on September 8, 2004
My copy of CHOOSING DEATH arrived in the mailbox last Tuesday. I cannot recommend this book enough to both fans of death/grindcore and people who are not as familiar with this type of metal. I have been an avid fan of death and grind now for over 5 years and I still learned a lot about this book. For instance, I had no idea how important Napalm Death really are/were to death metal. After reading this book I have a better idea just how important Napalm Death are. The author also does a great job in covering bands from the late 1990s to the present day who are pushing the envelope in every sense of the word by combining other influences (Opeth, Nile, Slipknot, In Flames) and bands who continue to push the envelopes of speed and brutality, (i.e. Krisiun and Hate Eternal). Over 2 years of collected interviews make this book something special. Plus, at the end of the book the author provides a list of essential death metal albums throughout the years. To conclude this review, CHOOSING DEATH is essential reading. You will not be disappointed.
on February 20, 2008
I bought Choosing Death last Christmas after seeing the quarter-page plug in the back of every issue of Decibel magazine (Decibel's editor-in-chief is Albert Mudrian, author of this tome of death metal history). After literally years of seeing this ad, I decided it was time to give it a chance and see if the book was really up to snuff or not. Even though my taste in metal doesn't lean too far into death metal territory, I still thought it would make for an interesting read, and maybe turn me on to some bands I hadn't heard of before. Choosing Death turned out to be a perfect choice for opening my eyes--and soon after, ears--to all the extreme music I'd been missing out on.
Starting out in Birmingham, England in the early 1980s, Mudrian examines the formative roots of death and grindcore (hardcore punk and crust), before moving into death metal's heyday (popularity explosion in the Floridian and British scenes), its worldwide spread (Swedish death is given a chapter-long examination) and its gradual demise in the late 90s. The final chapter of the book, Altering the Future, recognizes the influence formative extreme music bands have had on current death and grind acts like Nile, Nasum, Arch Enemy, etc. One of the greatest features of this book is how Mudrian's smart and seemingly effortless writing style compliments the exhaustive interviews he's conducted with members of the death metal scene. The unique thing about this book is that the vast majority of its content is all culled from interviews from the musicians, promoters, producers, and artists who were there, making the scene. This gives the book a very genuine, omniscient feel, which at some points lends itself to humor. Another great thing about Choosing Death is the inclusion of so many old flyers, album covers and band photos. It's hard to turn a page without getting another glimpse at what these bands looked like during their prime.
As some reviewers have pointed out, Mudrian's scope of death metal does skew a little heavily toward four biggies in the scene: Carcass, Death, Morbid Angel, and Napalm Death. But I don't feel this was an unfair decision; realistically, these four bands are what defined the genre from an early stage, and its story could not properly be told without giving these acts due credit. Second-wave bands like Entombed, Deicide, At the Gates, Obituary, et. al are also given a close look over, but the real gem in this book is learning about all the underground DM bands I might never have heard of without reading this book. Peripheral metal groups like Repulsion, Autopsy, Grave, Siege and Nihilist are all given several pages (instead of a few cursory sentences) examining their contributions to the genre. Whether you've heard of these lesser known acts or not (most of them were new to yours truly before this book), Choosing Death is your key to unlocking more than you probably ever wanted to know about death metal's woolly history.
One great decision Mudrian made was the inclusion of three appendices in his encyclopedia de metallica. The first one, Cast of Characters, is in the beginning of the book (just before legendary radio producer John Peel's fascinating introduction), and is there to help the reader keep track of the many names that occur again and again in the book's 284 pages. Following the body of the book is a 'Life After Death' section which keeps tabs on where the scene's living causalities wound up after leaving the underground, as well as an awesome 'Choosing Death Essential Discography'. I have actually taken my copy of Choosing Death into my local record shop more than once to remind me of which classic death metal albums my collection is missing (trust me, based on their list alone, my collection is looking pretty shrimpy).
The only gripe I have about Choosing Death is its lack of focus on grindcore. With the notable exception of Napalm Death, whose storied career acts almost as a sturdy timeline as the book progresses, few grindcore acts are given much in-depth coverage. Some important bands get a brief shout-out or two (Brutal Truth, Extreme Noise Terror, Pig Destroyer/Agoraphobic Nosebleed), but after the first couple of chapters, the book focuses almost solely on the advancement of the death genre, and grindcore progenitors are left unexamined toward the end of the book. Another disadvantage of this book is its publishing date; since being published in 2004, extreme music has experienced quite a resurgence, and some of the cream of today's death metal crop weren't even formed or widely noticed four years ago. Then again, this is a slight shortcoming at best, since the book is really meant to offer an in-depth examination into what paths the genre's first and best acts took, and in that sense, it delivers the goods on every page.
Before reading Choosing Death, I had a moderate interest in a few of the bands covered within, and a passing knowledge on those I wasn't so crazy about. After reading the book, I feel much closer to being a bona fide headbanging expert to this interesting cult of popular music history. Whether you just bought your first Carcass album, or were one of the dudes in the pit at those formative Napalm Death shows in Birmingham, there's guaranteed enjoyment in picking up this book. I'd also recommend the superb Choosing Death soundtrack cd as the perfect companion piece. This book would also make an awesome gift for any self-respecting metalhead who does not currently possess it! Bottom line, Choosing Death is extremely informative, flawlessly written, and a ton of fun. What are you doing without it?
on December 15, 2006
Albert Mudrian, editor-in-chief of Decibel magazine, one of the best music magazines out there today, pens an excellent celebration of the darkest, fastest, and most intense music out there: death metal (and grindcore). Mudrian's format is simple, for a reason. It streamlines the vast reams of information within these genres and pares it down to the true essence of the keys bands - Napalm Death, Morbid Angel, Carcass - and the key record label - Earache Records.
I used to spin records for the imaginatively titled "Metal Show" at the University of Texas college radio station, KTSB (now KVRX), from 1988-1990, right when the grindcore/death metal movement first appeared in the United States. CHOOSING DEATH brought back numerous amazing memories for me such as the time I received the Napalm Death SCUM LP at the radio station; when I saw Sepultura's first U.S. show at the DK Zone at the CMJ Music Fest in NYC; and also when I met Digby Pearson and Martin Nesbitt of Earache Records at the same convention. As one of the first college radio DJs to spin the majority of these bands that appear in this book, I loved learning even more about these groundbreaking musicians. And I thought I knew it all!
Mudrian's research is impeccable, his writing is tight, and his subject matter rules. CHOOSING DEATH may not please every metal fanatic out there, but then we're a picky and bitchy lot, aren't we?
Kudos to Mudrian for an excellent piece of work.
Corey Mitchell - author of HOLLYWOOD DEATH SCENES, DEAD AND BURIED, MURDERED INNOCENTS, and EVIL EYES.
on November 11, 2015
Seemingly well-researched book about the birth of death metal (and make no mistake, this book is about death metal first and foremost -- it covers grindcore only to the extent that Napalm Death, Repulsion, Terrorizer, etc helped kickstart DM). I agree with other reviewers who state that the book focuses mainly on a small group of very influential bands: Napalm Death, Carcass, Morbid Angel. There are of course other bands discussed, but none so much as those three. Personally, I'd have liked to see more material on the Swedish bands, and other Americans like Possessed, Autopsy, Atheist, etc. Also, there's only cursory material on death metal after the mid-90s. Still, if you want to know how death metal started, this book gives a good account.
I will say there is FAR TOO MUCH DETAIL about the business side of things here. Readers will get everything they ever wanted to know about Napalm Death's dealings with their labels -- but if you aren't in the band, worked with the label, or have an itch to be an A&R hound for underground metal, you'll probably do like I did, and skim over large portions of this book.
A better written book was Daniel Ekeroth's history of Swedish Death Metal, which seems a lot more personal, and intergrates ideas and inspirations among bands much better.
on December 19, 2004
Former Terrorizer editior Nick Terry states up front in his introduction that this book isn't intended to be a thorough cataloguing of all the second and third string death metal bands that have come about over the last 15 years, and "Choosing Death" is the better book for it. Every book that I've read thus far on the history of heavy metal (in general) gaffs when they get to the part about the extreme bands. For instance, in listing the seminal forebearers of the genre they'll commonly cite bands like Napalm Death, Carcass, Morbid Angel, etc. and then - just to appear they really know their stuff - they'll throw in a mention of some extremely minor band that I've never even heard of half the time, despite the fact that I've been listening to death metal voraciously since 1990, even reviewing the genre in various periodicals up until a few years ago. Which is not to say I've heard of every death metal band worth listening to, but if they were a huge influence on the genre there's no way they've escaped my notice all this time.
On the other hand, "Choosing Death" is the first overview of death metal, comprehensive or otherwise, that has trimmed the fat completely. Except for the final chapter which discusses various spin offs that were influenced by death metal (a guaranteed controversy if there ever was one) such as "nu-metal", there is no mention of any bands that weren't extremely important to the genre.
I do, however, have to knock off one star for the later chapters, which offer little insight into the decline of death metal in the mid-90s aside from the usual "market saturation" issues. And hey, there may be nothing more to it than that, although it's debatable, but nonetheless it makes for uninteresting reading to have so many sources repeating the same opinions just to fill an appropriate amount of space in the book. I'm sure the author didn't want to gloss over several years worth of death metal, but in his quest to avoid relying on third stringers to tell the story of death metal's history and evolution, he focuses too much on the Earache, Roadrunner, and Nuclear Blast bands and ignores the minor acts that were carrying the torch during the time period.
The loss of a star also carries over into the aforementioned source material, much of the quoting coming from either Earache head Digby Pearson or various ex-Earache acts. There is very little input from the heads of other labels, such as Roadrunner or Nuclear Blast, and though Earache is without a doubt the go-to label for the early history of death metal, Digby himself admits that he kind of lost sight of where the extreme metal frontier was in the mid-to-late 90s, favoring hardcore techno acts long past the point where the fans demurred (in fact, to this day Earache is far from having made a comeback, most of their current roster being filled by a variety of third-string non-sellers). Century Media has been the backbone of the metal scene for going on ten years now and the label's influence is shamefully neglected in the later chapters.
Nonetheless, four stars, if nothing else for the excellent history of the scene up to and including the Columbia/Earache licensing deal falling apart. Hopefully in a later edition the author can go back and further flesh out the aftermath of that event. In the current edition, the subsequent chapters just read like one long anti-climax.
Albert Mudrian, Choosing Death: The Improbable History of Death Metal and Grindcore (Feral House, 2004)
It is, quite simply, impossible to go wrong with any book that begins with a teenaged Mick Harris meeting up with a teenaged Justin Broadrick while trolling their local record store in the early eighties for Throbbing Gristle albums. History was made in a little English town when the two of them, along with a couple of pals, formed a band that would ultimately be named Napalm Death, and would start both the death metal and grindcore scenes. (Ironically, both of them would ultimately go on to be stars in the electronica field, as Scorn and Jesu, respectively.) This is where Albert Mudrian beings his tale of the history of the twin movements--a history different from those you've already read (Legs McNeil's Please Kill Me and Steven Blush's American Hardcore chief among them) in that, for one brief shining moment, death metal and grindcore got huge. We're talking Columbia Records huge. Arena tours huge. If you know anything about death metal and grindcore, you've probably wondered why. After reading this book, you'll be scratching your head a whole lot harder.
Choosing Death is, at its heart, a tale of utter incompetence on the parts of almost everyone involved. At least half the interviewees are quite forthcoming about their inability to play instruments, even after being drafted into various bands. (And not just outliers, either. We're talking Carcass and Morbid Angel-level here.) There's a good deal of footage from Earache Records, of course, and when you find out what shoestrings were holding that entire operation together, you'll wonder how they ever managed to put an album out at all, much less handle the demand generated when John Peel first discovered Napalm Death. The whole story of the disintegration of the classic Napalm Death lineup is got at from as many angles as possible, though the consensus is that it was all Mick's fault. (History, on the other hand, raises the question: if he was such a hard guy to work with, why did ex-ND member Nik Bullen start working with him again in Scorn?) Pretty much everyone comes off as an [censored for Amazon consumption] to work with, except Chuck Schuldiner. The question isn't why the scene ended up getting so big for so brief a time in 1994; the question is how the scene managed to stay together long enough to make it to 1994 to get big in the first place.
This is one of those books where you turn each page and wish you didn't know the things you learned on the page before, but it's so utterly fascinating to read about so many self-destructive people exploding in one scene that you just can't stop. I kind of understand the appeal of reality television right now, except that no sane person would contend that Snooki is one percent as interesting as Trey Azagthoth. If you're a fan of the music now, or if you ever were, this is a must. *** ½
on February 10, 2005
After reading this book I was slightly disappointed by Mr. Mudrian's first book. As a fan of this type of music, I give him credit for writing about a genre of music that hasn't really been looked at or even taken seriously or even respected (which it deserves a lot of). But the book is almost completely filled with this type of storyline/writing: "so-and-so" starts a band, later he leaves that band and forms a new band. Later on, one of the members of this band leaves and joins the original band that "so-and-so" started. You can just go on with names of people and bands and who joined who and then left and then rejoined...on and on and on....
In other words, it rambles on and doesn't really grab the reader or spark enthusiasm. You can save your time and money and just basically go on a website and look up one of these bands find out about the members (original, new, who came left and joined again) and what other bands sound like them or who they influenced or where influenced by, etc.
What would have made this book great was if there was more of a cohesion between good storytelling of interesting and amusing stories, setting and time details, more fan and outside reflections, etc. The author definitely needs to work on his writing skills (there were a few grammatical and spelling errors - maybe the editor's fault) but stay on this path of writing about interesting and underground subjects.
on December 8, 2011
Here's the bulk of my review of Choosing Death from my blog. The original review can be found here (remove the space before .com):
Two nights ago, Choosing Death: The Improbable History of Death Metal and Grindcore, by Albert Mudrian came in. I really enjoyed the book. Years ago, when I read Lords of Chaos, I was really impressed by the writing. The authors, Moynihan and Soderlind, are both journalists and did a great job. Its a very objective and detailed work. It took me a little while to read though, because as much as the subject matter interests me, I'm not the biggest fan of black metal.
Choosing Death, however went by much quicker for me. Its nearly as well-written as Lords of Chaos, and for me, it was much more readable (evidenced by my having read through it in one day). The subject matter is also near and dear to my heart, and reading it was like reliving history. I learned a lot of things about what was going on in the background with many of the pivotal bands and labels at the time as well, which I really like.
A lot of the book focuses on interviews and background information from Napalm Death, Morbid Angel, Earache Records and many bands who were related in some way to the rising scenes in England and Florida. Major players like Chuck Shuldiner (Death), Glen Benton (Deicide), John Tardy (Obituary), Justin Broadrick (Godflesh), John Peel from BBC Radio and producers like Scott Burns are also featured. Of course, there are tons of interviews and historical snippets from other sources like Relapse Records, Roadrunner Records (who grabbed Sepultura & Fear Factory when Earache initially turned them down - I never knew this happened), members of Carcass, Cannibal Corpse, Brutal Truth, Extreme Noise Terror, Bolt Thrower, Entombed, Immolation, Vader and more.
Background information from the bands also highlights bands like Seige, Discharge and Slayer, who were influential on much of the early grindcore movement. Its interesting to see how England and the United States influenced each other back and forth, especially with regard to the impact that Napalm Death (particularly Mick Harris' drumming) had on Morbid Angel and that Mantas (proto-Death) had on a lot of European bands. Sweden is also looked at, but not quite as deeply as England and the US. It was interesting to see just how small the Swedish death and grind scenes really were at first, and how it grew into the whole Gothenburg sound that I personally take for granted today. I also never realized just how much tape trading shaped the sounds that became prevalent in these scenes. I've collected both tapes and CDs (demos and stuff that I have people bring back when they go abroad) but although I was aware of it, I hadn't considered the potential that tape trading could have on not just fans, but musicians themselves.
I have one or two small issues with the book, but its not enough to detract from its excellence as a historic snapshot of the genres during the 1980¡äs-1990¡äs. There are some small details that I think are incorrect, but they're not specifically band- or music-related. For example, the Necronomicon is not a satanic work. The idea of it was birthed by HP Lovecraft (one of my favorite authors when I was younger) and it was later written by "Simon". Its not a real occult book. But that's really inconsequential to the overall work. It only stands out to me because I enjoy Lovecraft's work.
I'd actually love to see Mudrian write a follow-up to the book, as it ends at 2004. There have been changes to the bands that were featured since then and there have been changes in the scenes themselves (like the rise of deathcore and its relationship to death and grind, and wifey's hot-button - the role of women in these scenes).
on July 15, 2011
This is an excellent book. As others have probably noted it is a little too weighted towards the Napalm Death/Morbid Angel side of things, and flows a little unevenly. Where some better history books would be set out in a more coherent and chronological, (or at least sectional) fashion, this book does tend to be one long line of events relating to late eighties early nineties death and grind, with the occasional sideways step to cover other separate areas of development (such as the swedish scene, and norwegian black metal). Offsetting these faults is a staggeringly detailed and impressively large amount of information. If like me, you will be returning to this book as a reference point, it will be an invaluable (and at this point only existing) tool. It's hard to imagine anybody having been left out, and it's usefulness as a death/grind geneaology is also invaluable. But it's biggest plus on a basic reading level was my inability to put it down. Being based around a scene that metamorphosed at such a staggering rate, this is hardly surprising, but the book captures this pace of development perfectly, leaving one constantly wanting to know what happened next. In short, not well structured, but absolutely loaded with information, and highly readable.
on August 25, 2012
When it comes to metal, books on the subjects tend to sensationalize the comic aspect of some of its biggest stars and their predictably stupid public behavior, spending precious little time on the actual music and business at hand. Albert Mudrian however has penned what may be one of the fairest and most focused looks in a musical genre that exists today. "Choosing Death" is not for those looking for sordid tales of perversion. It is rather a loving but honest look into the music and business of some of death's more successful acts, its initial popularity, downfall in the 1990's and resurgence in the '00's.
He basically defines "death" metal as accurately as I've read anywhere, describing it as using thrash as a jumping off point and adding grunting and roaring vocals, banks of downtuned guitars and blast beat drums to help shape its identity. We see how death can be traced also to England where primitive grindcore acts like Napalm Death, Carcass and Extreme Noise Terror developed small but rabid fan bases with short blasts of hyper speed, and in the case of Napalm Death, one "classic" tune called "You Suffer" clocked in at one and a half seconds. Soon the camps started to merge somewhat, with grindcore eventually having to write more conventional tunes with recognizable tempos without compromising their brutal sound. Some outfits, especially Florida's Obituary, took stylistic lessons from the doom world, and on their classic debut "Slowly We Rot" there were elements of thrash along with songs going so slow they almost stopped.
What makes this book essential for all musician wannabes regardless of their style of music is Mudrian's discussion of the lack of money, the problems with major labels wanting to risk their money on a type of music so extreme it could never break out of a certain amount of sales ever without destroying the creative spark that gathered the interest of fans and small independent labels in the first place.
We get the "he said, she said" bickering between Napalm Death and their record label Earache, and other similar tales of financial worry that bands seldom discuss in the press. This means that budding bands have limited access to the pitfalls that surround their favorite music, including crooked managers and labels, and intolerant fans who desert them the second they're considered too commercial or try to change their approach with the hope of growing their sales. In short, most of these bands couldn't get the attention they do without their fans, but those very same fans are also the bands' biggest headache due to intolerance and aversion to anything that resembles success.
It is a very important book indeed that covers all aspects of the business, and Mudrian is to be commended for writing an honest eye opening book. If you want to just read about your favorite band or you're interested in the business side of things and ways you can get burned, you can't go wrong with "Choosing Death." It's the definitive book on rock and roll's most extreme edge.