When it comes to heavy metal, there are two kinds of people. There are those of us who were lured upon hearing our first power chord, hooked by galloping double-bass drums and reeled in by endless solos—especially by guitarists who favored speed over originality. When Winston Churchill’s words give way to the opening riff of “Aces High” at the beginning of Iron Maiden’s Live after Death, nearly 20 years after the album’s release, a part of us still yearns to raise our fists in the air and pledge undying allegiance to ROCK, without any ’90s-spawned irony, thank you very much.
Then there’s everyone else.
Seb Hunter obviously falls into the first category, though he quickly warns us, “I’m not proud.” His book chronicles his occasionally successful, often pathetic attempts to make it in the ’80s British metal scene. The story ends with his burn-out after a few years of metal debauchery and nothing to show for it but some spandex and cheap jewelry. Significantly, Hunter hit bottom in 1991—just as Kurt Cobain delivered the genre’s deathblow, armed only with his Fender Jaguar broadsword and a threadbare cardigan.
Anyone who succumbed to heavy metal’s siren song will find much in Hunter’s tale hilarious and painfully familiar. For the unenlightened, he offers numerous explanatory digressions, covering such topics as lyrics (anything about sex, the night, mythology or rock itself is good); clothes (he lays out the relative values of denim, leather and spandex); women in metal (mostly nonexistent); and White Metal (if you don’t already know, don’t ask).
By the end, however, the humor largely subsides; it’s hard to make homelessness and drug overdoses funny. The reader feels relieved when Hunter—having lost most of his friends and heard Nirvana’s Nevermind —sees through metal’s mystique, cuts his hair and buys a Telecaster. He was lucky—some of the biggest groups from that era never made it out. Tonight, in some tiny venue, in a place like East St. Louis, they’ll walk onstage and scream the rhetorical question, “ARE YOU READY TO ROCK?!!” Fortunately for them, a few diehard metalheads will still yell in reply and make the “goat horn” hand gesture. There but for the grace of God …