It was a cassette that started it for me. An old TDK hand lettered with the words “Master of Puppets” on the side.When I took it home and slipped it in, it killed my 16 year old mind’s taste for pop music dead. It wouldn’t return for a good two decade. It started me on a journey that’s led from metal to punk to industrial to goth. From arena shows to beauty parlor basement gigs and back again. I like my music loud and mean, and have for two decades now.
So when I pick up a book like Dayal Patterson’s Black Metal:Evolution of the Cult, it’s with the cynical eye of a older outsider. I’m not some snot nose teen looking to scare mommy and daddy by buying the book with a scary cover. Upside down crosses and corpsepaint do not impress me,and generally annoy me. I’m a regular reader of mags like Decibel and Terrorizer. This book came with a lot of hype,and had a lot to prove.
And by the gods, does it ever do so. There are very few music journalism books I would describe as a labor of love, but this is one of them. Dayal has taken a lengthy and long overdue look at black metal,a subgenre of metal that is either dead or exploding,depending on your viewpoint. It’s a question Dayal wrestles with in his book as well.
Black metal was first used to describe a small group of bands in Norway in the early 90’s. Known for their screeching vocals, low-fi production,and a reliance on alternating atmosphere with breakneck speed, one wonder what would have happened to the scene if not for the drama surrounding it. As explored in Michael Moynihan’s excellent Lords of Chaos, the early years of bands such as Mayhem, Emperor ,Burzum and Darkthrone were accompanied by suicides, murders, and an international headlines due a series of church burnings inspired by and in some cases, perpetrated by those involved in the scene.
Dayal doesn’t delve too much into the social and cultural forces around the scene, or deeply into the drama. He takes a historical approach, first covering what most feel are the first wave of black metal bands, such as Venom, Bathory,and Hellhammer. The scene itself took their name from a Venom album title. Each group gets its own chapter, exploring the band’s history and influence on the scene. It’s a format that works well,and continues for most of the book.
The next part focuses on the first wave of bands like Mayhem and Burzum. He also devotes chapters to the most commercially successful bands, Dimmu Borgir and Cradle of Filth. It’s a wide and encompassing trek, from the chapter on the obscure French black metal scene, to ending with chapters on post black metal bands like Lifelover and Sigh.
Dayal breaks down the chapters by bands for the most part. My favorite thing about the book are finding out about bands he argues are important to the scene that I was not aware of. I came away from this with a new interest in bands like Thorns and Mysticum. Dayal is also not afraid of the controversial nature of such black metal bands as Burzum and Marduk, even devoting an entire chapter to NSBM(National Socialist Black Metal).What makes this book important to me is his non-judgemental writing on these, preferring to let the words of those involved in the scene speak for themselves. It’s the kind of well done journalism I’ve come to expect from the book’s publisher, Feral House.
Speaking of them, this is their usual quality product. Close to 500 pages, it’s lavishly laid out, full of rare pictures and clear typesetting. Other music book publishers should look at tomes like this to see how it’s done.
As far as negatives, I found few in the book to quibble about. I’m sure some would have liked to have a more judgemental tone about the negative elements of black metal, but that wasn’t the point here. This is a history and testimony to an important musical subgenre. For me, a little more about what some of the older bands like Venom are up to now,plus perhaps a chapter from most of the avowed Satanists in the scene on how their Satanism is so much different than Lavey’s. And maybe some information on where to get this music now. But such information may become dated, so I understand why it isn’t included.
Should you buy this? Do you love metal,punk,goth, death, grind,or industrial? Then run, don’t walk. If you’re into seeing how a small but influential music scene has affected an entire genre, then get it as well. And if you’re a black metal fan, then close down this computer, get your ass to a bookstore as soon as possible, and then thank me, Dayal, and Feral House later.