The concept behind From The Minds Of Madness, written by Blair E. Gibson, is to collate the reasoning behind the choice of band name for various metal bands. For this, the author must be complimented. It is truly an original and interesting concept, which is certainly to be applauded in the stagnation of today where anyone can write any old shit and pass it off as a book.
However, the problems are manifold. I’ll begin with the cover. Featuring a photo of a screaming fellow’s head with cartoonish pictures of a brain, guitar and bulletbelt haphazardly thrown on the top, the whole thing reeks of amateurism. Gibson claims the art to be ‘killing’ – I’d have to agree, but probably not in the sense that he means. Now, I know that one must not normally judge a book by its cover, but in this case, it is aptly reflective of the content.
After a truly heartwarming dedication to the author’s father, the author has a few things to say. Unfortunately, I have to say that reading what he had to say was at times painful, due to the incredible concentration of spelling and grammar mistakes, which along with the overly informal nature of the thankyous and introduction set a negative tone for the actual content of the book. He also includes a contents page. Said contents page details where the ‘other stuff’ (i.e. introduction, foreword, appendix etc.) lies in the book, but for the actual content, it is quite possibly the least useful contents page I have ever seen. It consists of a list, of letters, from A to Z. Page numbers? Don’t be silly, that would be too useful.
Despite the appalling first impression that the book gives (it could truly do with being sent to a decent editor), from Aaron Stainthorpe’s foreword onwards, things begin to look up. This foreword is witty, interesting and at times enthralling, its only downside being its all-too-short length. It’s truly testament to Stainthorpe’s intelligence how he manages to make this little morsel feel like it’s not enough.
The main part of the book is automatically made to look ugly by the ill-considered choice of logos for bands (simply black on a white background would have been best), and the horrific string of brackets after each band name. Said brackets state the band’s genre, location (brief niggling annoyance – Wales is NOT in England) and year of formation – all very well and good, but that is information that can easily be found on the metal archives, rather than the exhaustive process that the author claims. Still, it’s good for a brief introduction to the band, so I won’t flaw it.
What does irk me somewhat is Gibson’s use of genre descriptors. Personally, I’m something of a fascist like this, but there are several aspects of them which annoy me. Firstly, the use of genre names which are either gimmicks or simply do not exist – just because a band claims to play in a style, does not mean that that style exists! These are pretty much the descriptors which happen to describe the band’s activity (stoner metal, which is essentially another way of saying happy sludge in general), or lyrical content (Christian metal). Also, there are many, many non-metal bands included, mainly under the tags ‘hard rock’ or ‘glam metal’, but at times others (the one inclusion of a metalcore band is Coalesce, who are undeniably closer to the hardcore end of the spectrum). This wouldn’t be a problem for me, had Gibson not said in his introduction that it was a book about ‘heavy metal’.
Pedantry aside, serious formatting problems persist throughout the book. It’s not rare that there are entire pages left blank, for no obvious reason other than it happened to be so. Even the short introductions to bands (the ones with bracket diarrhoea) occasionally have spelling mistakes, usually of band names – which might be acceptable with a band who are named after an uncommon word or whose name is not a word, and whose logo is difficult to read, but ‘Athiest’ is unacceptable. The author also seems to be unable to decide on a standard for changing page – at times, he leaves a large blank space at the bottom of a page where a band’s description is too long to fit, but at other times, he spreads said description over two pages, although the former tends to be for moving on to the next letter in the alphabet. Just small things, but they add up.
The descriptions themselves are fine, despite some being woefully short (Stephen O’Malley says that Burning Witch was ‘named after the sound of suffering’... and nothing else), and often quite interesting – as I said, the concept is very interesting and original. They do have the odd spelling or grammar mistake in them, but when you consider the introduction, it’s probably for the best that the author hasn’t attempted to correct them.
My problem lies in the choice of bands – the author seems to have been stuck halfway between taking an encyclopaedic approach (which would have been very difficult, especially with some bands being very difficult to contact), and writing a book which one might read from cover to cover. As it stands, it lies uncomfortably between the two, neither being a book which one can easily read, nor being one which is assured to contain the information for which you search.
This means that there is a haphazard assortment of bands, with many major players in the metal scene left out (although this may be due to difficulty to contact them), and few bands from outside the US, and even fewer from non-English speaking countries, present. This means that whilst there are some who many people would be interested to know about, there are many who are of little more than regional importance (the book starts with a band called ’18 Speed Tranny’, for fuck’s sake), and who I’m sure have few people who care about them.
One area where the author has excelled is extracting information from some bands from whom information is unfortunately rare. It stands to reason that he must have some journalistic beguiling qualities, it’s just a shame that his journalistic ability appears to extend little further. It is a very nice concept, one which had me excited to read this book, but it is done so poorly that it leaves a hollow feeling afterwards.