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Review: USBM: A Revolution of Identity in American Black Metal
Book Review
USBM: A Revolution of Identity in American Black Metal
Publisher: Decibel Books
Author: Daniel Lake
Year published: 2020
Pages: 544

Rating: 4.75/5

Review online: November 15, 2020
Reviewed by: Michel Renaud
Readers Rating
for:
USBM: A Revolution of Identity in American Black Metal

Rated 4.4/5 (88%) (5 Votes)
Review

There are a lot of books about heavy metal out there, whether it's about the subculture, specific genres, biographies, etc. You never really know what you're going to get. I've come across some really shitty ones, but thankfully most have been at least good. This new book about USBM—and it is new as some of the interviews seem to have been done a couple of months into the enduring coronavirus pandemic—is way up there amongst the best I've read.

I remember back when I got into black and death metal at the beginning of the year 2000: U.S. black metal (USBM) was the laughingstock of the black metal scene. The reasons I saw were usually kind of "nonreasons" and if I saw a USBM band that looked interesting, I got their album. But that scene was really getting the short end of the stick. The book pretty much opens on that thought and how the scene was underrated for many years, and then proceeds with the hope to change that perception.

I found this book to be largely a page-turner. It's mostly organized by eras or regions, each with several chapters each dedicated to a specific band. In each case we get a mix of the author's own comments about the band's history—and sometimes his own experience meeting them or seeing them live—and interviews and commentary by band members. On top of that, there are a few labels that get their own chapter, and we're talking here about U.S. labels that took their chance with USBM band, either by specializing in USBM or at least having a few on their roster. I found the vast majority of this stuff very interesting, whether it's intrigues within bands, the struggle to get the music out or tour, addiction problems, etc.

Most of the best-known USBM bands are covered, such as Absu, Krieg, Profanatica, Judas Iscariot, Xasthur, Agalloch, Nachtmystium and Wolves in the Throne Room, to name a few, but there are also a lot of lesser-known bands. Well, I should qualify that with "to me". I was very much surprised at how many bands I had never heard of that released albums on labels I thought I knew well. I guess I missed a few back in the day. I like how the relationship between several bands is highlighted and shows some camaraderie (and sometimes not so much) between a number of them. The author also touches on some controversial bands, rightly insisting on the fact that people should think for themselves and hear both sides of a story. In this day and age, that's refreshing.

Some bands I wish had had more extensive coverage and I was hoping to find a few that aren't mentioned, but there's only so much you can fit in a book, right? There are a few bands that I thought took too much space in here and I was almost tempted to skip to the next chapter maybe three or four times (but didn't) but, of course, your mileage may vary depending on your taste in USBM.

I had a lot of fun reading this book. While some parts felt a little lengthy, that was largely due to my lack of interest in bands that play a specific subgenre of USBM. The author did a great job researching this and the writing style is quite engaging, making it really difficult to put this down. USBM stands as a textbook example of how to write such books. Highly recommended for anyone with an interest in USBM or just black metal in general.


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