Primary Sources

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As many people have already observed,1 metal music inspires in its fans a remarkable obsession over obscure details of history and production. There is a growing pile of good writing about the history of the genre, and unlike most other genres of music (especially Classical music and Jazz!), much of the most comprehensive and authoritative writing and cataloging of metal music so far has come from non-academic sources. The most exciting part of this trend for anyone with a serious interest in the history of this music is the steadily increasing availability of primary sources. This page of links contains links to primary source material related to metal music.2 For this list I’ll include significant collections of interviews with musicians, but I won’t be including scholarly research, retrospective articles, best-of lists, album reviews, or concert reviews, unless these are of a historical nature. My list is by no means complete, and I’ll add sources that I think are really useful as I run across them. If you know of a good source I haven’t mentioned here, please tell me about it in the comments or send me an email at sshudson@u.northwestern.edu.

Real metal fans study primary sources.

Available Online For Free

http://sendbackmystamps.org
Send Back My Stamps! is a website run by the author and death metal bassist Jason Netherton, and is a massive archive of high-quality scans of old fanzines sent to him by mail from all corners of the globe. This page lists only a small selection of the scanned issues from over 172 fanzines that Netherton has written about in the blog section of the site, many of which have scans available. Many more can be found using the search bar on the right. Although I just found this site recently, I’m rapidly finding to be indispensable to almost any research or study of metal music.

http://www.metalforcesmagazine.com
Metal Forces is one of the longest-running publications about metal music that is still being published today. The magazine was founded in 1983, just in time for cutting-edge coverage of the explosion of thrash metal. A large selection of interviews and reviews from their archive are available for free online, including not only historical documents such as one of the earliest reviews of Metallica’s debut album Kill ‘Em All and interviews from the 1980s with Motörhead and Mercyful Fate, but also some more current features giving exposure to new bands like Battle Beast as well as catching up with old names from the scene like Blind Guardian.

http://metset.in/
metset.in is an archive of setlists to nearly every concert the band Metallica has performed since their first gig in 1982. One of the most unique features of this site is that while viewing a list of the songs played at each concert in order, you can click on the title of a song and view a list of every gig at which that song has been performed. This data gives an incredible perspective on the band’s repertoire. For example, they’ve played their cover of Diamond Head’s “Am I Evil?” over 600 times, more than quite a few of their own tunes, but after playing it during 49 of their 98 shows in 1997, it looks like they’ve only played it a few dozen times in almost two decades since then. On the other hand, they’ve performed the lead single from their ill-fated collaboration album with Lou Reed only four times.

http://www.emptywords.org
Empty Words, dedicated to the band Death and its late frontman, Chuck Schuldiner, is one of the most comprehensive and professional-looking fansites I’ve ever run across. The authors of the site first put the site online in 1999, before Schuldiner’s illness and death. Although the site was originally intended as a place to archive reviews and interviews previously unavailable online, the site also became a platform to memorialize Schuldiner and capture his legacy, as well as providing fans around the world a venue to show support for his family. The result is an incredible collection of over a hundred interviews with Schuldiner and his bandmates, dozens of album reviews, complete tour schedules and concert reviews, as well as still-growing guestbooks and memorial pages. Not only is this information meticulously organized, much of it is only available online at Empty Words, and a large portion of the reviews and articles have been carefully translated into English.

Encyclopedia Metallum
While this fan-created album database might not count as a primary source itself, the exhaustively comprehensive release information available here is indispensable in tracking down recordings. In decades past, musicologists have attempted this kind of cataloguing for single classical composers, but there is simply no comparing those worthy individual efforts to Encyclopedia Metallum’s astounding breadth and depth. The site’s crowd-sourcing model has enabled them to collect detailed, searchable release information about over a hundred thousand bands, a catalog that is entirely without precedent in the history of music. I’ve also found the site’s countless album reviews to be useful as a one-stop-shop to study the ways fans praise and try to discredit different kinds of metal.

Aardschok
Aardschok, whose title translates to “earthquake” in English, is described by Ian Christe as “a magazine from Holland unfortunately written in Dutch.” This influential early magazine from the Netherlands has made their first four issues available for free on their website. You might not find much useful information unless you read Dutch, but it sure is cool to see high-quality scans of a hand-typed ‘zine from 1980.

Not Free But Worth Paying For

Metal Evolution
This 11-episode documentary series was created by Sam Dunn and Scot McFayden, the team behind the feature-length movie Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey. Each episode focuses on a different subgenre or period of metal’s history, told almost entirely through interviews with the musicians and critics and music industry workers who played the most pivotal roles. The academics behind some of the most prominent scholarship about metal music, including Deena Weinstein, Robert Walser, and Keith Kahn-Harris, also make periodic appearances. But the lasting value of this series is that it captures, compiles, and curates the voices of so many important metal musicians telling their own history, without the sensationalism that has plagued some other similar efforts. At one point you could watch the series for free at VH1’s website, but it’s no longer available there, and if you want to watch it now you have to either pay money to rent it or find a pirated copy.

Decibel Hall of Fame
The popular metal publication Decibel Magazine publishes this astounding series, which now has over 130 feature-length installments. Each article revisits a different classic album through a new interview with all surviving band members reflecting on the songwriting and recording process. In 2007, Decibel collected the best installments so far and published them as a stand-alone book, Precious Metal:Decibel Presents the Stories Behind 25 Extreme Metal Masterpieces. These interviews reveal some fascinating background about the creative process and motivations of the musicians who made these classic recordings.

Honorable Mention

ISMMS Metal Studies Bibliography
The International Society for Metal Music Studies has put together a bibliography of published writing about metal music. While none of the entries on their site are primary sources, it’s worth including here because of the incredibly huge number of potential secondary sources they have. Last time I checked they hadn’t updated the list since 2013, and the section on dissertations still has no entries, but it’s still an enormously useful page. The chronological organization of their list gives a stunning and inspiring perspective on the explosion of research on heavy metal music in the last decade.

  1. For example, Nicola Allet’s article “The extreme metal ‘connoisseur'” published in Popular Music History in 2011. []
  2. Under the strictest definitions, most of my list would not be primary sources because they have been edited or are recollections made after the fact, but to make things simple I’m including anything that is mostly in the words of people who were there when it happened. Exercise your own judgment if your research requires a stricter methodology. []