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Review: Damn the Machine - The Story of Noise Records
Book Review
Damn the Machine - The Story of Noise Records
Publisher: Deliberation Press
Author: David E. Gehlke
Year published: 2017
ISBN: 0692637133
Pages: 504

Rating: 4/5

Review online: April 21, 2017
Reviewed by: MetalMike
Readers Rating
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Damn the Machine - The Story of Noise Records

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Review


Back in the 80s when Heavy Metal was flourishing, new bands popped up everywhere and major labels had no idea how to handle the ones they couldn't fold, spindle or mutilate into their corporate image. This opened the door for independent record labels to provide the services necessary to get this new and exciting form of music into the hands of fans desperate for true Heavy Metal music. There were a ton of labels but a few rose to the top by virtue of their rosters. Here in the states you had Metal Blade, Megaforce and Combat while in Europe you had Music for Nations, Neat and Mausoleum. One of the most legendary labels was Germany's Noise Records, helmed by Karl Walterbach. You could find the Noise logo on the backs of watershed releases like Helloween's Walls of Jericho, Running Wild's Under Jolly Roger and probably the most famous Noise release of all, Celtic Frost's To Mega Therion.

Damn the Machine by David Ghelke is the story of Noise Records from its humble beginnings as a home for bands different from the Punk groups Walterbach had previously championed through its zenith in the late 80s and its metamorphosis to try and stay relevant (and solvent) when musical trends shifted in the 90s. Throughout the book Walterbach recounts how he initially wasn't fascinated by Heavy Metal but grew to appreciate the style, the lengths he went to in securing new talent, successes and missed opportunities and very candid comments about the business side of the record business. He talks freely about bands and band members he got on with and those that he didn't. He is equally at home accepting his mistakes and laying the responsibility at the feet of those that also made them. The most fascinating parts of the book are those where the artists themselves recount their time with Noise and dealing with Walterbach. From Kai Hansen (who seems to have had a good relationship with Walterbach) to Tom Fischer (who still has some resentment for the way things happened with Celtic Frost's career), a wide selection of musicians participated in the book and that's what allows the readers the opportunity to develop an informed opinion. Nothing is every truly objective but Damn the Machine comes close.

There are some noticeable issues with the English translation and Gehlke is up front with the use of interviews translated from the original German. Since I can only remember one comment that I couldn't get the gist of no matter how many times I read it, there isn't much of a problem. I found the writing style dry but enjoyed the early history of the label and the stories of early albums and the general history of the style of music that means so much to me as a fan. Hearing Tom Fischer's opinion of Hellhammer as they changed over time and the things that drove Kai Hansen to leave Helloween after the wildly successful Keepers albums in their own words was highly entertaining. The second half of the book, from the 90s on, was a bit more difficult given the matter-of-fact storytelling and because I don't have a connection with the bands the label was supporting at that time. Learning some of the details behind notable moments in Heavy Metal history like Celtic Frost's Cold Lake album, the Hansen-Weikath schism in Helloween and Grave Digger's unwise transition to Digger and a more commercial sound was what made the book for me. I remember all those things happening and details were so hard to come by in the pre-Internet years. The truth has become lost in the retellings so hearing it from the horses' mouths (if you will) was like pulling back the curtain to see who was really behind the great and powerful Oz. Damn the Machine is fun read for any Metal fan and even better if you have a streak of the historian in you.


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