Far from a bland overview of the genre by so-called scholars or a gushing narrative written by some random fan, Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal offers a thorough yet lively look at the genre as put together by a few renowned rock critics (Katherine Turman and Jon Wiederhorn) with decades of heavy music knowledge. It's presented oral history-style via a selection of more than 250 interviews with some of the leading names in metal.
Louder Than Hell is organized in loose chronological order and sheds light on the various metal subgenres, from earlier sounds like genre-shaping proto metal to more modern offshoots of thrash, death and black metal. The background and history of each is developed through first-hand accounts from the artists and people involved, the result an enjoyable, highly entertaining reading experience for more periphery listeners while offering seasoned metal fans insight, different perspectives and all new anecdotes.
Turman and Wiederhorn also do a great job of keeping the subject matter stimulating and relevant, whether they’re illuminating stylistic developments, relating narratives about various exploits and troubles that metal musicians encountered in their careers, or delivering rebuttals from one band member to another.
Among the highlights are the random back stories, such as the significance of the coded backstage passes Def Leppard’s crew gave to girls looking to hang with the band after the show, a pictogram consisting of an eye, a little bird, and a ship with a sailor (“I swallow semen”); and humorous accounts of band hijinks, like when Carnivore was almost banned from Brooklyn’s renown rock club L’amour for throwing raw meat onto the crowd; the next time Carnivore played there, they threw White Castle burgers instead. Louder Than Hell also manages to balance the lighter subject matter with more somber accounts of inner turmoil and loathing, like the chapter focusing heavily on Pantera, which looked at the band’s formation, rise to the point of global domination, the drug addictions and egocentrism that threatened their reign, and murder of guitarist Dimebag Darrell that ultimately ended it and left the remaining band members at serious odds with each other and with Darrell’s family.
With a veritable lack of dull moments – even lesser-respected subgenres like nu metal prove enjoyable to read about – and well-written, colorful and fresh subject matter, Louder Than Hell is a fun and fast read overall, even at 746 pages.