First of all, what kind of feedback you've recieved from all the death metal and grindcore bands out there after they've read the book? Any criticism?
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 could have made it 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.
How has the metal media reacted? Have you done loads of interviews already? I guess it must be funny 'cause you're probably used to interview bands more than to be interviewed. How do you feel about it?
I’ve done a couple dozen interviews all together, so it hasn’t been overwhelming. Truthfully, I’m definitely more comfortable as the interviewer, and not the interviewee. But it gives me good perspective, as I really do try to answer questions thoroughly. As a journalist, I’m sure you’ll agree that there’s nothing worse than one-word “yes” and “no” answers.
You've now created same sort of source book for death/grind as Lords of Chaos is for black metal. Was Lords any kind of model for you and this book at all? Or did you have any other model books of any other genres for this project?
I see Lords of Chaos as more of a cultural study of black metal and youth satanisim than an in depth history of black metal. Sure, we hear about the arsons, murders, and suicides in the scene, and of course that stuff is completely fascinating, but I don’t think LOC was ever in intended to be a true history of black metal, as Choosing Death was to intended to be a history of death metal and grind. Don’t get me wrong, I very much enjoyed LOC, but other music books like American Hardcore and Lexicon Devil are probably stylistically closer to Choosing Death. Although, I suppose the model for Choosing Death was a combination of several books.
How hard it was to define exactly the field of the book? Was the combination of death metal and grindcore clear from the beginning or did you consider other options? I mean for example hardcore is quite closely linked with death/grind could have been included at least in theory.
I wanted to make sure that the parameters of the book didn’t exceed death metal and grind. Once you decide to add another genre of extreme music to the text, things can get out of hand. For example, if I did decide to cover hardcore because it was so closely related to grind, you could easily argue that thrash metal like Destruction and Sodom should be included as well, because it’s so similar to early death metal. So what I tried to do is cover the bands that obviously were not death metal or grindcore, but provided a clear bridge to the genres, as a band like Discharge did for early grind bands like Napalm Death and Extreme Noise Terror.
I'm quite sure that Choosing Death will be used as a source book for academic research about death/grind at some point. Do you feel that it's important at all to analyze these genres as subcultures (from the point of literature or otherwise)? Or would you rather see both of these genres to remain as myths to some extent and not to be "spoiled" in publicity by academics?
It would be great to imagine that the book could eventually be used as some sort of resource guide. Ultimately, I think the more people that are made aware of death metal and grindcore—the better. Among mainstream press, there seems to be this misconception that death metal bands and their fans are just these raving lunatics hell bent on self-destruction. I think Choosing Death portrays them as the normal—albeit extremely passionate—people they actually are. That may potentially demystify the artists in some people’s eyes, but I think it’s worth it, as there are significant advantages to changing the general perceptions of this music and it fans.
Are there any bands, locations or scenes that you'd have liked to explore more accurately but could not for some reason? I mean for example Finnish death metal bands have been said to have their own sound even that it was music-wise closely linked with the Swedish scene. Do you know any Finnish death/grind bands? (and how do you like 'em?)
Not really. There are individual bands that I wish I spent a little more time on, such as Larm and Total Fucking Destruction, but I was happy with the overall coverage of the locations and scenes. As for the Finnish stuff, obviously, I was a fan of early Amorphis (who wasn’t?), but most of the new bands don’t get me too excited. However, I very much enjoy To Separate the Flesh from the Bones!
I read that you had to do about 100 interviews for the book and that sure is a hell of job to do. Was it hard to get those already quit veterans to remember the old days? I mean for example Nik Bullen and Mick Harris. What did all these old school guys think about your project?
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). But everyone, especially people such as Micky Harris, Jeff Walker, and Shane Embury, were ultimately extremely supportive and accommodating when I contacted them—except for Extreme Noise Terror’s Dean Jones, who was a total fucking rock star prick!
How did the people you interviewed for the book react when you wanted to find about something delicate or unpleasant such as Mick Harris leaving Napalm Death or the grudge between Napalm and Earache? In these cases from what I read I guess that it was important for you to let both sides to be able to state their version of the story, right?
For the most part, everyone was very forthcoming. In the case of Mick, he’s had a lot of time to reflect on what happened with Napalm, and I think he’s matured and moved on over the years. And yes, it was very important to let the parties express both sides of a dispute. Particularly in the case of the Earache/Columbia deal, there was a lot of back and forth between the bands and Earache, Earache and Columbia, and Columbia and the bands. So I really wanted to make sure all the voices were heard, so that the reader could draw his own or her own conclusions as to what really happened.
Were you at any point bothered by the fact that Napalm Death and Earache are in such a huge role in the book even their roles in death/grind is undisputed? I mean Choosing Death serves basically as a Napalm Death biography, too.
I think there needed to be a central figure or relationship for the story to be effective. And to me, it was obvious that Napalm severed that roll. After all, they were the most influential band for many of the artists covered in the book (Not only were they one of the earliest grindcore bands, but they also exposed a lot of kids to more traditional death metal with the Harmony Corruption album), so it didn’t really bother me that much. However, it must have bugged one fellow, who suggested on a message board post that the book should have been titled Choosing Napalm Death!
Now we have death and black subgenres of metal covered with their own source books. Do you have any plans to write any books in the near future or have you had enough for a while? (Heh, I guess there are several other metal subgenres left to choose from to base a new book on.)
Nope, no more books any time soon! I 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!
The book also has the "soundtrack" by Relapse Records. How did it happen in the first place? Did you have any authority to pick songs or anything? What do you think about the selection of the songs on the disc?
Yes, the CD was my idea, and I was responsible for compiling the track listing. I really wanted to assemble the definitive death metal and grindcore compilation, which is why, in addition to the obvious classics from Obituary, Morbid Angel and Carcass, I managed to round up things like that rare Nihilist track and the comp-exclusive Pig Destroyer song. Also, in the booklet you’ll find quotes from every artist on the CD discussing the particular tracks on which they perform. It’s a really unique package.
Thanks for the interview Albert! If you have any last comments for the Finnish metal audience please go ahead.
I’d like to thank you, J.J., and Miasma Magazine for the interview and interest. And I’d also like to sincerely thank everyone in Finland who has already gone out and picked up a copy of Choosing Death—I really appreciate the support!