Are you interested in the history of metal? Ian Christe’s Sound of the Beast: The Complete Headbanging History of Heavy Metal is some material to consider reading. After all, Sound of the Beast is one of a few general-purpose metal history books out there that I know of.
It’s worth reading, but it has its share of flaws.
For starters, the title is slightly inaccurate as it doesn’t present a complete history of heavy metal. The paperback edition that I have came out in 2004, and plenty of time has passed since then. For historical context, Killswitch Engage’s The End of Heartache came out and sold like hotcakes that very same year. As far as I know, it’s the album that put metalcore on the map of commercial relevance. (I could be wrong!) Sound of the Beast only devotes a few paragraphs to modern metalcore, namechecking Dillinger Escape Plan, Hatebreed, and a few other bands. That’s brief, considering that metalcore would quickly become a pretty big deal commercially.
A few other genres also receive the short end of the stick. Progressive metal is mentioned a few times. Modern power metal gets a few paragraphs, but there’s a part of the book that refers to Blind Guardian, Iced Earth, and Hammerfall as “legacy metal.” Which doesn’t seem to be a real genre of music and looks suspiciously like the author was trying to batch them together as throwback acts.
What Sound of the Beast covers, it covers in (mostly) great detail. This could very well be the book on thrash metal, as it gives what looks like a nearly complete history of the genre. Not only that, it manages to explain the difference between speed metal and thrash metal! (Yes, that deserves an exclamation point as I had trouble understanding why they’re different genres.)
The book also covers traditional heavy metal, NWOBHM, death metal, black metal, glam metal (AKA ‘hair metal’), and nu-metal. Yes, nu-metal. The amount of attention the book gives to nu-metal is downright shocking. But certainly appreciated - it was culturally important but its appeal is rarely understood. Not that I’m a fan or anything.
*looks both ways*
Another shocking aspect of the book is how opinionated it is. Boy howdy, the book does not shy away from calling bands second rung or unimportant. And I have to warn you, fans of The Clash may want to look away when reading page 80. Christe, showing no mercy, throws one of my all-time favorite bands under the bus by calling them frat rock. The comment made me more than a little salty, but I got over it.
But I can’t get over how much attention Metallica receives in Sound of the Beast. There’s so much text about Metallica in this book, and it covers the band from foundation to the release of St. Anger in far greater detail than it covers any other band. Like, dude, I’m a thrash metal fan with a pulse so I like their first three albums, but c’mon. Dude.
At least Christe is passionate about their music and metal in general, and this shines brightly throughout the book. His way of describing music is poetic and lucid, and it makes Sound of the Beast an enjoyable, educational read.