Monday, May 31, 2010

Metal Missionaries book (2010)

This is a first for my weblog.  Normally I try to pick music that I like & really want to give exposure to (I'm a bit of a fan of "the underdog" if it wasn't already obvious!).  Occasionally I'll have a band or label ask for a review, and they'll either send me a digital download or CD to listen to & give my honest opinion about.  If I accept that challenge, I like to think that I'm not just saying nice things to placate them for getting the free stuff, but that I'm giving them honest feedback about what I truly feel about their particular product.  I haven't run across a situation like that where I didn't enjoy the releases in question, nor have I run into a time when I felt like the label or band was asking more of me than I could deliver because I didn't feel I was qualified to make an objective assessment.  The same can be said about this book offering, entitled "Metal Missionaries: The Assimilation of Extreme Christian Metal into the Mainstream Consciousness" - quite the mouthful!

This is an interesting book, with a cool concept.  Interview a bunch of bands and give them the exact same set of questions.  Each band answers the questions in a different way, based on any number of factors.  The list of questions drills down to the heart of what it is to be in a Christian band" and just what focus each band takes on, such as expressing their faith through art, blatant evangelism, or perhaps somewhere in between.  The questions are all well thought-out, and generally elicit very good, often very complete responses.  They are worded in such a way that it's pretty clear what the interviewer/author is asking for.

What I really like about this book is the diversity of bands interviewed.  Not so much from a genre perspective, but more from the vantage ponit that there are "big names" (as big as extreme faith-based metal can be, anyway), and little small bands who are just beginning to make a name for themselves.  There are brand new bands, and seasoned veterans of the "scene" as well.  There are bands who are in it for the art & to please the Lord, and others are out there trying to win souls for Christ.  The musical diversity is good as well, ranging from melodic metalcore & "southern hardcore" bands to brutal death & black metal acts, and some range in between.  The fact that this spread is present means the author took time to really think about the list of bands for the book.  In addition, this book spans America, Europe, Eastern Europe, as well as Central and South America in its span, so the majority of locations where faith-based extreme metal comes from are well-represented.

There are a couple minor quips.  First, the photos used were almost always "stretched" to fit an area, and it looks kind of bad.  They are also usually too small to fit the space, so when stretched also look really pixellated.  If a bit more time had been taken to select or obtain more space-fitting photos, that would have improved the look of the book.  Also, genre-nazis like me will note a couple spots where the genre tags might not be totally accurate.  There are a couple minor grammatical things gonig on, but only the most picky of readers will likely pick up on those bits.  The only other potential complaint is that the spectrum of bands isn't even greater.  In other words, there aren't any "huge" names like Demon Hunter or As I Lay Dying, or any truly obscure bands from the underground.  Again, this is a minor complaint, as the spread is good enough for most fans to get an idea of the diversity of perspectives.

All in all, aside from the minor issues noted above, this is a quality book with a lot of interesting perspective.  Bruce does a good job setting up the interviews with history & background, and his own story in there gives good context as to the kind of outreach that "Christian metal" seeks to be & do.  Despite being in digital form only, I'd say this is probably the best example of a literary work on the subject of more extreme forms of metal with a slant from the Christian faith perspective.  Recommended.

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