Greg Prato, New York-based journalist has recently released his sixteenth book. We at Screamer have reviewed Prato’s work previously, namely Overlooked/Underappreciated and the Faith No More and Mr. Bungle Companion. This time he tackles a subject that no book previously has taken on in such detail: Survival of the Fittest: Heavy Metal in the 1990’s.
This book is presented as an oral history. Prato gives very brief introductions to each chapter, but the majority of the book comes from interviews with an extensive list of musicians, including past or current members of Pantera, Sepultura, Fear Factory, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Kiss, Def Leppard, Slayer, Megadeth, Anthrax, Exodus, Testament, Dream Theater, King’s X, Extreme, Winger, Faith No More, White Zombie, Stone Temple Pilots, System of a Down and many more. There are also interviews with producers, managers, music retail professionals and media personalities. The foreword was written by Rex Brown of Pantera.
This is definitely not a quick read. In paperback format, the book is over 600 pages. However, it is broken up into easily-digestible chapters, and one could even pick a particular subject that they are interested and read that chapter first, instead of a chronological approach. Also, the book is split into seven sections, entitled: Load In, Soundcheck, Opener, Headliner, Encore, After Party, and Load Out.
Let’s take a brief walk through the sections. Load In includes eight chapters, dealing with subjects such as the straying away from the glam metal scene, power ballads, a whole chapter on Metallica’s The Black Album, the birth of grunge, and the different in rock production styles before and after 1991. In the next nine chapters, Soundcheck, we reminisce about Headbangers Ball, Beavis and Butthead, the breakup, or loss of a singer, of several metal bands, and of course, the decline of the guitar solo. Opener is five chapters long and deals with changes in the music business in general, and the dependability of indie labels, metal magazines and record shops.
Of course the longest section is Headliner. Here Prato leads the discussion on the reunion of bands such as Mercyful Fate and Kiss, the birth of Ozzfest and Marilyn Manson and Rob Halford’s coming-out.
As an Encore, the following sub-genres of metal are discussed: Funk, Extreme, Prog, Industrial, Goth/Symphonic, Metalcore, Stoner/Doom/Sludge, and Rap/Nu. The last two sections, After Party and Load Out are each three chapters long, respectively. The first of these chapters deals with the question, “When, where, and how did metal regain its strength.” There is also a tribute to some of the metal musicians that passed away during the decade. We also learn from the musicians what some of their favorite metal artists and albums were from that time frame.
While there were a handful of artists interviewed that seemed a little out-of-place in a book about metal, it is nice to get the story from those who lived it, and not simply an outsider looking in and trying to analyze the trends. Also, Prato has acquired well-balanced perspective, including some of the “harder” metal bands such as Pantera and Metallica while not ignoring the “glam metal” that was prevalent at the beginning of the decade.
While many have said that “grunge killed metal”, it is clear that is not the case, though it may have had a significant effect on it during the decade. Prato took on a big task in covering all the topics relevant to metal during the 90’s and he did it valiantly. This is a great read, but as stated before, not one you can hurry through. Take your time and educate yourself.