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Book Review: Precious Metal: 25 Extreme Metal Masterpieces by Albert Mudrian

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Precious Metal is a compilation of articles from Decibel magazine’s popular “Hall Of Fame” monthly feature. It is an updated and expanded collection of the top 25 entries, and features interviews with all members of each group inducted.

Decibel prides itself on being the ultimate authority on “Extreme Metal.” Bands such as Cannibal Corpse, Napalm Death, and Slayer are typical examples. Whether it is death metal, black metal, grind-core or Lord knows what, the editors have chosen the most influential, and extreme acts ever to grace their Hall.

Some of the interviews are unintentionally hilarious. Take this quote from Carcass bassist Jeff Walker, discussing the band’s Necrotism – Descanting The Insalubrious: “It was pretty mainstream.”

Here are a couple of titles from Necrotism: “Lavaging Expectorate of Lysergide Composition,” and “Corporal Jigsore Quandry.” I swear dude, Rick Rubin is all set to turn these cuts over to Neil Diamond as we speak.

The period covered in Precious Metal runs from 1980 to 2001. The bookends are Black Sabbath’s Heaven And Hell to Converge’s Jane Doe. And there are some worthy stories in between.

I particularly enjoyed the Sabb’s frank discussion of how the band completely fell apart with the sacking of Ozzy.  At one point, only Iommi and Dio were even into it, yet they managed to put together a record that stands up to anything the group ever did.

The interviews with Cannibal Corpse are pretty funny also. Back in my Ye Olde Record Store days, we used to yell out the song titles just to get a laugh. Nobody could be for real with something called “Entrails Ripped From A Virgin’s Cunt.” Or so we thought.

I love Corpse’s lyricist Chris Barnes‘ interview: “I’ve always taken pride in writing a storyline.”

Holy crap, what’s next? Norwegian death metal, of course. Burn down 1,000 year old churches, and murder your rival vocalist. Cool. But isn’t even murder a cliché after Manson? Come on guys, give me a break.

As a fan of extreme music in all genres, I had an inclination to like this book. Ending it in 2001 obviously opens the door to a volume two. I think the first one should have been a little more inclusive of the originators.

Beginning with Sabbath’s Heaven And Hell was a good start, and following it with Diamond Head and Celtic Frost made a lot of sense. But the prerequisite of interviewing every band member for inclusion is ludicrous.

A dead band-mate means your record will never qualify? That apparently is the story. Two quick examples: Master Of Puppets by Metallica, and Cowboys From Hell by Pantera. It wasn’t even drugs that killed these guys, and those are two of the most influential “extreme” (at least at the time) records I know of.

I understand that the conceit here is to interview every member of the band, and on that level Precious Metal works very well. My problem is with the missed opportunity of putting a true Top 25 of this music together. Nobody else is going to write it.

Precious Metal does one hell of a job with the self-imposed artificial restraints of the editors. As a fan, I would like to see them step out a bit further, and include records made by guys who are now dead.

Celebrating murderers who escaped the death penalty, and ignoring Cliff Burton and Dimebag Darrell makes no sense at all. Precious Metal is a great book on its own terms. As a definitive statement on the genre though, I find it sorely lacking.

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