Alexandros Anesiadis and Yiannis Skarpelos – Heroes of the Metal Underground
Release Date: 29/08/23 (US) // 29/01/23 (UK)
Review by Laura Barnes
Back in the eighties, 10 year old Louis D’Augusta rolled up to his new home in Revere, Massachusetts, his drum kit fixed to the back of his family’s pick-up truck. Immediately, he was greeted by his new neighbour, a young boy about the same age as him. He was transfixed by Louis’ drumkit, and told him that one day, he was going to play drums too. In response, Louis D’Augusta turned to him and said,
“No way. You’re going to play guitar.”
The pair went on to form a band called Mass. Fast forward 25 years, and they are still playing together.
This story is not unusual. Since the dawn of time, teenagers have banded together to make noise and piss off their parents. Sometimes, this ritualistic dicking around leads to a major record label, which in turn leads to fame and fortune. More often than not, however, it leads to… Well. What does it lead to? In his new book, “Heroes of the Metal Underground” Alexandros Anesiadis argues that it leads to quite a lot, actually. Major labels are not a pre-requisite to greatness, and time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time. This book celebrates the work of over one hundred American heavy metal bands who forcibly carved their names into the heavy metal brimstone all by themselves, recording and releasing their own music without the support of a label. “Heroes of the Metal Underground” forms an exhaustive encyclopedia of the best privately-released American metal releases, and the stories behind them. These stories are fascinating, inspiring, and occaisionally bittersweet. In my opinion, they are the best part of the book.
Take Blacksmith, for example. Frontwoman Heidi Black describes how a turning point in her life came when the band had beer bottles thrown at them while playing a less-than-stellar venue. Improvising, she screamed, picked up the bottle and shattered it on the ground, sending the crowd apeshit. Aside from being metal as hell, it’s an incredible snapshot into personal and psychological growth, the moment when a performer comes into their own and stops taking shit.
Or look at Salem’s Wych, who faced accusations of devil worship and animal sacrifice due to their dark name and imagery. It got so bad that one of their fans, a woman who was creating a local music magazine, received violent threats from religious groups for her support of metal bands. Other members of the scene rallied around her, including members of Vinnie Vincent Invasion. Sadly, this still wasn’t enough to quell the harassment, and the magazine was shelved. A solemn reminder of the evil that can be done in the name of fear and ignorance.
Every band has a story. There’s the 40 year old beef between the members of Arthur’s Museum. There’s the rare Rhed Asphalts’ vinyls that were chewed up by rats. That time the frontman of Vikron fell through a hole in the stage but continued to perform. That concert where Taist of Iron’s frontwoman was shackled to the drumkit. These anecdotes aren’t just anecdotes, but cherished memories, real human lives punctuated by rock ‘n’ roll insanity.
And the music! Skarpelos wrote the majority of the album reviews in this book, and his knowledge of all things metal is simply astounding. The fact that he was able to listen to over one hundred 80s metal releases and find something unique to say about every single one shows that he is one hell of a metal warrior. The same goes for Anesiadis; his thoughtful interviews bring to life metal’s participants, helping them to add real emotion and detail to the wilderness of underground metal. You could easily say that they, too, are heroes of the metal underground. I had not heard of the majority of these releases before I read this book, and I am immensely grateful that I did, because there are some masterpieces here. I will try to keep my list of favourite inclusions brief: Ashbury, Street Child, Medieval Steel, Winterhawk, X-Caliber, Taist of Iron, Nightchild, Tyrant’s Reign, Centurion, Spectral Incursion, Ivory Tiger, Pendulum, and Blacksmith. Oh, and Cirith Ungol, of course – but they already had a special place in my heart long before I began reading.
Most of the releases included in this book are from the eighties, but be assured that this doesn’t read like an episode of All Our Yesterdays. There’s a reason why a book like this is being published in 2023. The American underground scene is enjoying a huge resurgence, largely due to the work of Heaven and Hell Records and the organisers of the Keep It True festival in Germany. It is surprising and genuinely heartwarming to see the amount of bands in this book that are still active to this day.
Like most metal, “Heroes of the Metal Underground” is one hell of a passion project, created with a level of research, commitment and enthusiasm that I envy. I’ll be honest here and say that I’m no vinyl collector, but for any metalhead record collector out there, this is a must-have – nobody will ever rip you off on an eBay auction ever again! For those who aren’t into the whole buying-and-selling thing, this is still a worthwhile read, an archive that ensures the preservation of pre-nu-metal metal. At over 500 pages, it may prove challenging to read cover to cover, but with the book set out more like an encyclopedia than a straightforward narrative, it’s easy to pick up and put down at your leisure, whenever you feel like discovering new music. And by God, is there so much to discover!
Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of Laura Barnes and Ever Metal. It is strictly forbidden to copy any part of this review, unless you have the strict permission of both parties. Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and will be reported to the relevant authorities.