I’ve often quoted my friend and fellow writer Adem Tepedelen as saying that “heavy metal isn’t dead, it’s just wounded and pissed off.” If there’s anyone who would agree and who has set out to prove that adage, it’s Albert Mudrian.
His first book, Choosing Death: The Improbably History of Death Metal and Grindcore (Feral House, 2004), traces the, well, improbable roots and history of two of the most extreme and enduring subgenres of metal, from the teenagers who started Napalm Death and Godflesh to the teenagers who buy In Flames and Slipknot.
His second is an edited collection called Precious Metal (Da Capo Press, 2009), wherein Decibel Magazine — of which Mudrian is Editor in Chief — presents the stories behind twenty-five extreme metal masterpieces (my aforementioned friend Adem Tepedelen has a couple of chapters in there). Everyone from pioneers Black Sabbath, Celtic Frost, and Slayer, to extremists Morbid Angel, Entombed, and Cannibal Corpse, to black metal stalwarts Darkthrone and Emperor, to relative newbies Dillinger Escape Plan, Botch, and Converge — among many others — all get their due.
Having grown up with this genre and having seen it grow up as well, it was a joy to see it taken so seriously. I was interested to see how Albert Mudrian came to document its history in these books and in the monthly magazine he helms.
Roy Christopher: What made you a metal fan in the first place?
Albert Mudrian: I think that heavy metal—and even more so, extreme metal—is largely an outsiders’ style of music. So, when you’re a confused 15-year-old—like I was when I first really started to embrace heavier sounds—it’s a very appealing refuge. I think as you get older, you can look beyond the visceral aspect of the music and begin to identify some of the other qualities (musicianship, independence, progressive-thinking) that so many of the bands and musicians who make up the scene have to offer. That said, it’s a lot of fun to headbang and lift weights to this stuff!
RC: Having only recently stumbled upon Decibel, I am surprised by its openness. I remember metal, metal fans, and metal magazines being especially narrow in their views of what belonged and what didn’t. When did metal as a genre open up (or start opening up) to all things heavy?
AM: Even though they’ve been treated as such by countless other publications over the years, I don’t think extreme metal fans are stupid, narrow-minded, or humorless. That’s not to say there isn’t a knuckle-dragging contingent that still exists in the genre, but I think the average metal fan in 2009 is a bit more open and accepting to music that doesn’t exclusively contain blast beats and growled vocals (not that there’s anything wrong with that!). But, really, between black metal, doom metal, noise, ambient, metalgaze, metalcore and all of the other sub-genres and micro genres that have germinated over the past 20+ years, it’s just inevitable that metal fans would have a wider palate today than they would have back in the “good ol’ days” of the late ’80s and early ’90s. I think that helps inform for the scope of what we cover.
I think many of underground metal magazines take things a little too seriously at times and live in a vacuum, where they don’t realize that there’s this entire world of music beyond extreme music, and not making any attempts to connect with people who are maybe only 25% interested in metal.
RC: What do you make of the distance between the theatre of evil/satanic imagery and the actual people making the music?
AM: I think it really depends on the individual and exactly when they are performing in an extreme metal band. I mean, I don’t know if Glen Benton from Deicide really worships the devil anymore. Now does he hate Christianity? Probably. But those are too much different things. Same goes for all of the Norwegian black metallers who were torching churches when they were teenagers in the early ’90s. I’m not sure they’d be so willing to take such drastic measures to “drive Christianity out of Norway” today. On the other hand, take a band like Watain, who are staunch defenders of their own brand of Satanism. I call tell you they’re serious enough to heave buckets of animals’ blood into their audience at the start of their shows/rituals—a friend and I were actually collateral damage a show a couple years ago. That said, burning down a church, and making a run to the local butcher’s shop are two distinctly different levels of “dedication.”
RC: It seems like the new thing is always the next step out. It’s not necessarily progress, but it’s a progression to the next extreme—be it speed, slowness, heaviness, gore, or technical proficiency. What’s the next extreme for metal?
AM: Honestly, I don’t know how much faster, technical, or more extreme things can get at this point. If anything, I think you’ll see a regression to the simple barbarism of the early days of extreme music. There was a thrash resurgence a few years ago spearheaded by the likes of new bands such as Municipal Waste and Warbringer, along with the strong return from genre pioneers Testament. Additionally, there’s an old-school death metal revival that has really taken hold of the scene as well, typified by my personal favorite band of the movement, Deathevokation. They claim their biggest influence is the not one particular band or scene, but simply the year 1990—that’s awesome! Anyway, I think it’s pretty healthy to have this movement happening side-by-side with the Obscuras, Origins, and Necrophagists of the world, who are all really pushing the technical envelope.
RC: Hey, congratulations on your forthcoming marriage. What else is next for you?
AM: Thanks! Really, Decibel keeps me so busy each month that it’s hard to imagine things too far into the future these days. That said, I can tell you that we’re publishing a special edition of Decibel that will feature our Top 100 Greatest Extreme Metal Albums of the Decade. It should be available through our site in late November. Beyond that, look for our us to continue publishing monthly—something that’s quite a challenge these days, or so I’m told—and perhaps doing a few more Decibel “Hall of Fame”-related gigs with some of our past inductees in the coming year.
[photo by Jamie Leary]