Last year, copies of Albert Mudrian's Choosing Death: The Improbable History of Death Metal & Grindcore often caught my eye at the various Borders I frequent here in town. Thinking that this was going to be an analysis of the doomy side of the music, I passed on even taking a peek at it. Well, after reading an interview with Mudrian in Punk Planet, I thought I should at least skim through some pages. With Borders sending out their 20-30% coupons out to me every other week, I thought what the hell and bought the book after liking what I skimmed through.
With the two large stacks of unread books I have on my shelf, I decided to pull out Choosing Death and finally read it. While people may scoff at the idea of reading about extreme music, this is not a book about trying to convert people to the music. Rather, this is about the process behind the music. To me, that's the meatier side and usually way more compelling than talking all about the music.
Whether located in California, Florida, England or Sweden, fans of this music had a way of finding each other. Long before the Internet was in place but well after the postal service was, trading cassette tapes and writing letters was how these guys corresponded. They had to really search for this stuff as this hybrid of hardcore punk and metal was not for everyone, even in the general punk and metal audiences.
Bands like Napalm Death and Morbid Angel, along with the Earache label, were major parts of the genre, so it makes sense that they are extensively profiled. There are quite a few other bands listed and profiled in the book, but they're evenly spaced out. I didn't feel inundated nor did I feel like I was in the dark because I didn't know all the main differences between Immolation, Repulsion and Carcass. This is a book that covers a lot of stuff, but it thankfully doesn't get buried in a formula that feels like I'm reading an encyclopedia.
For some people (including me prior to reading the book), a book on this topic which doesn't cover bands like Slayer, Metallica or Iron Maiden would sound crazy. However, after actually reading the book, I realized this is about bands who were just starting when those heavyweights were putting out their most seminal work. Choosing Death looks at the rise of death metal and grindcore from an underground level to something considered worthy of release by major labels. The time period is rather brief (from the mid-'80s to the mid-'90s), but a lot of ground is covered. Other books could spend just a few pages covering the highlights of this time period, leaving out crucial ideologies, philosophies and personal stories in the process.
I'm not about to rush out and pick up records by any of these bands, but I get a lot of mileage out their stories. There is never a point where Mudrian goes into the "Unless you're a fan, you wouldn't understand" attitude, but he never goes for the lowest common denominator either. What I found really cool was with the final chapter, which talks about the modern day effects of the genre. Sure, there are the quotes that talk about how great the old days were, but there are plenty of other quotes that have a lot of hope for the younger bands. Giving some mention of the physical effects of playing such extreme music was a nice touch too.
Choosing Death may not change your opinion on metal music itself, but if you need further proof that it doesn't matter when or where, inspiring music can be made at any time or place. Whenever I hear people bitch that there is just no good music out there today, I echo something Kyle told me: "The people who say that there's no good music out are totally just not looking hard enough."