Sunday, November 21, 2010

Metal in Fiction (Heart-Shaped Box)

The overlap between horror and metal is fairly easy to spot, and perhaps that’s why a fair few horror authors have written something that, in some way, touches on the genre. Unfortunately, a decent amount of them don’t know enough about it to fill a guitar case. Like with any other subject, writing about a genre and having your description riddled with errors is liable to turn those who know off. Very, very far off. The offender here is Joe Hill’s Heart Shaped Box. I’m not saying that the metal inaccuracies ruined the book – this isn’t Dean Koontz’s Midnight – but they did grate at times.

See, “Death Metal Rocker” Jude Coyne has, at best, a very passing resemblance to a death metal musician. The timeline is the problem. We learn that Coyne was “just beginning his career when Sabbath hit it big.” (p. 46) Excuse me, a death metal musician starting up at the same time that the band that started metal was starting up? Years before anything even remotely resembling death metal would be heard?

Furthermore, we know that he toured with Led Zeppelin in 1975. The odds of a death metal musician touring with Zeppelin in ’75 were…well, zero, because death metal simply didn’t exist yet. There’s little agreement as to what was the first death metal album, but some of the main contenders are Possessed’s Seven Churches (1985) and Death’s Scream Bloody Gore (1987). The other two quintessential old school death metal bands, Morbid Angel and Obituary, did not make their debut albums until 1989. Even if we extend the question to demos and take Mantas’s earliest (1984), we are still nowhere near ’75. Hell, in 1975 Iron Maiden hadn’t even released their first demo (1979), and Judas Priest had only released Rocka Rolla (1974), an album that was as far from death metal as it was from being an automobile. The band most credited as an influence on death metal, Slayer, did not release their debut, Show No Mercy, until 1983, and that’s not even the album that’s viewed as an influence.

Finally, there’s the question of fame. Jude Coyne is famous. Recognized-by-children-while-parking-a-car famous. Simply put, death metal musicians don’t get famous like that. It’s debatable whether any metal musician does, though I suppose that Metallica could expect to be recognized with some regularity. But, if we look to death metal, how many of you think you could spot the highest selling death metal artists of today? Karl Sanders? Alex Webster? Adam Darski? Even if we go to the “father” of the genre, Chuck Schuldiner, I don’t think we’re going to get recognized by many people on sidewalks. In fact, I’m betting that any member of Black Sabbath besides Ozzy would be relatively unknown to the average American in a social setting.

No, it’s not an issue that killed the book for me, and I’ll admit that Hill captured the personality of a general metal musician quite well (and, occasionally – as with the grotesque collection – managed to nail his target), but I can’t say that it’s something that ever stopped bugging me while reading.

So, authors, next time you do a genre of music, may I suggest that some research may be in order? It's certainly not as objective a field as, say, researching criminal law, but there are still things that you can get quite, quite wrong.

1 comment:

  1. I'm reading the book right now and I 100% agree. The "Death metal" rock god thing really bugged me too for all of the reasons you said.