Book review by Craig Haze
Metalion’s arrival in my house was treated with the same reverence as the lead-up to the birth of my son—well, it was by me anyway. First, there was the excitement of telling my friends, family, and the odd complete stranger of its conception. Then there was the long drawn-out gestation period where I checked publisher Bazillion Points’ webpage weekly to see if there was any news. Eventually, pictures of its contents were revealed and I was able to proudly show all and sundry images of my soon to be delivered treasure. Then a release date was announced and after I tried unsuccessfully to gather the family round to watch me hit the pre-order button— seriously, how could they not find that exciting—the joyous day finally arrived.
Metalion is an anthology of Slayer Mag, a self-produced zine started by Jon ‘Metalion’ Kristiansen in Sarpsborg, Norway, in 1985. For 25 years Kristiansen documented all the chaos, stylistic changes and cultural shifts within the extreme metal realm. With a mix of ruthless honesty and a whole lot of deadpan black humor, Slayer Mag was frequently referred to as the ‘gospel’ of extreme metal.
With reprints from issue 1 to XX (including glimpses of Kristiansen’s very early work), there are over 700 pages of reprinted interviews, reviews and advertisements, along with memoir styled commentary and contextual explanations. Full praise to Tara G. Warrior’s editing nous, because it must have been a mammoth task to take on. The book is crammed with photos—most are in black and white, but there are some amazing newer shots in full color. There are interviews with an enormous range of bands from the traditional/thrash/speed/death/black metal scenes, many of which were undertaken during bands’ formative years. Some of these were progenitors of their sub-genres, and plenty of them are underground legends.
Kristiansen was lucky enough to have had an insider’s view into the Norwegian and wider European metal scenes, although he never limited his fandom; the book covers artists from throughout the world. Metalion offers an invaluable insight into the seminal years of extreme metal. From within the scene Kristiansen was able to interview and review bands in their earliest incarnations and then track their development. It makes for a fascinating read. You can follow the dissatisfaction some bands felt about the confines of genre, but also see how many loved the fame, controversy and notoriety of their early years. And yes, the Vikernes saga is covered, but from a fresh perspective.
The memoir aspect of the book is captivating. As Kristiansen recounts the stages of his own life, and fluctuations in the scenes, you see him shift from disaffected youth to adulthood, from fan to trusted insider, and from hedonist to, well, slightly less of a hedonist. Everyone grows older in the book, and you see the temperaments of band members change as age wearies them. You get a sense that many bands ultimately mature— some, admittedly, not so much—but at the very least, everyone gains a little perspective and understanding about what exactly they’ve been involved in. That’s my reading so far. Feel free to disagree.
Everyone is in here—everyone who matters anyway: Bolt Thrower, Mayhem, Sepultura, Emperor, Possessed, Slayer, Exodus, Kreator, Celtic Frost, Bathory, Cathedral, Entombed, Gorgoroth, Napalm Death, Opeth, Darkthrone, Sodom, Destruction, Satyricon, Morbid Angel, Deicide, Dissection, Carcass, Death, Enslaved, Pentagram, Immortal, Ulver… The list just runs to literally hundreds of artists.
The book has been produced to the high standard we’ve come to expect from publisher Bazillion Points. It is beautifully put together, with a richly detailed cover, and the pages are laid out perfectly. Like Only Death Is Real, Bazillion’s recent Celtic Frost / Hellhammer book, the overall quality is beyond excellent. It’s abundantly clear that Bazillion are doing this for the love, and the forewords by Fenriz, Stephen O’Malley and Tomas Lindberg, among others, show just how much the magazine was revered. It became an important resource for metal fans around the globe.
Plucking my copy of Metalion from its packaging and staring at those first few pages, I was instantly transported back to my own halcyon youth, to a time where I wasn’t overweight, had a glorious mullet and thought it impossible that Bruce Dickinson would ever consider leaving Iron Maiden. Metalion‘s that kind of book. It doesn’t invoke a sense of saccharine-like nostalgia; it’s more instinctive than that. It shakes you up, revealing long-forgotten memories, not just of the bands covered, but also of your own life, trials and youthful indiscretions. It reminds you why you fucking love heavy metal in the first place. It’s a huge book, in both physical size and sheer wealth of information. Covering extreme metal from the early ’80s right up to 2010, it makes for an intimidating read. But take it slowly, because there’s a lot to digest, and the end result is incredibly rewarding. Metalion is one of the greatest books about metal ever produced.
10/10, A+ and 5 Gold Stars!