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"Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal" (Book)

 - "Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal" Book cover image

Reviewed by on October 29, 2013

"Wiederhorn and Turman’s intentions are good with this book, but it’s just a big waste of time."

Condensing decades of metal into a 700-page book is a gargantuan challenge, but Jon Wiederhorn and Katherine Turman give it a go with “Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal.” Instead of just regurgitating facts, the authors let the musicians who were influential in metal’s ascension give a first-hand perspective. It’s an ambitious format, and the two authors gather up over 400 interviews that span almost 30 years.

So, with well-known musicians like James Hetfield and Ozzy Osbourne reflecting on metal’s illustrious past, it seems like “Louder Than Hell” is set up for success. That is, until someone starts reading the book. That’s when the realization comes in that there isn’t much besides some rudimentary content and page after page of quotes ranging from fascinating to lewd. The latter far outweighs the former, especially in the chapters about hair metal and nu-metal. If you’ve ever wondered what kind of inanimate objects a woman would stick up her vagina for musicians, the book answers that question.

That’s right, nu-metal gets its own chapter. You know what doesn’t get a chapter? Doom metal. Nope, that’s resigned to the New Wave of British Heavy Metal section. A chapter, by the way, that doesn’t feature any details on the NWOBHM for the first 20 pages. Don’t even think about hearing anything about power metal, progressive metal, or melodic death metal either. Those are not given a single mention in the book. But nu-metal gets its own chapter, thankfully.

Each chapter is about a different genre, and to the authors’ credit, some of them are well done. The two thrash chapters (covering the early ‘80s through the late ‘90s) have some great stories from people who were out there spreading thrash music to eager listeners. The book doesn’t go into much detail about any groups outside of the recognizable ones, as they gloss over Sepultura and Death Angel, while pretty much ignoring underground sensations like Kreator and Overkill.

That’s the basic rule for every chapter in “Louder Than Hell.” The big players are given the space, while those that toiled away and gathered a small, but loyal, fan base are a footnote. Having to stuff 40 years of history into anything less than a thousand pages is a difficult task, so it’s not the worst offense the book commits. Still, at the very least, there could have been some structure to it all. The book jumps from band to band, sometimes with no proper transitions, and it comes across disheveled as a result.

That wouldn’t even be terrible if a fact checker read through the book more than once. Having a missing quotation mark or period is disappointing, but getting specific details completely wrong is inexcusable. Though not a complete rundown, what caught my eye was the fact that Suicidal Tendencies’ “Lights...Camera...Revolution!” came out in 1994 (it was 1990) and that Vinnie Stigma was the singer of Agnostic Front (he’s the guitarist). These are just a sampling, but there’s at least a half-dozen more instances of incorrect facts being written.

Wiederhorn and Turman’s intentions are good with this book, but it’s just a big waste of time. Ignoring the blatant mishandling of reporting certain facts, most of the stories are the typical “we partied hard and screwed groupies” nonsense. There’s little substance behind the musician’s quotes, and considering that the whole book hinges on their participation, that’s an unfortunate downfall to the book. A reader is better off getting something that deals with a specific genre, like the excellent “Choosing Death: The Improbable History of Death Metal and Grindcore.”

Highs: Thrash-related chapters aren't terrible, some interesting quotes throughout

Lows: Way too many "banging groupies" stories, incorrect facts used at certain spots, book jumps from band to band with little transitioning between them, a good amount of missing genres

Bottom line: The premise of this book is interesting, but it doesn't pay off and becomes a chore to get through.

Rated 1.5 out of 5 skulls
1.5 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)