Death Metal Epic (Book One: The Inverted Katabasis)
by Dean Swinford
ATLATL Publishing (146 pages)
What comes to mind when you read the words “death metal”? For some, the phrase evokes emotions of primal aggression and evil, the most antediluvian horrors of humankind. But for others, the genre encourages a healthy appetite for art and culture; specifically, literature often provides inspiration for some of death metal’s greatest opuses. Colossal tomes like Moby Dick, the Lord of the Rings, and even the Bible have their influential fingerprints all over death metal. So, it would stand to reason that the inverse is possible, and that’s what author Dean Swinford has done: an epic hero’s journey directly inspired by the music, imagery, and unity of death metal.
The saga begins by introducing the protagonist, a down-on-his-luck metalhead named David Fosberg, who finds himself at a crossroads in life. In a brutally-honest narration, David describes himself as a twenty-one-year-old loser, underachieving at his soul-draining profession as a bookstore clerk without many plans for the future. But before being consumed in an aimless malaise, he wasn’t just some per-hour schmuck named David: our hero was the lead guitarist for the Florida death metal band Valhalla, where throngs of ravenous heshers knew him as Azrael le Fevers, the Angel of Six String Death. Poised to take the underground death metal world by storm with a European tour, Valhalla suddenly broke up when his bandmates moved away to college, leaving David as the sole remaining member. Now, with mounting pressure from the record label, David must put an album together and salvage the tour, or suffer the consequences.
It’s easy to see that a lot of passion went into the creation of this book, and for the most part, Death Metal Epic I is a blast to read. You know that warm feeling you get when someone makes a reference to something you’re passionate about? That’s what reading most of this novel is like, because every other page contains a juicy tidbit of death metal minutiae. Think of Ready Player One’s rapid-fire presentation of eighties pop culture references, but instead of reading about Tears for Fears and Wham!, we’re given Deicide and Moonspell. While I often found myself grinning at many of the shout-outs, the book is over-saturated with these moments and they occasionally feel forced. As we accompany David in his daily life, we experience his inability to fit-in and be understood though his inner monologue. Moments where David has to deal with a judging coworker or a threatening record executive endears us to his character, and they make for some of the best storytelling in the book. I would be remiss to not briefly mention the opening chapter, which lampoons those ambient opening tracks that languidly kick-off many death metal albums. It concludes with an invocation to Euronymous, Chuck Schuldiner, and Quorthon; so, if you were wavering on whether this author knew his stuff, rest assured, Dean Swinford indeed knows his stuff.
The book fits well as the first entry in an epic, albeit a somewhat lonely quest. As the narrator and main protagonist, the reader follows David’s journey as he meets and interacts with new people. While David’s character is relatable and complex, every other individual portrayed in Death Metal Epic I is the exact opposite. Throughout his peregrinations towards metal godhood, David comes across people who represent common archetypes in fiction. At this stage in the epic, there aren’t many, but David’s travels bring him in contact with others who influence his actions and perspective; however, since their traits are so stereotypically presented, it’s nearly impossible to connect with them. I’m not trying to say that the content of this epic adventure is unoriginal or uninspired, because the whole idea of basing a multi-book series on death metal culture is wonderfully inventive. I just would have preferred to read about more complex and less archetypical characters.
Part One of the Death Metal Epic ends on an expected cliffhanger, opening up the many possibilities for David’s adventure in Part Two. I’m eager to see how his journey unfolds, as there are some loose ends in this first entry that need to be addressed. I enjoyed the story overall, but when I think about this book, I remember the positive way it made me feel. Sometimes, it’s fun to immerse yourself in a world that treats your beloved niche hobbies with respect. Any metalhead out there who thinks they’re alone or an outcast should pick up this book: even though some people don’t understand, there’s a whole death metal family out there ready to embrace you.
Death Metal Epic 1: The Inverted Katabasis was published in June 2013.
Purchase the book here.