Metallica: The Early Years And The Rise Of Metal – Neil Daniels (Independent Music Press)
This is the second tome I have reviewed from rock scribe Neil Daniels, the first was a bite sized look at Judas Priest’s British Steel album, a band I admitted I knew little about (although a little wiser now of course). Next up however is Metallica: The Early Years And The Rise Of Metal, a far meatier affair and a subject I am better acquainted with.
Whilst no expert, I have been a fan of Metallica for nearly 20 years now and have been paying attention for at least some of this time, so approach the book with a certain amount of knowledge under my belt.
Charting Metallica’s evolution from Hetfield’s pre-‘Tallica Leather Charm, right up to the controversial (amongst Metallica fans at least) … And Justice For All album, this is a concentrated look at their pre-Black album releases and importance in metal folklore. Whilst a Metallica book is hardly a new concept, there is surprisingly little print on the early days so there is definitely a space on the Metal bookshelf for such a collection.
Neil has a good way of remaining detached and unbiased when it comes to retelling the stories, especially with regards to the often vilified Dave Mustaine who gets treated with an even, if slight, hand throughout. It is also interesting to imagine a time when Hetfield was a shy, reluctant front man, ill at ease with the spot light, rather than the strutting rock God we are more accustomed to these days.
There is plenty of input from a range of shady characters who were there/part of the Metallica bandwagon. Be it key players from the NWOBHM bands that influenced a young Ulrich like Saxon’s Biff Byford or Diamond Head’s Brian Tatler through to journalists from the day such as Metal Force’s Bernard Doe. These contributions all add colour and depth to the story and unearth plenty of anecdotes… none of which I am going to spoil; you’ll have to read the book.
It also serves as a timely reminder of just how hard Metallica worked for their success, it is easy to be snide about them these days but young bands could learn a lesson or two from Lars’ unparalleled dedication to music. Lest we forget he travelled half way around the world just to see the bands he loved live, most people I know won’t travel between Southampton and Portsmouth for a gig.
If I were to take issue with any part of the book, and let’s face it, you know I will, it has to be the discography section. Appealing to the barely contained geek in me, the discography section always gets my attention; however I beg to differ with the one provided.
Whilst it is only a cursory glance at the singles from the time, I would question why only the USA releases were given and I am pretty sure that Battery, Master Of Puppets and several others were never released as singles. Perhaps as some kind of college radio track but certainly never an official release, I could go into great details about the promo and commercial issues from these albums but fear I would bore more than normal, so just take my word for it.
Metallica: The Early Years And The Rise Of Metal offers a fantastic overview of the period before the Black Album, it clearly defines Metallica’s importance in the scene they helped create and pay homage to those that made it possible. Some interesting contributions from a range of their peers adds some colour and the archive quotes from the band are insightful and show the progression the band made from wannabes to world beaters.
An overview of the American thrash scene at the end is a nice footnote and a reminder that Metallica may have been torchbearers, but they were not alone in shaping the sound of the genre.
Once again Neil Daniels has put together an entertaining and informative collection, full of facts but suitably breezy so as not to overwhelm. Whatever your interest is in Metallica, this is sure to make you think again… even about And Justice For All. Well, maybe I won’t go that far.
To find out more about Neil Daniels and his other works, click HERE.
You can order your copy of the Metallica book HERE.
Having recently reviewed the Rock Landmarks book on Judas Priest’s British Steel written by rock journalist Neil Daniels (which I rather enjoyed), I felt I needed to know more about Neil and his work. Taking some time out from working on upcoming projects on Metallica and Iron Maiden, Neil took the TAPEtoTAPE Q&A and tells all about life as a Rock scribe….
Well, I first started writing about music after I left Uni back in 2003. I started writing for websites like musicOMH and other lesser known sites and then I moved onto fanzines like Fireworks and Powerplay. I’ve contributed to Record Collector, Big Cheese and Rock Sound over here in the UK. I write mostly for Fireworks these days though. They’re great to write for and very lenient with the word count. It’s becoming a joke now in some magazines. I mean, how can you possibly say what you think about an album in 100 words? There’s hardly much point in listening to the whole album. It’s the same with music books. I read 100 word reviews of my books and wonder if the reviewers have actually read it or just skimmed through and looked at the pictures!
I then had an idea for a book which became Defenders Of The Faith: The Story Of Judas Priest and from there the books have rolled on, thankfully. The Priest one was fortuitous timing because of the reunion and the new album Angel Of Retribution. Since then of course there have been more books on them (some very good ones!) as well as my second book on the band Dawn Of The Metal Gods, written with ex-singer Al Atkins and now my third one: Rock Landmarks – Judas Priest’s British Steel. Other books include, Journey, Bon Jovi, Linkin Park and four anthologies.
I like blues music too so bands like Sabbath, Zeppelin, Cream, AC/DC and early Stones are favourite bands of mine. But then I like AOR bands like Journey and Foreigner and classic British bands like Motorhead and Saxon. Basically, I like strong melodies, powerful vocals and a terrific riff.
I like mostly rock and metal but don’t forget that those genres are very broad. Even Britney Spears has called her self a rock star. I like blues players like Robert Johnson and less heavy rockers like Bruce Springsteen and Eric Clapton.
Does your music writing mask a failed musical career yourself?
Ha, no, not really. I took guitar lessons as a kid but was never very good and never really wanted to pursuer it anyway.
Musicians and the press often have a love/hate relationship, have you had any difficult encounters when you have been writing/researching for your pieces?
Fortunately I’ve never had any difficulties with anyone I’ve interviewed. The difficulties, however, have come from management. I’m not going to name names buy they can be awfully difficult to deal with. Most of my interviews are done at home over the phone. The days of writers travelling the world with rock bands for access all areas type features are over as record companies don’t have the cash to fund it anymore. There are some cool tales in my books All Pens Blazing that might interest you.
Which other music journalists (past or present) do you admire?
That’s a good question and one that ties in with the publication of my books All Pens Blazing: A Rock & Heavy Metal Writer’s Handbook Vols 1 and 2. The first vol was my first print on demand book – which seems to be the way to go for music/non-fic writers at the moment because of the recession – and is available from Amazon and Authorsonline.co.uk as well as other online book stores. OK, so now the book plugging is out of the way (ha!) I’ll directly answer your question: I like the ex-Kerrang! scribes like Derek Oliver, Paul Suter and Dave Reynolds. I’m not old enough to have read them back in the eighties but have discovered their writings through back issues. They were/are very, very passionate about music and have encyclopaedic knowledge of rock and metal. That kind of enthusiasm comes across better than a few well written sentences, if you know what I mean. Some writers try to be too clever and are more interested in themselves than the music, but with those guys you could tell it was the music that matters. They’re interviewed in All Pens Blazing along with fellow ex-Kerrang! scribes Neil Jeffries, Dante Bonutto, Dave Dickson, Malcolm Dome and Howard Johnson. There are 65 writers in total in vol 1 and about the same in the second one.
I also like Martin Popoff – as every other metal writer does – because he is also very passionate and knowledgeable and, with Martin, he intellectualises a style of music (classic rock/metal) that has been derided for years and that, I think, is very admirable. There should be more writers like him.
How long does it take to write a biography? Is the research the most time consuming part or is it putting the whole thing together that is the hardest?
It depends on the subject to be honest and what the publisher wants. I’ve written books in as little as 3 months but then I’ve written some in 10 months. All depends on the word count too and my own knowledge of the bands.
You co-authored Dawn Of The Metal Gods: My Life In Judas Priest & Heavy Metal with original Judas Priest singer and co-founder Al Atkins, how did this come about?
Basically, I’d worked with Al a lot during the researching and writing on my Priest bio Defenders Of The Faith, which came out through Omnibus Press in 2007 and is now out in paperback (gotta get that sales pitch in, right?). He has loads of great stories about the band from the pre Halford years (1969-1973) and kept a few stories to himself for his own book. He’d already started work on his book but the word count was too low and he needed somebody to assist him to finish it off and make a coherent narrative. I had nothing else on the go and liked what he’d written so I thought, “Why the hell not?” Matthias Mader at Iron Pages in Berlin liked my Priest bio and was keen on the Atkins book so there was no problem getting a small book deal. Any book deal is better than none, right? I thought IP did a really good job on the production of Biff Byford’s autobiography so it was a no-brainer for us. Matthias is a really cool guy and has an immense knowledge of metal history so he was keen to work with us. He’s also very friendly and approachable. His reputation preceded him which is not what you’d say about a lot of publishers.
Nobody else was all that interested because I had a book out on the band as did Martin Popoff and Matthias himself had published a German bio so the book market was already saturated with Priest tomes after years and years of starvation. The Atkins book came from a different angle in that it’s the autobiography of a former member, plus Al had been in bands before and after Priest and had released a handful of solo albums. He’s a down to earth bloke with some really cool stories and the picture sections in the book speak for themselves. Sales haven’t been that great which is a shame because Priest fans and metal archivists, if they gave the book some time, would enjoy the pictures and anecdotes. It’s an historical document about metal history, at least that’s what I tell myself. Most of the reviews were positive. Naturally some criticised us for cashing in on Priest’s recent success, etc. and complained that we went off on tangents in the narrative but that’s Al’s style. He’s a humble working class guy and has only ever used the Priest name when record companies (on his solo albums) have required him to do so. You can read all about it on my website.
They’re the most diverse and influential metal band of all time! With this little book on British Steel I wanted to work with Jerry Bloom because I liked his Rock Landmarks book on Rainbow’s Long Live Rock N Roll and British Steel seemed like a no-brainer.
What effect do you think KK Downing’s departure from Judas Priest will have on the band?
In the long run, possibly more than Halford’s departure because he was bound to come back after he tried his hand at a solo career but with Downing, I don’t think he’ll come back now. I saw them on their recent UK tour and though they were much better than the previous road jaunt but they still looked fatigued.
In an increasingly digital world, do you see a time when physical books will be completely replaced by a virtual format?
At some point, yes, but not during my lifetime. We will live in a Star Trek world where everything is digitised. Personally, I like books.
I believe you have an Illustrated History Of Iron Maiden coming out next year. This must be an expansive project given the amount of merchandising/touring they have done. Will you be concentrating on any specific Countries/time periods?
It will be a massive coffee table book with a potted histories, extensive reviews of every album plus pocket boxes of information on merchandising, their success abroad, etc etc. The graphics will be pretty cool too. You can check out the cover at Amazon.
Which is your favourite period in Maiden’s history? What do you feel Di’Anno and Blaze brought to the sound?
Certainly the 1980s with Dickinson. I’d much rather listen to the Di’Anno albums than the Bayley ones. The Di’Anno era was certainly more punk than metal so when Dickinson came into the fold, they become a fully-fledged metal band.
What can you tell us about the new Metallica book you are working on? You say it focuses on the early years, which period exactly are you looking at?
It’s’ be out in early 2012 by IMP Books and will focus specifically on the first four albums before the drastic change in sound with The Black Album. This was the period when Metallica were kings of the underground metal scene and recorded some of the most dangerous and aggressive metal of the eighties. Metallica fans will usually always refer to this period as the most creatively interesting era in the band’s history. Of course, it’s all changed since then. Look at what they’re doing now!
Have you heard the Metallica and Lou Reed album yet? What do you think, genius or ludicrous?
No, not yet. I’ve heard it’s dire though. There’s been massive backlash so it’s not a surprise that they recently announced they’re heading back into the studio with Rick Rubin for a new album.
What other artists would you like to do projects on?
There are lots of artists I’d love to write books on but they’re not necessarily ones that would be commercial books. It’s even harder now to get these types of books commissioned as sales are down massively. At present, I’ve got the Metallica and Iron Maiden ones out next year and I’ve just signed a contract for a bio of a major American metal band. I’ve also got a fictional rock memoir written which I’d like to release as a POD book next year.
You can find out more about Neil Daniels’ and his work by visiting his official website HERE.
You can also read the TAPEtoTAPE review of the Judas Priest Rock Landmarks book HERE.
For whatever reason I have never really listened to Judas Priest, I don’t own any albums let alone British Steel and apart from the Therapy? version of ‘Breaking The Law’ I am not sure I could even hum a track. So really this is the perfect book for me, if it does its job then I will be compelled to at least give British Steel a spin sometime.
It certainly appeals to the geek in me, CD sized so as not to be overwhelming and covering everything from the artwork, track by track analysis and plenty of fascinating artwork from the period, this will allow the uninitiated like me to blag our way through any future leather clad encounters.
Considering the trim size and at a svelte 62 pages Neil Daniels still manages to pack a lot of information into the book. Whilst clearly he has an affection for the album (and band); this does not prevent him from giving a balanced and unbiased overview. British Steel was after all a contentious album amongst Priest fans, a classic now but far from welcomed with open arms at the time. This is succinctly covered and paints an intriguing picture of a band negotiating mainstream desires with an ardent following.
Perhaps lacking a little in the way of up to date input from the band is the only minor quibble I would have, but given this is a bite sized appraisal rather than a comprehensive tome you can hardly feel cheated.
So, will I become a born again Priest fan? Well, probably not, but I am going to look out for a copy of British Steel and give it a go, so I guess, job done.
To find out more about Neil Daniels visit his website HERE.
Judas Priest’s sixth studio album has rightly earned its place as one of the greatest heavy metal albums of all time. It comfortably – perhaps too comfortably for some fans’ tastes – sits between Priest’s harder-edged heavy metal of the seventies with their far more commercial albums of the eighties. Sure, it is a world away from the likes of ‘Killing Machine’ and it’s not as pop-orientated as, say ‘Defenders Of The Faith’ and certainly not ‘Turbo‘, but it set the benchmark for the kind of metal that was to become popular in the decade of its birth.
From the furious opening track ‘Rapid Fire’ (had the twin-guitar attack of K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton sounded better?) to the blistering closing song ‘Steeler‘, ‘British Steel’ is a monster of an album; adrenalin fuelled and endlessly listenable. While not every track is the perfect Priest song, it is a hugely infectious piece of work that represents the Mighty Priest in near perfect style. But despite its impact it is not their best album yet it is undoubtedly their most popular.
Not only has ‘British Steel’ gone on to become a cherished item amongst ardent metal supporters but it inspired a whole generation of metal bands, notably, the American thrash metal bands of the eighties such as Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax and Slayer and later, Annihilator and Pantera. Even the name ‘British Steel’ conjures up the working class sounds of classic British heavy metal.
‘British Steel’ is quite simply, genre-defining. This fans hand-book, will tell you why. Foreword by Guns N’ Roses guitarist Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal.