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HELLRAISERS: A Complete Visual History Of Heavy Metal Mayhem

By Daniel Höhr, European Correspondent
Monday, October 23, 2017 @ 12:56 AM

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HELLRAISERS: A Complete Visual History Of Heavy Metal Mayhem
Axl Rosenberg, Christopher Krovatin
New York, Race Point Publishing, 2017

“Metal is not just a genre – it's a lifestyle,” writes Matt Heafy in the foreword to Axl Rosenberg and Christopher Krovatin's new book, which aims to provide a complete visual history of the lifestyle that goes together with the music that inspires us all. That this is not just an empty phrase but probably the very essence of the “mayhem” that's heavy hetal goes without saying. And it rings a bell. Back in August 2001 I was interviewing Blackie Lawless of W.A.S.P. at Germany's Wacken Open Air for a feature for the Loudest Dot Com On The Planet. Present was also a young colleague from a German radio station. For organisational reasons we agreed to do the interview together and to use each other's questions in our features as we would see fit. One of the questions my colleague asked Blackie was: “What is heavy metal to you?” and Blackie's reply was not at all too different from Matt Heafy's statement quoted above: “It's a state of mind”. There ya have it.

A book merely about a musical genre would probably include some of its main characteristics like typical rhythms, preferred itervals, maybe some chord progressions, typical instruments, its history and protagonists that have shaped the genre. But since metal is much more than melodic phrases, harmonies, arrangements and musicians' names, any good book about metal needs to somehow get the vibes across, the state of mind, the lifestyle that goes with it.

And this is exactly what Axl Rosenberg and Christopher Krovatin's Hellraisers achieves. From Mark Riddick's cover artwork featuring a long-haired human skeleton posing with a Flying V in front of cemetary gates to recurring visual elements such as studded belts, barbed wire, bullets, skulls and the like as well as literally tons of photographs of our favourite bands and artists, the design of the volume leaves nothing to be desired lifestylewise.

And yet it would not do metal justice to reduce it to visual clichés. At the beginning of their book, Rosenberg and Krovatin go back to the very roots of metal, which they refer to as “proto-metal (or metal before it was called metal)” and start their journey through what they perceive as the history of metal by looking at one specific musical cliché, the tritone, the infamous diabolus in musica and its role in rock music. Indeed, it features in Jimi Hendrix's “Purple Haze” and, most prominently, in the song “Black Sabbath” by...you know.

So what is the actual starting point of metal according to the authors? Artists such as the godfather of blues guitar, Robert Johnson, Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, THE BEATLES, THE ROLLING STONES play a crucial in role in the development of the music that would eventually become metal. The authors take a close look at a variety of acts including Jimi Hendrix, LED ZEPPELIN, AC/DC, Alice Cooper, BLACK SABBATH before they turn to the nitty gritty, the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal. Entire books have been written about this ever so important period and, admittedly, it is absolutely impossible to do it justice in one single chapter. Still, I wished the authors had devoted a bit more space and had gone into more detail here, especially in the context of the British music scene in the late 1970s when punk was on the retreat. Even though the “most iconic” metal band, IRON MAIDEN, are featured here alongside JUDAS PRIEST, Ozzy, DIO, KING DIAMOND, VENOM, MOTORHEAD, SAXON et al, I feel that the most important acts are missing. ANGEL WITCH, PRAYING MANTIS, SAMSON, TYGERS OF PAN TANG or HOLOCAUST are not even mentioned here while – sorry – DIO, Ozzy, KING DIAMOND and MOTORHEAD do not belong in this category because either they were not British acts (Ozzy was working from the USA in those days) or not even metal bands (MOTORHEAD by Lemmy's own testimony).

The following chapters cover the development, main characteristics and main acts of Glam Metal, Thrash Metal, Death Metal and Grindcore, Black Metal, Doom Metal, Nu Metal, Metalcore, Deathcore and Djent as well as “crash courses” in genres and subgenres ranging from Hardcore and Alternative Metal to Viking, Pagan, Folk, and Pirate Metal to Power Metal, and Prog Metal, thus covering the whole field and giving a more or less complete picture. At the end of each chapter there is a “Starter Kit” with tips and hints as to what to wear as well as “Homework” in the form of a play list featuring the most iconic songs of the genre or subgenre dealt with in each chapter. The book also contains numerous essays on various topics of interest such as bass players, metal mascots, festivals and crime. A few pages dedicated to the vast field of Christian metal would have been nice and would have helped to make the picture more complete. Thus, despite some iconic metal albums, STRYPER aren't even named in the entire book – this needs to be fixed in future editions.

The book is as insightful and informative as it is entertaining. It is certainly recommended for the novice to the world of heavy metal as it is for the expert metal head. Hellraisers comes just in time for the holiday season and is the ideal page turner for dreary autumn and winter days. Its handy format allows you to hold it in one hand so you can easily hold a beer or a whiskey in the other. Whether you read it from beginning to end or just randomly read individual chapters, whether you can't be arsed with reading at all and just want to look at the pictures or use it as a reference book – the index comes in extremely handy – Axl Rosenberg and Christopher Krovatin's Hellraisers: A Complete Visual History Of Heavy Metal Mayhem is a must-have.

4.0 Out Of 5.0

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