Ten Bazillion Years: The Albert Mudrian 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. 

A groundbreaking work like Choosing Death: The Improbable History of Death Metal & Grindcore could’ve made someone a fortune. Alas, so great is author Albert Mudrian‘s devotion to the genres chronicled therein that he squandered 100% of his royalties on the Nocturnus time machine from The Key, which mercifully broke before he could go back in time and do something equally dumb. Oh well, at least he has a mostly full head of hair to show for it. And we have Decibel, which as Mr. Mudrian details below, was a natural outgrowth of Choosing Death. It goes without saying that Alberto is one of my favorite people on the planet, but he’s totally fucking lying in his answer to the next-to-last question – his favorite Bazillion Points release is actually Swedish Death Metal, not because he’s that tr00, but because it doubles as a tofu press.

I don’t have a complete record of our interactions about Choosing Death because you’ve sent me like seven emails a day every day for the last 20 years, but one thing I vividly remember about when you were in the middle of putting together Choosing Death is that I asked you how it was going and you said, “When you’ve done 50 interviews, that’s when you realize you need 50 more.” Was there a point when you were working on the original version where everything “clicked,” and you knew you had momentum?
Sadly, that quote sounds like it would have come pretty early in the process. When I first sketched out the chapter outlines of the book, I naively concluded that I’d need to complete about 40 interviews to get the story in order. The final tally came in at a little over 100 for the original edition of the book. I spent over a year just conducting and transcribing interviews. I remember printing the transcripts and compiling them in a three-ring binder, so I could feel like I’d accomplished something tangible. Probably around the 80th interview I felt like I had the necessary pieces to start writing. The chapter focused largely on the Earache/Columbia deal (“Corporation Pull-In”) was the first section I wrote. Once that was completed, everything felt a lot more real and I was kinda liberated to begin work on other chapters. That momentum carried me for the better part of another year.

Choosing Death has had a really interesting trajectory, first on Feral House, then translated into Spanish for Bazillion Points, then in a limited run for the Decibel Books imprint, now on Bazillion Points. Not to mention that the genesis of the book was a magazine article that you authored. Can you talk about this serpentine path?
You can credit this box set, which for some reason was packaged in a mini paint can, for the existence of Choosing Death. I interviewed Earache founder Digby Pearson for 1,200-word story on the history of the label, which ran in a magazine called Stereo-Type that I edited at the time. Anyway, it set me on a pretty significant old-school death and grind bender, which really laid the groundwork in my head for the book. I put it off for about a year and half before I started work on it in January 2002. I think I did my deal with Feral House in the autumn of 2003 and then the book was published a year later.

I believe there were a handful of other translations before [Bazillion Points head honcho] Ian Christe approached me about doing a Spanish edition. This was probably around 2008 or 2009—not long after Bazillion Points really started rolling. There wasn’t much for me to do with the project, since my Spanish sucks, so Ian handled pretty much everything regarding Eligiendo Muerte. Years later as I was revising Choosing Death, it became apparent that Feral House was no longer the ideal publisher for the book. So Decibel’s publisher Alex Mulchay and I bought the rights from Feral House and published it as a limited-edition, hardcover under the Decibel Books imprint in 2015. A year later, I bought Alex’s half of the rights from him and did a deal with Ian for the “Deathluxe” paperback edition of Choosing Death that Bazillion Points published in November 2016. Ian and I had become good friends over the years and I have a ton of respect for what he cultivated through his publishing work. But, really, I think we both knew that Bazillion Points was where Choosing Death always belonged.

You’ve revised and expanded Choosing Death twice since its original publication. Are you the George Lucas of death metal and grindcore histories?
I’ve actually never seen the “revised and expanded” editions of the first three Star Wars films! I haven’t seen the three latest Star Wars films, either. There might even be more than three now. Anyway, nah, it’s not really a concern. Death metal and grindcore are—at the risk of sounding pretentious—living histories, so I think it’s a disservice not to update the stories as time rages on.

Is it true that J Mascis of Deep Wound/Dinosaur Jr very recently learned about Choosing Death and was super stoked to get a copy BUT COMPLETELY FORGOT HE HAD BEEN INTERVIEWED IN IT?
Yup, but it was J’s involvement in the band Witch that actually connected the dots. Their bass player, Dave Sweetapple of Tee Pee Records, is an old friend of mine. Several years ago, he and an associate came by Decibel’s Philly office to talk business. Before they left, Dave asked if he could snag a copy of the Feral House edition for J because he wasn’t even sure J knew the book existed. I was a pretty big Dinosaur Jr fan who happily rocked a Green Mind shirt back in high-school, so the idea of J even having a copy of the book—let alone ever actually reading it—was cool by me. Still waiting on that third Witch record, though. What the fuck, guys?

Also, is it true that you and Ian Christe explored the idea of jamming on a biography of Death’s Chuck Schuldiner? What happened with that project?
This is also true. Sometime in the first half of 2013, Ian told me about a Chuck book he’d started years ago but that he never really found the time to catch any momentum with it. So, he came up with the failsafe idea of finding the guy with an equally batshit insane schedule and pairing up to co-author the book. I accepted the opportunity to work on a book with Ian because I thought it would be fun and we’d be able to form our own author support network. But a couple months went by and I didn’t really have the chance to do much of anything with the book. I guess I had kind of mentally checked out of the project but hadn’t had that conversation with Ian.

Plus, I knew that the next thing I really needed to do at the point was to revise Choosing Death and since that was already “my baby,” I was drawn to it more powerfully. SPEAKING OF BABIES, within weeks of that decision, my wife discovered she was pregnant with our second child, so I really felt pressure to beat the clock with a revised Choosing Death –  or at least get the lion’s share of the revisions completed before Junior arrived in town. So I called Ian and leveled with him. To his eternal credit, he was completely understanding. Also, the excellent recently released Chuck Schuldiner documentary Death by Metal helps get both of us off the hook.

Is there anyone who required an extraordinary amount of convincing to be interviewed for Choosing Death? Is there anyone that was unhappy with how they were portrayed?
Bill Steer (Carcass, ex-Napalm Death) took the most convincing. I spent about six months pestering the guy. To be fair, Bill’s not fantastic with email and he was living in France at the time, but back in 2002, he was completely removed—and happily so—from underground heavy metal. I knew he was somewhat reluctant to be interviewed because—and I’m sure he’d tell you this—he was doing his best to escape his past and focus on his Firebird project. The ending of Carcass was deeply unpleasant for him and he didn’t really feel as though the band made a significant impact. Fortunately, I believe Jeff Walker persuaded him a bit.
I haven’t really heard any big complaints from the artists, to be honest. There were some rumblings that Earache weren’t happy about a few things, but they were certainly given ample opportunities to tell their side of the story. Somewhat ironically, Walker had the biggest gripe. In the original Feral House version, he isn’t introduced until chapter 5, which made him appear (in his words) “like a giant poser.” He was obviously at the early Mermaid gigs in Birmingham in the mid-’80s, so in the expanded editions, I was sure to introduce him in chapter 1. Now everyone knows how cool he is.

What do you make of the Nicke Andersson quote that first appeared in the second edition of Choosing Death (“It’s so obvious that there are two different kinds of death metal: the good death metal and the bad death metal”)? How well does that assessment hold now that there are—wait for it—two different kinds of Entombed?
I think for someone from the original wave of death metal like Nicke, that assessment likely holds true. His take feels like it’s the byproduct of the generation gaps that appear in any musical movement. I can’t imagine him or Jeff Walker or Scott Carlson sitting around appreciating the nuances of a Unique Leader band who learned their chops via YouTube videos. Fuck, I can’t even imagine them taking the first Deicide album seriously. But to be fair, some folks from the earlier days like Shane Embury are still extremely passionate about new extreme metal bands, so maybe I don’t know what the fuck Nicke is talking about after all. Also, until the Nicke/Uffe/Alex lineup of Entombed plays more than two gigs in two years and/or decides to record some new music, there are ZERO Entombeds right now as far as I’m concerned.

What is your favorite Bazillion Points book besides your own?
I’d say Swedish Death Metal, but the truth is, I actually bought the original Tamara Press version direct from Daniel Ekeroth for $70 back in 2007. So, even though I love that thing to bits—fellow Decibel contributor Scott Koerber and I lost our minds over the book for months—I’m disqualifying it as a Bazillion Points release for this question only. I’ll have to go with Metalion: The Slayer Mag Diaries, which is just such a fucking landmark in metal books, I don’t even know where to begin with lavishing praise upon it. The vintage interviews preserved in their original form coupled with Jon Kristiansen’s narrative are everything a nerd like me could hope for. And the production values are off the fucking charts. How that book retails for only $39.95, I will never understand. Ian and Jon deserved to make twice as much money on it.

You’ve kind of chronicled your journey into adulthood in the afterword to the revised versions of Choosing Death: Getting married to your longtime girlfriend, having a daughter, and having a son after that. Aside from that, how did becoming an author of a book in a physical format significantly change your life?
Yeah, it’s probably a little more complicated for me to gauge that than it is for most authors, simply because Decibel launched within weeks of the original Choosing Death’s release. Though it wasn’t intentional, the timing was advantageous as both the book and the magazine severed to promote one another. People got into the magazine via the book, while others discovered Choosing Death through Decibel. So, it’s hard for me to attribute which doors opened from what piece of bound printed matter. I’m just incredibly grateful that, 14 years later, there’s still legitimate interest in both of them.