, Black Flag, Bad Brains, etc.), but I didn’t really have any agenda to connect Grindcore’s roots to Punk – it’s just what happened! But I think it’s also equally true that Grindcore could have never happened without Heavy Metal. I mean, the goal of early Napalm Death was to create a band that was the perfect synthesis of Siege and Celtic Frost (which you perfectly hear on "Scum" - Frank). So, yeah, Punk is a huge part of the early Grind scene, but Metal is just as important."
There is some kind of central theme in your book as it starts in Birmingham mentioning the very first moments in the existence of NAPALM DEATH and closes in Birmingham letting Shane Embury explain what makes him happy. Could you also call your book “The Unofficial Biography Of NAPALM DEATH” (knowing that it covers also other topics)?
"I’ll admit that Napalm Death are central figures in the book, because they are pretty much the only band that’s been around since the inception of the Death Metal and Grindcore genres and continue to exist as a vital force to this day. But I wouldn’t necessarily call Choosing Death an unofficial Napalm biography. I think there’s actually plenty more chapters in Napalm’s history that could fill another book – not that I’m gonna be the guy to author it!"
Besides dealing about NAPALM DEATH you also spent many of the pages dealing with the label Earache, probably the most important Death Metal label back then. Without a doubt they were probably the biggest pathfinder for the movement. How do you see their work with all your background information now and what do you think about their current position and work?
"Yes, as you say, Earache is clearly the most important label the genre has ever known – so many classic Death and Grind LPs carried that spiky little logo (designed by none other than Jeff Walker) back in the day. In regards to the “background information” you mention, I think it’s true that the label has had an extremely tumultuous relationship with their original core of artists (Napalm, Carcass, Entombed, Morbid Angel, Godflesh, Cathedral). But no matter what my personal feelings are on the matter, it was my job as the author to remain impartial in the book and to allow the reader to make up his or her own mind on the matter. As for the label’s current roster, I’m a HUGE fan of both Akercocke and Cult of Luna, but I do wish they would cool it on the reissues a little bit."
What I really appreciate is the way you explain the energy and dedication of the musicians, completely avoiding clichés like inverted crosses or Satanism at all. You just let them explain their enthusiasm they had back then. Did you plan it this way?
"Thanks! Actually, yes, I was very conscious of that. I wanted to make sure that the book wasn’t really sensational in any way. I really wanted to portray these bands as the amiable everyday folks that they actually were and not the crazy, Satanic monsters that the general public imagines with they hear the words "Death Metal.""
Was it difficult to get in touch with the right and most important names and make them familiar with your idea of the book? Were they positive about the idea to be part of the book?
"It took a great deal of networking, cold phone calls, and some awkward emails to get a hold of everyone. In several cases it took months and months to track some people down and convince them to do interviews (like Bill Steer, for example). So because of that I remember being pretty nervous when I was leaving messages on the answering machines of some of my teenage heroes. But everyone, especially people such as Mick Harris, Jeff Walker, Nicke Andersson, Scott Carlson, Matt Olivo and Shane Embury, were ultimately extremely supportive and accommodating when I contacted them. Generally, everyone was pretty awesome - except for Extreme Noise Terror’s Dean Jones, who was a total fucking wannabe rock star prick."
All of the musicians started as fans with a huge dedication and love to the music and the whole worldwide but tiny movement. Writing letters and tape trading were complete natural. Did this type of ‘self-made’ movement and this true dedication made you curious and were you also one of those back in the early nineties?
"I only tape-traded a little in the early to mid 90s. By the time I got into that stuff, Death Metal and Grindcore records were readily available in most cool record shops throughout the world. When the people featured in Choosing Death tape-traded, they do so out of pure necessity. This was the only way they could possibly get to hear these types of bands. But, yeah, as you mention, it was quite a level of dedication back then – you couldn’t just logon to MySpace and check out a Death Metal band. To put it another way, the world would have been a MUCH different place for a band like Job For a Cowboy in 1988."
Doesn’t it feel great to read a sentence like “The story of Death Metal & Grindcore, then, is a human one” from Nick Terry in his foreword? In a way it seems that this whole movement means a lot for many persons.
"Yes, I feel like it really was a shared experience for people who were into the scene at a certain time or a certain age. You and I are both 31, so we probably had very similar experiences getting into this music - likely obsessing over the same bands and same records. Having spoken with so many people over the years that were also affected so strongly by Death Metal and Grindcore, it’s clear that this stuff means a great deal to a great many people. There are very few “casual fans” of the genres."
Which connections besides being the editor-in-chief for “Decibel Magazine” do you and did you have to the music-/Metal-scene or the Death Metal movement in general?
"I’ve never worked at a label. And I’ve never been in a band that graduated past the demo-recording stage. So beyond Decibel and Choosing Death, my only connection to the music is just being a fan!"
In the music business there are lots of talks about rip offs, bands mistreated and stuff like that. As you talked to so many bands about their careers what did you discover what some of them did wrong or what their main mistake was?
"The most common problem I noticed was the inexperience and naivety of so many young bands. Many of these groups were signing their first record deals when they were 17 years old. They didn’t have lawyers looking over contracts or know other bands who had record deals, so they signed these horrible long-term recording deals that locked them up until they were well into their 20s. In most cases you can argue that record labels took advantage of these kids who were just excited by the chance to record and release a record. But, on the other hand, no one was forcing these kids to sign the contracts. Although I think, to most people, this reflects more poorly on the labels than the bands."
Do you think the bigger bands are happy with their situation now? I mean reading Glen Benton telling “It’s hard, man, very hard to keep this going. I thought many, many times of letting it go. But what else am I gonna do, go work at Checkers?” made me speculate about what he think he has reached in his life.
"I think Glen Benton, in particular, views Deicide as a job, and he’s happy to make a living from it. How passionate he is about the band is another story - you can listen to every Deicide record since "Serpents Of The Light" and make up your own mind. I think Cannibal Corpse are the best example of a Death Metal band that continues to work extremely hard and rewards their fans with solid albums and constant, quality touring. Nile are another. That said, I do think there’s an element of “well, what else am I gonna do?” within all the older bands. But I think that’s true of anyone involved in any profession for an extended period of time. I think it’s probably a very similar mindset to being a professional athlete. It’s hard to retire when you’re unsure of what lies ahead."
One interesting idea in your book is this that (quote:) “There were few bands that on their third and fourth records were putting out better records than their first or their 2nd or even a demo”. What do you think was the reason for that, probably a matter of growing older and less wild?
"Actually, I think it was more a case of bands and listeners becoming a little desensitised to Death Metal and Grind. I’m sure you remember how exciting it was the first time you heard "Slowly We Rot" or "Scum", or even "Beneath The Remains" – those records totally changed the way most of us thought about heavy music. They all raised the bar in terms of extremity. But by the time some of these bands got to their third and fourth album, they may have improved their musical abilities and their overall production, but the albums weren’t quite as gratifying as those earlier releases that rocked your world. So the later records were fine, but I guess you could you say some of the innocence was lost. In other cases with bands like Entombed, Grave and even Morgoth, you had artists that wanted to break (or “grow”) out of Death Metal’s admittedly limited musical parameters. So it almost became a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation."
Who was the most impressive person you talked to as regards to the preparations of the book? Which story affected you the most?
"It was a pretty amazing experience to chat at length with Mick Harris. They guy has so many great, vivid memories and is an excellent storyteller. You could literally sit on one end of the phone and not say a word for ten minutes at a time. Boy, there are so many others. The talks with Jim Welch and David Kahne about the specifics of Earache / Columbia deal were also pretty fascinating to me. The entire chapter dealing with that ill-fated union might actually be my favourite part of Choosing Death. And, obviously, it was simply awesome to speak with and develop a working relationship with John Peel."
Are there ideas about releasing some kind of a ‘deluxe-edition’ of “Choosing Death”? Guess you have plenty of unused material left?
"That decision would be up to Feral House and not me - although, it would be a blast to do something like that. I really hoped we could do a hardcover version at some point. In fact, one of the foreign translations was supposed to be a hardcover design and Paul Romano, the artist who designs Mastodon’s album art among other awesome works, actually designed a special cover for that edition that never got used. Hopefully, someday we’ll get the chance to break it out again. After all, there hasn’t been a Swedish translation of the book yet. ;)"
Are there plans of a 2nd edition? Or are there plans of another book and if yes with which topic?
"Again, that decision would be up to Feral House. I think there’s a possibility since I know they did something similar with "Lords Of Chaos". I guess it’s all based around sales figures; if Choosing Death’s original version has sold enough copies to justify it, then I’d suspect Feral House would be interested in doing an updated version. Ideally, I’d like to expand it by 100 pages or so with some updates on the recent band reformations that occurred since the book has been published as well as go back and spend some time on bands like Amorphis and Pestilence that were skipped over the first time around. No plans for another book at the moment, however. Decibel keeps me plenty busy these days."
So, do you think your book was successful and did the reactions of the readers fulfil your expectations?
"Honestly, I viewed the book as a success the moment it was actually completed! To me, the fact that was I was able to put something together like this on these styles of music that meant so much to me growing up felt like some kind of victory in and of itself. I mean, you’re never going to please everyone, but the fact that so many people have written such nice things about it, that it has sold pretty well, and that it has even been translated into several different languages is just the grim and frostbitten icing on the proverbial black forest cake."
Your book is a fantastic read for a fan like me, but did you also get response from readers and critics who weren’t aware of what went on in the scene? What did they think about it?
"Yeah, the truth is I didn’t know half of what’s in the book until the bands started telling me all these old stories during the interview process. And, yeah, I did get a lot of “I thought I knew everything until I read your book” comments, which are very flattering. I mean, I’m obviously a Death Metal dork at heart, so I’m happy that I won over other Death Metal dorks with all the previously unknown or unwritten about facts that fill the book."
The book is already translated into German, French and Finnish as far as I know and besides that a sampler was released together with the original edition. How were and are you involved in all these topics?
"The CD was my idea, and I was very involved in its production. I really wanted to assemble the definitive Death Metal and Grindcore compilation, which is why, in addition to the obvious classics from Obituary, Morbid Angel and Carcass, I managed to round up things like that rare Nihilist track and the comp-exclusive Pig Destroyer song. And the booklet contains quotes from every artist on the CD discussing the particular tracks on which they perform. As for the foreign translations, I actually had nothing to do with their production. Each foreign publisher contacted the US publisher, Feral House, and myself and purchased the translation rights. I guess I’m really fortunate there has been that kind of interest."
What do you think is the reason that no one before wrote such a book and do you think there is a need for other books like that (e. g. thinking on the cool “Swedish Death Metal” book of Daniel Ekeroth – do you know it?)?
"I think the main reason no one had written such a book before his because it’s such hard fucking work! So I have great respect for Daniel Ekeroth from the band Insision, who wrote the Swedish Death Metal book. He really seems to know what he’s talking about, too. It’s just really expensive to score a copy of it here in the United States – hopefully I’ll grab one soon."
We are almost at the end of this interview, still there is this one question left to ask: was the scene really better back in the early nineties? What do you think?
"For me, as we talked about earlier, it’s very difficult to recapture that initial impact of hearing Obituary, Morbid Angel or Napalm Death for the very first time. It was such an exciting time. As someone who had just turned 16, I really felt that an entire new world opened up right before me. Now that I’m much older, it’s considerably more difficult to recapture that youthful enthusiasm of days gone by. Throwing on "Cause Of Death" or "Necroticism", though, often does the trick. Compared with the present scene, kids have it easy today! The world's a much different place with information so readily available at your fingertips. The internet has almost completely replaced tape-trading and letter correspondence, so it’s difficult to really compare the two scenes. There are so many bands now and so many genres and sub-genres for a listener to choose from that kids almost have too many bands competing for their attention. So, in some ways, Death Metal and Grindcore isn’t quite as special or unique as it once was. That said, if I was 16 now, I’m sure I’d be loving just about everything extreme that’s out there."
OK Albert, thanks a lot for spending your time in answering this interview. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed preparing the questions. Keep up the great work and I hope to read more great books from you in the future. The last words are once more yours!
"No problem, it was a blast! Many thanks to you and the Voices From the Darkside readers who have already picked up a copy of Choosing Death. It was truly written with the oldschool Death Metal maniac in mind – I hope you all dig it!"
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