Monday, July 07, 2003

I’ve just started reading Sound of the Beast, Ian Christe’s new book on the history of heavy metal. The concept for such a book seems kind of facile, and in a lesser writer’s hands it might resort to a tedious band-to-band-to-band kind of structure. I don’t think this book will fall into that trap, however. The opening couple of chapters are mainly about Black Sabbath and their genre-defining Ozzy years. From there it’s zoomed through the seventies and into the NWOBHM without a letup in the narrative. At this pace I’d expect the book to be over in 30 more pages, but there’s about 350 left to go. I expect Christe will settle in and mine the eighties for all they’re worth.

It’s a pretty well-researched book. I can’t find much to question, except the contention that Sid Vicious died in jail. Can someone confirm that, please? Christe knows what he’s talking about, and he’s got quotes from people who’ll back him up. Tom Warrior’s on board, as is King Diamond, Jess Cox from Tygers of Pan Tang/Neat Records, and Brian Slagel of Metal Blade records.

In the chapter about the birth of Sabbath, Christe namechecks a raft of similarly heavy bands who were signed in '70-'71 and released a quickly deleted album or two. The trend for major labels back then was to create a subsidiary to release all their “heavy” albums on, in order to present a facade of underground counterculture and let the kids know that this wasn’t their dad’s stodgy old record company. Pye Records, for example, had Dawn (responsible for releasing First Utterance by Comus, one of the most flat-out insane albums I own), and EMI had their Harvest division (home of The Floyd and a ton of progressive folkies), and Philips had Vertigo, which released fine bands such as Cressida, Black Sabbath, and a band that Christe mentions alongside the Sabs, the “haunting” May Blitz.

(The Vertigo name survived well into the eighties. We all remember the $2.99 double LP Vertigo Sampler from 1985, a seminal release that introduced the Cult, Love and Rockets, Cocteau Twins, and many others to thousands of impressionable Canadians. Everyone I knew bought one of those. More recently, Mikael from Opeth can be spotted wearing a Vertigo shirt on the cover of the latest BW&BK.)

May Blitz were new to me, so I looked them up. Turns out they were a Hendrixian trio who released two albums in ’70 and ’71. I have no doubt that this is cool stuff, but what really intrigues me about them is that two of their members, James Black and Reid Hudson were Canadians—transplanted Victorians, in fact. Both of them apparently still live on the West Coast. I guess if I was Nardwuar, I’d begin stalking them now. But being me, I’d be happy just to hear one of the records.

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