Sunday, July 20, 2003

Review: "Sound of the Beast" by Ian Christe

"Sound of the Beast: The Complete Headbanging History of Heavy Metal" by Ian Christe ($24.95, HarperCollins) chronicles the rise of heavy metal from Black Sabbath through the nu metal movement of today.

While the book may draw the criticism of some who would argue that Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix were the originators of metal, once it gets past that, there are few who will argue with the rest.

Plenty has been written about Zeppelin and Hendrix, and I'd venture to say there are few metal fans that aren't familiar with those artists and the profound effect they had on the music that would become heavy metal.

But being firmly entrenched in the Black Sabbath camp, I can find very few faults with Christe's account of the music I love.

The book begins with the Sabbath story and traces the music through the New Wave of British Heavy Metal in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

From there, Christe picks up the story of Metallica. At first, I was a little disappointed in his treatment beyond that. He spends a great deal of time on the rise of the Bay Area Thrashers - even more than on Sabbath.

On second thought, though, I had to admit that few bands have had a greater impact on the music than Metallica.

Christe offers nods to all of the other influential bands, though he doesn't spend as much time with them.

He also drags out some obscure bands that made a contribution - even a couple that I wasn't familiar with.

If the book has one fault, it is that Christe is a fan - and obviously so. If you're looking for an objective portrait of the music, look elsewhere.

He wears his likes and dislikes on his sleeve, and it's easy to tell who his favorite bands are.

At the same time, it's Christe's passion for heavy metal that really makes the book sing - or, in this case I suppose, scream.

I'd much rather read a stirring account like this from a fan that I occasionally disagree with than a rote recitation of the lineage of metal from some music historian who could care less.

Christe also incorporates lists of essential recordings at various points in the book. I disagree with a lot of them, particularly the overall list, but that's part of the beauty of those kinds of lists.

They get fans talking, opening up a dialogue that may lead people to something they've never heard before.

As a fan, it seems foolhardy to me to attempt to sum up the entire heavy metal experience in less than 400 pages. It just can't be done. But with "Sound of the Beast," Christe has done it as well as I think is really possible.

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