Jon Wiederhorn and Katherine Turman compiled numerous interviews (some conducted on their own) and transformed them into Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal. It’s a lengthy, thorough metal history lesson that spans from proto-metal to the whatever it is you call new American metal.1
It is not a book full of quotes from critics: most of the interview subjects are (or were) in well-known bands. There are also bits and pieces of interviews from producers, managers, groupies, and yes, even a handful of critics. Having both helps Louder Than Hell paint a more complete picture of metal, showing that there is more to it than just the musicians.
But I will admit to having a few problems with the picture that it paints. Don’t get the wrong: the book reveres metal and treats it with respect. But it also spends quite a chunk of time discussing the sex, drugs, and violence of it all. So much so that one might get the impression that the two go hand-in-hand. I’d rather see more of the text devoted to musical influences, but I’m a nerd.
I feel that the book skips a few major genres of metal. Melodic death metal is the most obvious omission - it gets only a few brief nods despite its popularity and influence. Power metal and progressive metal are also cast aside. I think that the book’s sole mention of Dream Theater occurs when describing is Avenged Sevenfold’s musical influences, and that just seems a little wrong to me.
But then again, I’m a nerd.
The book’s core lies with metal’s biggest subgenres. Proto-metal, traditional, NWOBHM, glam, crossover/hardcore, industrial, nu, death, black, metalcore, and “newer American stuff” gets a chapter each. Thrash metal gets two whole chapters! Wowza! And Louder Than Hell is very thorough with each genre while remaining mostly unopinionated throughout, which is quite a feat.
As far as general metal history books go, I haven’t yet read one better than Louder Than Hell. Despite a few omissions, it’s a solid, educational, and entertaining read.
Louder Than Hell calls it “millennial metal”, and Wikipedia calls it “New Wave of American Heavy Metal”, but I dislike both terms :-) ↩