(Shortly before The Number of the Blog met its sad demise, TNOTB began publishing an interview series called “Keyboard Warriors” written by a relatively new TNOTB staffer who called himself Rev. Will. Because the archive of TNOTB posts seems to have exploded in a spatter of bits, never to be seen again, we agreed to give these interviews a home here at NCS. We started on Sunday and have been posting one per day this week. Today’s interview was originally published late last year.)
Surprisingly, most professional metal writers actually don’t sport long manes and subscribe to heavy metal fashion like many of their writing subjects do. Maybe it’s because sitting down for hours and slogging it out on the computer keyboard, rushing out multiple reviews and features like a drone, can get really tiring and warm around the rear end; and the fact that long hair causes an itchy hotness to prickle the area around the ears, eyebrows, and the back of the neck as well doesn’t help much.
Being a journalist of any kind is actually quite a daunting job. It is pretty safe to say that journalism related to stuff-that-ain’t-important-from-a-macro-point-of-view (meaning subjects that aren’t essential to a normal human being’s ability to survive in the practical world out there) is a largely unnoticed (and hence, thankless) job that is strictly reserved for the extremely passionate only. And extremely extreme our dear interviewee is when it comes to metal journalism.
This is the easiest interview I’ve edited in this column so far by the way. The power of a magazine’s Editor-in-Chief is not to be taken lightly, folks. The dude even bothered to italicize all object names; I guess being Decibel’s Editor-in-Chief really made him attentive to such small details that usually only matter to metal writers themselves. Damn, interviewees like him really make a budding keyboard warrior like me as happy as a TFD missile warhead.
Anyway, Albert Mudrian needs little introduction. The Napalm Death diehard first became well known in the extreme metal community for his 2004 magnum opus, Choosing Death: An Improbable History of Death Metal & Grindcore. It was widely praised and well-received for its comprehensive coverage of the origins and development of the two most aggressive and morbid metal sub-genres right up to the middle of the first decade of the 21st Century, earning itself many accolades from the press.
Terrorizer magazine even went so far as to say that “Choosing Death is a revelation, no matter how much you think you know.” Indeed, with so much meticulous hard work put into it (over 100+ interviews were conducted!), there was no doubt that it would go on to become a classic. True enough, it has become the go-to textbook for the current generation of young metal fans who hunger for a little historical knowledge about the soundtracks to their rebellious teenagehood, although it might be interesting but trivial to know that Arif Rot of Wormrot only recently purchased it and had not read it at all back in Wormrot’s pre-Earache days.
Astonishingly, the first-time author did not just stop there. He quickly established North America’s only metal magazine to put out printed issues on a monthly basis within that same year, and hence, Decibel was born.
Read on to see how my interrogation of the newly-minted father of one went. There’s stuff about Choosing Death, Decibel’s highly collectible Flexi series, advice for budding metal writers, and a confirmed rumor of him quitting Decibel to join Rolling Stone when the New Year comes around. Okay, I was kidding about that last part.
Rev. Will: Congratulations on your newborn! How is it like trying to balance fatherhood with the heavy responsibilities and commitment of being the Editor-in-Chief of the most hardworking extreme metal magazine in North America at the moment?
Albert Mudrian: Thanks, man! Honestly, it’s been tricky. I work most days from home, and—as of this writing—my wife is home with our daughter on maternity leave, so I generally don’t get more than 45-minute blocks of non-chaos each day to concentrate on Decibel. I thrive on routines, but infants aren’t particularly interested in conforming to your regimen, but making the adjustments to her schedule has been awesome. Anyway, please excuse the brevity of some of my answers—I’ve got diapers to change!
Rev. Will: Let’s hit the rewind button on the time-control remote here. You first became well-known in the extreme metal writing community when your book Choosing Death was published and released in 2004 to critical acclaim. How long did you work on it before it was published and what were the main difficulties you encountered while writing it?
Albert Mudrian: I started working on Choosing Death in January 2002—wow, I can hardly believe it’s been ten years now—and finished in early 2004. This, of course, was back in the internet days before MySpace and Facebook (and, no, I never had a Friendster account), so emails and cold phone calls were the only sensible ways to track down ex-band members. Also, back in ’02 and ’03 the reunion bug hadn’t bit Carcass, At the Gates, Obituary, Atheist, Brutal Truth, Autopsy, Cynic, or, um, Resurrection, so you were looking for a lot of folks who hadn’t played death metal for the better part of a decade. When I first made contact with a lot of these musicians, most of them were surprised that anyone cared enough to write a book about their “misspent youth.”
Rev. Will: That book’s title was coincidentally cursed and eerily prescient to say the least. I mean, late BBC Radio 1 luminary John Peel (who wrote the book’s “Foreword”) and Mieszko Talarczyk of deathgrind band Nasum (which you brought up in the book as well) both passed away in 2004. Being someone who has had the opportunity to interact with such prominent figures in the extreme music industry, can you tell us what these two figures were like when they were alive and how significant their contributions to the extreme music scene were?
Albert Mudrian: I only met Mieszko once in 1999 on Nasum’s first (and only?) U.S. tour. So I can’t really tell you all that much about him. He seemed liked a great guy, but it was the band’s drummer Anders Jakobson, who I became pals with. As for John Peel, I first wanted to interview John when I started putting the book together because he was such an important part of how things developed over in the U.K. I eventually got a hold of his agent, who at the time kept brushing me off and kept saying, “He’s busy,” or “He’s on holiday,” or “Try back in a month.” I kept at her, and one day she said, “I spoke with John, and he said to just give him a call at home.” So I called him at home and had a great interview with him. As we were getting off the phone, he said, “If you ever need anything, just give me a ring.”
About six, seven months later, as I was putting things together, it dawned on me that it would be great to get him to write the book’s introduction. So I just called him up one day at home and I asked him to do it, and I had this big windup, as I was very nervous. And he said, “Oh yeah, sure, no problem.” So it was great. It took three, four months of me having to hound him to finish it up and get it to me, but he was fantastic. He refused to accept any money or anything at all for it. I said, “Look, can I donate to charity in your name? You’ve obviously put some work into this, and I feel like you need to have some kind of compensation.” He said, “No, don’t worry about it”. That’s the kind of person he was.
I eventually talked to his wife, and I asked her, “What does John like?” She told me that he was a big red wine fan, so I sent him a couple bottles of red wine from some winery near his house. A few months later, I sent him a copy of Choosing Death, but he passed away within a few weeks after I mailed it.
Rev. Will: While the book was really educational, it only focused on the origins and development of American, European, and Scandinavian death metal and grindcore. Why didn’t you include Middle Eastern and Asian death metal and grindcore?
Albert Mudrian: I wanted to keep the focus contained to the most influential bands and players in the scene. Even though there have been many Middle Eastern and Asian death and grind bands—with the notable exception of S.O.B.—very few had an impact on the formation of the genres.
Rev. Will: Prior to Choosing Death and your imminent creation of Decibel all in the same year of 2004, have you ever written for any online or printed publications in the past that are not necessarily related to metal music?
Albert Mudrian: I started writing about extreme metal “professionally” in 1996 and started working for Red Flag Media as a magazine editor in 1997. I edited a general audience music magazine, which was given away free in indie record stores in regions of the U.S. Think of it as like the indie version of Tower Records’ old magazine Pulse. Anyway, it was pretty small in size and recognition, but large in quality. I wrote all of the magazine’s extreme metal reviews and features from the time it started until I stopped working on the magazine sometime in 2003 or 2004. Along the way, I wrote a few articles for such forgettable publications as the unintentionally hilarious Pit and rightfully short-lived Juggernaut. But that’s about it.
Rev. Will: What were the early Decibel days like in terms of forming connections with record labels, fellow magazines, bands, gig organizers and other miscellaneous stuff like readership and putting together a writing team? Do you still keep the first copy of Decibel magazine which had The Dillinger Escape Plan on the cover as a remembrance of your magazine’s origins?
Albert Mudrian: Since I’d been writing about extreme metal since 1996, I already had relationships and a positive reputation with most of the metal labels and publicists. And the friendships that grew out of assembling Choosing Death definitely carried over into the launch of Decibel as well. I was fortunate in that I already knew the scene and most of the people working behind the scenes. So, when I approached labels like Relapse or Metal Blade and said, “I’m starting a new metal magazine,” they actually took it somewhat seriously. Though there’s obviously a lot that is cringe-worthy about Decibel #1, I’m still immensely proud of it. Not only do I still own it (along with all 87 of our other issues), but I still have the Decibel prototype that we printed a few hundred copies of and mailed to people in the industry to drum up excitement before the magazine’s launch.
Rev. Will: Who came up with the idea for Decibel’s iconic “Hall Of Fame” section? Can you enlighten us on how much work goes into that section’s article in every month’s issue?
Albert Mudrian: The “Hall of Fame” is my bastard child, conceived as a nice excuse for us to talk about our favorite records. I’m a pretty nostalgic guy and I still love dozens of the albums that I worshipped in high school, so the success of the “Hall of Fame” articles suggests that there are actually plenty more dorks just like me who can’t really grow out of certain classic albums. I always wondered why other publications never did anything like this until I discovered what a complete bitch it is to assemble every month. I honestly can’t remember the last time one of these features went smoothly. There’s always some unwilling band member, or someone who’s since left the band who proves difficult to track down. Some of the HOF pieces like Megadeth’s Rust in Peace, Mercyful Fate’s Melissa and Refused’s The Shape of Punk to Come literally took years to assemble. But in the end, I hope people feel that it is worth the work of our staff writers.
Rev. Will: Metal magazines usually give away compilation CDs or simple freebies like patches or an extra issue thrown in for free with their newest issue. Again, who came up with this unique idea of the Flexi series of mini-vinyl giveaways included in every issue starting from January 2011? How do you persuade bands to record exclusive songs for these Flexi mini-vinyls, and has the response from Decibel’s readers to it been good so far?
Albert Mudrian: The idea for the flexi first came about during a phone conversation with Decibel columnist and Brutal Truth/Primate/Venomous Concept vocalist Kevin Sharp. He was talking about how awesome it would be if we could include a flexi in the magazine. A few years prior to that, I actually looked into getting a Pig Destroyer flexi pressed for our first Pig Destroyer cover (January 2008, #39), but I couldn’t find anyone who was printing them at the time. After speaking with Kevin, I looked into it again and found a company who was just starting to press them. I figured since Kevin was part of this from the beginning, it was only fitting that Brutal Truth produce the first tracks in the series. Fortunately, they had a couple songs ready to go, so we rolled out DB001 with the January 2011 issue (#75) and the series has taken off since then, as subscription numbers have increased considerably since the series was introduced.
I haven’t had to twist too many arms to get bands involved. About 75% of the artists I’ve approached to take part in the series have been into it. Just being able to release new music from bands like Napalm Death, Agoraphobic Nosebleed and Autopsy has been a total dream for a music nerd like me.
Rev. Will: Being someone who helms a magazine that has no qualms about tearing apart records which you and the rest of the magazine’s writers think are bad, what do you think of musicians and bands who bash reviewers when they receive bad reviews about their own works from them?
Albert Mudrian: They have every right to disagree, I suppose. Most musicians invest so much of themselves in their bands that I understand why they feel like negative reviews are a personal attack. However, 99% of the time, they are not. But while I get it, they’ve got to understand that once you put something out into the world, you’re gonna get feedback of all kinds. I’ve been on the receiving end of harsh criticisms with regards to both Decibel and Choosing Death. Basically, you just have to get over it.
Rev. Will: Interview articles typically follow a standard Q&A format (like this one) or a narrative one with quotes from the interviewee being injected in between the interviewer’s own passages. While video interviews have unorthodox (and very hilarious) interviewers like Nardwuar, what do you think can be changed in the current format of written or typed interviews to make it less rigid and more engaging?
Albert Mudrian: I’m not sure anything needs to be changed within the current written interview format. As long as you have creative writers interviewing interesting subjects, there’s always a great possibility of amazing pieces. I’m not discounting what can be accomplished with video or audio interviews compared with print, but I don’t necessarily feel that one needs to replace the other.
Rev. Will: Do you actually interview any bands yourself anymore these days? If yes, who have been the most interesting interviewees so far. If not, is the work of a magazine’s Editor-in-Chief that demanding?
Albert Mudrian: Maybe once a year at the most. If my Decibel demands were limited to just Editor-in-Chief, I’d obviously write more. However, I’m in charge of all ad sales, marketing and currating the flexi series. It’s basically about three full-time jobs rolled into one.
Rev. Will: Everyone who read Choosing Death and every issue of Decibel so far all know that you are a huge fan of both Death and Napalm Death. What do you see in them that makes them so special? Any up-and-coming new faces you have your eyes on at the moment?
Albert Mudrian: Well, Napalm Death and Paradise Lost are my two favorite bands of all time. I know there have been a few complaints over the years that too much of Choosing Death’s focus was on Napalm Death. In fact, I remember one message board warrior suggesting that the book should have been titled “Choosing Napalm Death,” which is actually pretty funny.
Anyway, I wasn’t really trying to justify Napalm Death as being the most important band in extreme metal history (though, I think one could make that argument). The band has existed, in one form or another, for so many years that their successes and failures have often mirrored the ups and downs of the death metal and grindcore movements themselves. Just as the scenes were gaining mainstream popularity in late ’80s England (through John Peel’s radio show), Napalm were the focal point. When death metal rose in popularity in the early ’90s, Napalm reflected that in the style of their 1990 LP, Harmony Corruption. They were also part of the ill-fated Earache/Columbia deal in the U.S. Their “experimental” mid ’90s records were not well received and released during the scene’s darkest creative and commercial periods. And when they returned revitalized with 2000’s Enemy of the Music Business LP, death metal and grindcore was beginning its own return to prominence.
As for Death, Chuck Schuldiner is obviously one of the progenitors of not just death metal, but extreme metal in general. He wasn’t “the first name in death metal” for nothing! As I write this, it’s only two hours away from the ten-year anniversary of Chuck’s death. Hard to believe he’s already been gone that long. His legacy, however, will never leave us.
R.I.P., Evil Chuck.
Rev. Will: What albums have been hogging your ears lately apart from the recent spate of Death re-issues?
Albert Mudrian: Ha, pretty much Paradise Lost’s entire recorded discography! I guess I’ve been on a bit of a bender with them lately. Apart from that, I’ve been enjoying the soon-to-be released new LPs from Goatwhore, Asphyx and, of course, Napalm Death (all out in February). Also, I’m kind of obsessed with Vallenfyre’s A Fragile King record at the moment. You don’t need to be a PL junkie to enjoy that either.
Rev. Will: In an industry where putting out printed magazine issues every month is already a very financially taxing thing to do, I’d bet that taking on paid writers is a decision that is not made very often, since I’ve heard that metal writers have to slog it out much more than your average newspaper or music journalist before they might have a chance at making a living out of their writing. What do you think young and budding metal writers out there can do to differentiate themselves from the writing masses and spark the interest of printed magazines in taking them in?
Albert Mudrian: Very few music journalists—and even fewer metal journalists—are able to turn freelance writing into a fulltime gig. In fact, only a handful of our staff writers don’t have some other fulltime job, which pays their bills. My best advice is to write as much as possible—even if it’s material that stays on your computer and never gets published. Regular practice will help refine your voice and skill set. Obviously, starting a blog could be a good idea as well, as it allows you to not only hone your craft, but to acquire feedback from others in a public forum. Don’t worry so much about breaking into higher profile magazines out of the gate—just concentrate on developing your voice.
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Also, Albert’s holiday marketing ploys are still available via these links: