choosing death book coverAlbert Mudrian
Feral House
2004

In 1986, it was unimaginable that death metal and grindcore would ever impact popular culture. Yet this barbaric amalgam of hardcore punk and heavy metal would define the musical threshold of extremity for years to come. Initially circulated through an underground tape-trading network by scraggly, angry young boys, death metal and grindcore spread faster than a plague of undead zombies as bands rose from every corner of the globe. By 1992, the genre’s first legitimate label, Earache Records, had sold well over a million death metal and grindcore albums in the United States alone. Choosing Death: The Improbable History of Death Metal & Grindcore examines the rise, fall and resurrection of death metal and grindcore through the eyes and ringing ears of the artists, producers, and label owners who propelled the movements.

I first discovered the brutal goodness that was death metal back in the wee hours of the morning on the second day of the year 1993, when, on a long trip from Texas back to Nebraska, someone lent me their cassette of Mortificaiton’s self-titled debut album, after noticing I had a Vengeance Rising cassette in my collection. Certainly, you could argue that Vengeance Rising was doing a grindcore thing on Destruction Comes, and Mortification’s self-titled was really more thrash-based than actual death metal…but, I’m not doing this review to argue the finer points of genre-placement. Just giving you an idea of when I first became addicted to this form of brutal music goodness.

Choosing Death: The Improbable History of Death Metal & Grindcore showcases an interesting history of two of the more extreme forms of metal. Starting off with a rather amusing introduction by the late, great John Peel, we’re lead through the history of the early days of the grindcore scene that mutated out of the hardcore punk of the early 1980s, with bands that strove to be the fastest, hardest and brutal. From there, the evolution of the style through the Thatcher/Regan years, the emergence of specialty record labels and culture, through to the development of death metal and all the wackiness that brought about.

Outside of oral histories and personal stories from the front line of the movements, we also have some lists of definitive grindcore and death metal albums, as well as a list of where former artists are at now and what they’re doing, and a list of those who have fallen to the great equalizer of mankind: Death. Not the band, either. That robe-and-sythe sportin’ Swedish dude. You know the guy. Has a thing for chess.

As of this writing, a fully revised and update edition of the book has been released. The copy I found was the original pressing; if I were to urge you, though, it would be to buy the updated version, which I’m probably going to be doing myself if I happen upon it. Otherwise, Choosing Death is essential to have in your \,,/METAL\,,/ reading.

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