Albert Mudrian interview for Inferno Magazine on the subject of Choosing Death-book
Questions by Teemu Lampinen.
First off, the book was really enjoyable read. I got so much into it that after first day of reading, I had a dream where Evil Chuck was back from the dead, I was entering the club by the first riff of “Open Casket” - and then the damn alarm woke me up! So even if I’m way too young to actually have lived that era of first wave of death metal and grindcore, the book was written so vividly it caught me.
It’ve been now a while since the book was released (when was it exactly?). What kind of feedback you have received? Young people thanking for introducing them to the facts and old scene figures thanking for the walk down the memory lane?
The book was actually released in the US in September, and I think it was just officially released in Europe this past December—the publisher doesn’t tell me such things, of course! So far the feedback has been really positive. Some people have complained that I left out certain bands (like Pestilence for example), but the only recurring criticism has been that some people felt that the book was too short. I know it could have been longer, but I was afraid that it could potentially become boring to a reader who wasn't a "hardcore" death metal and grindcore fan. Maybe if the book is very successful, in a few years I'll be able to do a revised and expanded edition and make everyone happy.
What kind of first-hand memories you have from the early days of death metal and grindcore? You were born in 1975, so I guess the rise of death metal happened exactly at the right time for you.
I really didn’t discover extreme metal until 1991 when I was 15 or 16 years old, so I guess I came to the party a bit late. It was a local college radio station that really turned me onto scene, actually. There was a show called “Metal Monday,” which, of course, dedicated an entire day’s play list to heavy metal. That’s where I really had my first exposure to bands like Morbid Angel, Napalm Death, Carcass and Obituary. And truth be told, I didn’t really ”get it” at first. But as I sat alone in my room, continuing to listen to the radio and spin records, that early confusion gave way to revelation, and suddenly, the loudest, most vicious, chaotic music in the world made perfect sense. I felt like I had just experienced to coolest, more revolutionary ever made.
How did you start writing for this book? There are huge number of people interviewed – what kind of background work you had to do before starting to interview people? Going through a huge pile of old UG-zines perhaps?
I had written down a short list of about 40 people that I felt were essential to talk with to do this book. Obviously, that eventually grew. By the time I had interviewed 40 people, I knew that wouldn’t even be half the total number of people I ended up speaking with. I also contacted my friends at record labels such as Relapse, Earache, and Roadrunner and told them that I wanted to write this book, and asked for help in tracking people down, so that was a big help in getting things off the ground.
Some of the persons interviewed must’ve been hard to find. How did you do the interviews – face to face or via phone, emails, etc? Any memories you’d like to share?
It took a great deal of networking, cold phone calls, and some awkward emails to get a hold of everyone. In several cases it took months and months to track some people down and convince them to do interviews (like Bill Steer, for example). I remember being pretty nervous when I was leaving messages on the answering machines of some of my teenages heroes. But everyone, especially people such as Micky Harris, Jeff Walker, and Shane Embury, were extremely supportive and accommodating when I contacted them.
How much of work it takes to write a book on history of a certain music style? Could you describe your average working day?
Well, I’ve worked full-time as a magazine editor for the past 8 years, so the book was generally pieced together virtually every night after work for about 2-and-a-half years. I tried to work anywhere for 1 to 3 hours on it each evening—when I wasn’t on deadline with the magazine, of course. Also, my boss at the magazine was very supportive, allowing me to conduct some interviews and send emails during normal working hours. If not for that, I’m sure the whole process would have taken much longer.
Does writing a book such as Choosing Death pay off – economically or -should I say- artistically? How’d you come up with the idea in the first place? Was it something you just had to do, sooner or later?
I guess that really depends on what your goals are. To me, when it was finally finished, I viewed it as a great success. I mean, hopefully I’ll see a little money from the book in the future, as I’m told the first pressing of the book has already sold out. But if you’re looking to get rich you probably shouldn’t write a music book—or least a book about death metal and grindcore anyway. To answer the second part of your question, I first conceived of the project when I interviewed Earache founder Digby Pearson in May of 2000 for a label profile story coinciding with the release of the label’s Immortalized box set. A friend suggested that there was a strong enough story within that 1,000-word piece to form the skeletal outline of an entire book documenting death metal and grindcore’s history. I put the idea off until January of 2002 when I worked up enough courage to begin working on the project.
Was it certain from the start that you’ll combine the histories of both death metal and grindcore into one book? How you would describe the relationship of these two styles – 20 years ago and now?
I thought the styles were too closely related to ignore one of them. I think in some cases, it’s still difficult to tell what makes one band definitely grind and another definitely death metal. I mean, Repulsion are usually referred to as grindcore legends, but in reality, they weren’t the least bit political. And for me, political activism was one of the most important tenants that separated grindcore from death metal. Conversely, there are tons of death metal bands with blast beast like Morbid Angel, who are clearly not grindcore. So sometimes the line can be pretty blurry. Maybe we need to develop a color-coded chart!
Even if death metal never actually went away, it is clear that it had a new coming at the turn of the century. Same goes to grindcore that it’s having its renaissance with bands like Nasum, Pig Destroyer and Rotten Sound. Last chapter in the book titled "Altering the Future" deals with last few years in the scene. To me that chapter seemed different from the previous, as it’s not as consistent as the previous were. It has some cool, rarely spoken topics though, for example how death metal is too physical style of music to be played for musicians over their 40s. How do you see that chapter yourself, were there anything special you liked to achieve with that, bring up new ideas or even prophetic ideas? Was it more difficult to look and write on things that are still happening, compared to things that clearly belong to the past?
Yeah, I didn’t wanna be too prophetic, as I don’t really feel that was my place. My intent was to the tell the history of the genres, and since those histories are still being written, I thought it was a better idea to illustrate some trends and movements with the scenes rather than make some bold prediction that death metal will contue to grow in popularity, or that it will decrease. I think it’s obvious that the style will never go away—there will always be people playing it, and there will always be a dedicated audience that wants to hear it. And I do think the rise in popularity of more extreme sounding bands like Slipknot, Lamb of God, Shadows Fall, and Killswitch Engage can ultimately be bennefical for the underground. These artists can easily act as a ”gateway” to more extreme artists for people just discovering heavy music. So there are several indicators that the styles will continue to grow.
As Nick Terry points out in his foreword, Choosing Death is written into a story. It’s not an A-Z of all things death metal and grindcore. How much work it took to translate all interview transcripts into one logical story? Were there anything that gave you pains to leave outside, but just had to in support of the story. Kill your darlings, anyone?
I actually transcribed about 70 interviews before I wrote one word of the text. So, obviously, the most difficult part was making everything fit together. After interviewing 100 people, I felt like I had the largest jigsaw puzzle in the world. With that many voices, you run the risk of turning the text into a list of potted band histories and boring biographies. The challenge was to tie it all together and make it work as a real, exciting story. So for the sake of cohesiveness, there were stories that may have been really funny or interesting but they didn’t necessarily fit into the body of the story. In fact, see the next question.
In most of the cases with music books, I get anxious if the author doesn’t know his/her business. Few years ago there were released a book on the history of Finnish metal music, and the author repeatedly misspelled “thrash metal” as “trash metal”. How can you take sort of book any seriously! Amazingly, I didn’t get anxious once while reading Choosing Death. Afterwards I thought were there for example any albums that went without a notice. There were! You don’t mention Carcass’ Necroticism – Descanting The Insalubrious or Death’s Roadrunner-era albums at all, even if especially the Carcass album is considered their best release by many. How do you plead?
I’m guilty as charged concerning Necroticism. Even though I think it’s the best album they ever made, and consequently, one of the greatest death metal albums ever, the stories surrounding it just weren’t that interesting, and since they really didn’t fit well into the flow of the story, they were actually left out of the final draft. It’s something that Jeff Walker has personally given me grief for, and I totally see his point. If I ever do a revised edition, I promise that Necroticism won’t be left out again. I can’t really make that guarantee with Death’s Symbolic, however.
John Peel’s introduction, it got a new dose of nostalgia after the news of his death. Did you follow Peel’s programs and how would you describe his influence on the death metal and grindcore movement?
Since I live in the US, I’ve only been able to follow his programs over the past few years via the internet. They really were some of the most exciting and entertaining programs I’ve ever heard. John was so influential in exposing early death and grind bands such as Napalm, Carcass and Extreme Noise Terror to a larger audience, that I don’t think the scene would have ever developed so quickly without him. He’s truly irreplaceable.
Do you look after new death metal and grindcore bands?
Admittedly, both death metal and grindcore are music styles that even if they are innovative in some ways they are also really orthodox in many ways. Being orthodox, chosen to work in a certain framework usually means death to art. Death metal and grindcore deserved their “second comings” with bands that pushed those boundaries further and further (Cryptopsy, Nile, Nasum), but that kind of movement can’t go on forever.
Do you think death metal and grindcore are now so established and vital that they should stay interesting for many more years or do see a more peaceful era ahead – just like it were in the mid 90s?
My job keeps me pretty well-tuned into what’s going on with newer death and grind bands. There’s a band called Cretin from California who I’m really into at the moment. They only have a 7-inch out on Relapse, but they are a completely old school-inspired band that reminds me of Repulsion and pre-Harmony Corruption Napalm Death. As for the second part of your question, I don’t see the scene headed for a drop off as severe as the one in the mid-’90s. I think there will always be an ebb and flow in popularity, but, as I said earlier, death metal and grind has survived for and established itself over 20 years—it’s not disappearing any time soon.
What have been up to after finishing the book? Are planning any projects similar to Choosing Death – or is the even any need for?
Well, I can tell you there won’t be any more books from me any time soon! I’ll admit that I do have a couple other ideas, but I can’t guarantee that I’ll ever get to them. Right now I’m concentrating all my efforts on Decibel Magazine (www.decibelmagazine.com). It’s a new extreme music magazine that I helped found. It’s a monthly publication based here in the US, and I’m the Editor-in-Chief, so that keeps me plenty busy!