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Choose Death

A new book puts extreme metal through the grinder

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WHILE PROWLING around Tower Records in Campbell, circa 1992, I overheard a wiry pubescent metalhead exclaim to his friend as they flipped through the CDs: "Dude, they have a Cancer section!" Ever since that day, I just knew a book like Feral House's Choosing Death: The Improbable History of Death Metal and Grindcore would eventually come out.

By then, what we remembered in the mid-1980s as speed/thrash metal had split up into subgenre after subgenre, and the barbaric insanity of extreme bands like Napalm Death and Carcass had indeed infiltrated popular culture faster than the black plague. Who would have known? The scene wasn't just a bunch of acne-scarred longhairs trading demo tapes anymore.

Thankfully, author Albert Mudrian did not opt for an encyclopedic approach to the book, which comes out next month. Anybody can compile a who's who of death metal and list its precursors. Mudrian instead focuses on the secret and connected histories of bands like Napalm Death, Carcass, Death, Morbid Angel and others that unleashed a brutal form of extreme music in the early-to-mid-1980s. Mudrian conducted more than 100 interviews throughout two years of research to unearth these tales.

The book is clearly for the already metal-literate reader. The constant rattling off of names and places in a "first this, then this" fashion might be a little too much for some folks, but Mudrian has successfully documented an extreme musical genre and its unpredictable influence on mainstream culture. Twenty years ago, no one fathomed the possibility of a Morbid Angel video on MTV. Both it and Napalm Death continue plodding on to this day.

Of course, with any book like this, rabid fans will undoubtedly gobble up its pages only to complain that their favorite band isn't covered enough. For example, Mudrian devotes much of the book to Napalm Death and its various incarnations, since it is the band that kick-started the mass appeal of the genre, but he pays less attention to the satanic screaming lunacy of, say, Venom or Possessed. Instead, Mudrian documents the incestuous feuds and friendships among the musicians, producers and label owners.

Some of the stories will surprise even the fanatics. For example, Siege drummer Robert Williams visits Boston's Newbury Comics in the early 1980s and buys the Meatmen's "Blood Sausage" seven-inch, only to gross out the clerk—a pre-'Til Tuesday Aimee Mann.

Unfortunately, the only Bay Area band mentioned in any detail is Possessed, since it pretty much coined the term Death Metal. Jeff Becerra recalls in the book, "I figured speed metal and black metal are already taken, so what the fuck? So I said death metal because that word wasn't associated with Venom or anybody else." Primus fans that desire blood, leather and Satan's wrath from Larry Lalonde should seek out the original barely produced pressing of Possessed's Seven Churches album. That ridiculous slab started it all.

Also, who could forget such wonderfully titled Carcass tracks as "Oxidized Razor Masticator" or "Microwaved Uterogestation"? Or Sodom band members named Grave Violator, Witchhunter and Tom Angelripper?

John Peel, no stranger to new musical genres, writes in the book's introduction: "So it's 2004, and I'm still wandering the record shops, still standing amongst the boys searching the racks marked 'metal,' ... and I'm still hoping to hear something that will thrill me and make me laugh out loud as Carcass, Napalm Death and Extreme Noise Terror did."

I'm with Peel 1,000 percent on that one. When I first heard Napalm Death on the turntable at Record Vault in San Francisco in 1986, I didn't know whether to laugh or scream, but I did realize it was a step into a completely new territory of refreshingly hideous music.

For the younger fans, Choosing Death will function as a splendid reference. For the older fans, the book will conjure up some scary memories. One page features a flier from a Possessed gig at Ruthie's Inn in Berkeley circa 1985. If you thought bands like Cryptic Slaughter and Septic Death would never wind up in a history book, then think again.


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From the September 29-October 5, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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