Ten Bazillion Years: The Bob Plante Interview

Bazillion Points, the heavy metal publishing house founded by Sound of Beast author Ian Christe, turns 10 this year. To celebrate, Decibel has corralled 10 authors from the BP stable to discuss their own works and what it’s like to part of the world’s heaviest publisher. 

Bob Plante, Demolition: The Encyclopedia of 1980s Metal Demos

Bob Plante’s Demolition is an ambitious undertaking, to say the least. Having worked on the book for nearly a decade, Plante aims to document and review every known ’80s metal demo. When it’s complete, Demolition will serve as an encyclopedia for as many known ’80s demos as Plante could find; while the book is still in production, Decibel checked in with Plante.

Bob, how about a bio? How’d you come to be such a dedicated metal head?
I grew up in New York’s capital district, making the typical progression of kids my age: Led Zeppelin and Rush, to Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, to Motorhead and Venom, to Metallica and Slayer, and beyond. Lived most of my life there, making a living as a graphic designer and art director, before moving to the California desert in 2014. Coming up in 1980s Albany, I would see shows in theaters and hockey rinks (my first was Black Sabbath on the Born Again tour), before getting old enough to get into clubs, the main one being Saratoga Winners, which hosted the bigger underground metal bands of the time (stuff like King Diamond, Death Angel, Flotsam and Jetsam). By the mid-’80s I started listening to punk and hardcore (I was involved with the local hardcore scene for a couple of years, and many of those bands with their metallic influences will end up in the book), then post-punk (i.e., stuff on the Touch and Go, Dischord, and Homestead labels), and finally by the early ’90s my bible was the Forced Exposure mail-order catalog: noise, improv, modern composers, the Japanese underground, obscure psychedelic reissues, etc. For a while there I wasn’t following metal much (had enough of funk metal and run-of-the-mill, [J]ams-wearing death metal bands), until seeing the Norwegian black metal events in Fortean Times magazine. I thought, What the hell was I missing? I had mutual friends with the guys in Mayhem, so that was very strange to read about. I got sucked back into it by all those European black metal bands, which at the time seemed to make metal dangerous again, and later on helped stretch the genre out into new territories. These days I listen to a few metal podcasts and seek out records that catch my ear. During the ’80s I started contributing spot illustrations and logos to underground metal zines, and got pretty deep into tape trading. I did three issues of my own zine (Disturbed), which covered metal only in the first issue. I played bass since age 16 but only messed around in a cover band. The book has been my main non-career focus for some time, but I also sell records part-time and still design and illustrate commercially.

First of all, you’ve been at work on this book since at least 2009. But what possessed you to take on this task in the first place? Had you considered in the beginning that it could take you ten years, and more?
The inspiration for the book came from reading the appendices to the Swedish Death Metal book, which listed the demos and zines from the Swedish underground scene of the ’80s and early ’90s. The idea of a complete-as-possible reckoning of the underground metal demo scene of the ’80s popped into my head, and I thought, I’d LOVE to see that book and would buy it in a second. Then I figured someone who was actually involved in it should write it, and why not me? I knew it would likely take a few years, but nowhere near this long. But, the work dictates the timeline in this case. I had a massive amount of research to conduct, and then hundreds, even thousands of reviews.

So, how close to being finished with Demolition are you? Have you reached a maximum number of demos you’re going to cover?
The skeleton of the book is done, but I’m still working on research (via band members, zines, books, and the web). Then begins the main part of reviewing. Still a year or two of work to do.

From the Demolition Facebook, a “Zine of the day,” from Victoria, Canada, 1986.

What’s the research been like?
I kept all of my metal zines from the ’80s and a lot of my trade lists. In the meantime I’ve been buying up more zines (sometimes whole collections). I get in touch with band members to fact-check their bands’ entries. I then check the web and various books to verify, round out, and update the info.

Have you received any kind of funding for this project, or is this purely a labor of love?
Up until we signed the contracts this was strictly done in my free time, almost every day the whole time.

So, essentially, you’re creating a book you want to read yourself?
That’s exactly how I’ve approached it. It’s important for those who were directly involved in cultural events like this to document them, as only they can truly provide an accurate context. I also don’t want to create a half-assed book that’s missing important (or even unimportant) bands; while there’s no way every metal band that recorded a demo in the ’80s will be included (the title does not include the word “complete”), I’m striving to include every one that can be dug up.

From the Demolition Facebook, a “Zine of the day,” from Pontefract, UK, 1988.

What is it about demos that interest you the most?
Almost every metal band that recorded a record has been documented; I’m sure there a few left unfound still, but it can’t be many. However, the demo scene is virtually bottomless, and the majority of them were only heard by a few hundred people, maybe. And so many of them have at least some good music on them, with lots being good-to-great, that I’m hoping the book will stir up interest in getting more of it heard by a wider audience. So far I’ve been able to account for over 8,500 bands. Also there are the elements of rawness, hunger, and a purity of music untainted by record company pressures.

In a 2013 interview, you predicted Demolition would be like an encyclopedia. Is that how it’s turned out? Did those sidebars ever happen?
It’s still being written in that format, and we’re still considering various sidebars and appendices. It really depends on how the book shapes out in production. I like the idea of separate band entries in alphabetical order; makes it easier to reference. But rest assured it’s not going to read like a phone book; I’ll be reaching into all my design experience to merge an elegant design with the gritty aesthetic of metal zines and flyers.

How many hours would you say you’ve worked on the book so far?
Ha, that would be a scary number to tally. I don’t think about it, really, as I am having fun doing this. It scratches a research itch, and I love discovering thrilling music that I missed when it was new.

Notice that signature? (Taken from the Demolition Facebook.)

The book must be comprised of mostly death, thrash and death thrash demos, but will you also be including some first wave black metal demos, too?
Every genre of metal is included, including the earliest black metal bands, from a time before the whole taxonomy of metal was so rigidly codified—I’ve read reviews that called Metal Church black metal, Artillery death metal, and Exodus power metal. It was more of a big, blurry mush of genres in these formative days. But besides that, we’re also likely including other subgenres that were reviewed in metal zines: early grindcore, Jersey-style thrashcore, metal-tinged English crust bands and d-beat, crossover (both New York and west coast varieties), hard rock, weird noise bands, and probably even the best glam/sleaze tapes. That’s a whole scene unto itself, as is the Christian metal ecosystem, which was largely self-contained.

Can you tell us about at least one cool obscure band that you learned about while working on Demolition?

There have been lots. There’s the 1989 demo from the Naples band Animal Farm, which sounds like Snake from early Voivod screaming over Die Kreuzen demos (it’s that good!), Cardinal Sin (from Puerto Rico, later migrating to New England) who recorded an impressive late-date thrash demo, and the Maryland doom band Asylum, who had a ’70s heavy rock sound with hints of psychedelia later adopted by outfits like Raging Slab and many “alt-metal” bands of the early ’90s, making them both behind and ahead of their time.

So I imagine there must be quite a few demos that you’re not able to hear, that you only see it advertised, or reviewed, in an old zine—or maybe people from the other bands tell you about them. Either way, there must be demos too buried in time and dust for you to hear. So how will  demos like that be treated in comparison to a demo like Morbid Angel’s Thy Kingdom Come?
Generally the more important the demo, the more detail I’ll go into, as far as history, criticism, and context; Thy Kingdom Come will certainly rank up near the top. The obscure tapes I haven’t been able to locate for review will still get entries using old reviews and any info I can turn up from band members where applicable. There are only a handful of high-profile demos I haven’t been able to hear at this point.

Do you still check out new demos? If so, what are some of your favorites of the past few years?
I do, but only in passing; I mostly concentrate on vinyl releases these days. There’s Hordes of Damnation’s 2015 demo, Pyriphlegethon’s Rivers of Infernal Kingdom, Serum Dreg’s Impure Blood, and Vulture’s Victim to the Blade, but I’m usually years behind on new demos.

Okay, so what all details on the book’s release can you give us?
We’re hoping to wrap up the manuscript by the end of next year, with design and production starting after that.

Alright, moving right along, then. Thanks for taking the time away from the book for this interview, Bob. Any closing sentiments?
I really appreciate the interest so many have expressed in this project, and the faith they’ve invested in it taking so long, but it has to be done right, and I hope it lives up to everyone’s expectations.