On paper, or at least LinkedIn, Axl Rosenberg and Chris Krovatin seem like the perfect duo to write a book about the history of heavy metal. The former is the co-creator of and daily writer for the much-maligned metal blog MetalSucks, known for its scathing liberal commentary and venomous comments section. The latter is a children’s author and music journalist who has written for Revolver and Invisible Oranges (he's also a Noisey contributor), and whose debut novel, Heavy Metal and You, was a YA heavy metal love story featuring references to Emperor and Anthrax. This should've been a walk in the park, right?
But a book isn’t as easily-consumable as a blog post, and telling the honest history of a decades-old musical culture is a lot different from talking about how it feels to be a boner-plagued 16-year-old. Factor in contentious editors, interviews that need to be transcribed, and a steady consumption of high-grade cannabis, and you’ve got a difficult road for two degenerate headbangers trying to navigate the battlefield of nonfiction publishing.
The end result, Hellraisers: A Complete Visual History of Heavy Metal Mayhem, is now available via Race Point. Below are Rosenberg and Krovatin’s experiences and advice on how to write and publish a coffee table book on the Devil’s music. Noisey is not responsible for any writing, occultism, or genital mutilation that results from the reading of this interview.
Noisey: How did you two decide who would write about what?
Axl Rosenberg: Chris and I went to a diner and recorded a bunch of different heavy metal subgenres, each of which would be represented by one chapter or mini-chapter. Then we picked which ones we wanted to cover. There were no disagreements. I think I had a pizza burger. I don’t remember what Chris had.
Christopher Krovatin: I’m pretty sure it was me that had the pizza burger. The best part about picking chapters is it taught us about who the other one was as a metalhead. We each had a subgenre we really had to write about (thrash for me, death and grindcore for Axl) and a subgenre the other one had to cover because we didn’t really give a flying fuck about it (glam for me, nu metal for Axl).
What was your writing process like?
Rosenberg: I would smoke weed and write down everything I know about whichever genre of metal was the focus of the chapter or mini-chapter. If I was unsure of a date or the spelling of a musician’s name or something like that, I would double-check with The Metal Archives, save for instances involving bands the judgmental dicks who run The Metal Archives had deemed "not metal enough" to be on the site; then I would go to All Music. Then, when that was all done, I would make a playlist which I thought served as a decent sampling of the genre’s most important bands. Then I would send what I wrote to Chris and wait for feedback. While waiting, I would usually smoke more weed.
Krovatin: The research wasn’t that hard, because as metalheads, we both knew all these stories already. We’ve both talked about this shit with our friends a million times before. And for the writing, the important part was that it got to be opinionated. I hate books about metal that try to be “unbiased in their approach,” as though that concept fucking exists. We got to write what we all know about music we love and we got to shit on Avenged Sevenfold for ripping off Overkill’s mascot.
How was writing Hellraisers different from your normal writing gigs?
Rosenberg: Normally I do not send what I write to Chris for feedback.
Krovatin: As an author of teen and YA books, I rarely get to refer to anything or anyone as a “hare-lipped bastard child wandering the wasteland with its pants down.” And since this wasn’t for any press entity that had a reputation and style to slavishly protect, like the ones I normally write for, I didn’t have to suck anyone’s cock because they’d sold more records or had more hipster cred than musicians with actual talent. I owe a lot of that to Axl, too—he was really good about keeping me honest rather than falling back on journalist-speak. At one point, I got upset because he described corpse paint as "clown make up," and he told me to write whatever I wanted about corpsepaint, so I sat down, looked at some 1349 promo photos… and realized he was totally right. If you’re going to be honest, you have to go full honesty. Nothing can be sacred.
How did you pick the musicians you interviewed for the book? Rosenberg: For each chapter, I tried to find at least one musician who was A) noteworthy within their genre, and B) was not a flake and would do the goddamn interview when they said they would do it. Anyone who tried to reschedule was cancelled. Anyone who attempted to set terms for their interview was cancelled. If someone’s handlers gave me the runaround, I just stopped following up. So you can rest assured that any musician interviewed in a chapter I wrote is a genuinely easy-going dude who gets shit done. Of course, you don’t know which chapters I wrote and which ones Chris wrote, so you can’t really tell just from reading the book who is or is not a pain in the ass. Chris interviewed Dez Fafara.
Krovatin: To be fair, Dez granted us a very rare interview about Coal Chamber, which he doesn’t really talk about any more (thanks, Dez, your copy’s in the mail). The best interviews were of course the weird, crazy ones by people with opinions that were a little more nuanced than your usual gung-ho lifer. Otep was great. Hunter Hunt-Hendrix was great. Ben from Khemmis was awesome as always. And Wino was awesome, but a bit out of his mind.
What was the editorial process like for a book of this magnitude?
Rosenberg: We’d edit each other’s chapters and send them back with notes. Whenever possible, I would implement Chris’ ideas, because I assumed any critiques he wrote were in our mutual best interest. In the rare instance, I would e-mail him and say “Hey, I don’t know how to implement this,” and either he’d help or he’d say “Fuck it” and we’d move on. I think I saw one note from an editor, something about not being sure if Elton John was out of the closet or not. I assume they were worried about being sued.
After we completed a draft of the book, the publisher came back and was like, “This is way too long.” At that point, I did some math and figured out the maximum length each chapter or mini-chapter could be. Then I went through each chapter and mini-chapter word-by-word and cut anything extraneous, combined two words into one (e.g. “do not” became “didn’t,” etc.) and did all that kind of cheating. Then, when faced with no possible alternate options, I would make painful decisions about which bands and musicians were or were not actually going to get their due in the book. I asked Chris at one point if we could cut the chapter on nu-metal altogether so I could write more about Bolt Thrower, but he said we couldn’t do that.
Krovatin: I’d published six books before this, and this was the first one where I had to worry about the production aspect of things. Editing fiction is all about making a story more full, interesting, and human. Editing nonfiction is about page count and the cost of ink. So as much as I wanted to write about Alice Cooper or Hooded Menace for 80 pages, it just couldn’t happen. And then, even when we came in on the mark, the fucking publishing house cut multiple chapters without consulting us so they could fit in more dick-ass pictures of Ozzy Osbourne jumping around!
Was dealing with the publisher ever difficult? Did you guys ever butt heads?
Krovatin: Race Point were great in letting us write whatever we wanted, because the people there aren’t metalheads and aren’t worried about angering Dave Mustaine. But that also meant doing a lot of consulting work that amounted to basically being their heavy metal experts. Thank fuck I turned them on to Mark Riddick, who did our amazing jacket art. Before that, their parameters were, It should look like any other metal book that has sold well.
The thing is, publishing is, like all entertainment industries, freaking out as it tries to adapt to the modern world. Plenty of times, your social media account and professional connections are as important as your writing. After a while, if we wanted something done right, we just had to say, “This will increase sales. This will make you more money.” Even if it was obviously cool, it didn’t matter—the numbers game was the important part for them. I’m sure it’s the same in the music industry right now.
Rosenberg: In high school, I did volunteer work with homeless people who were also suffering from schizophrenia, so I had all the experience I needed to deal with the publisher.
What about marketing and promotion?
Rosenberg: Well, I’m fucking doing this interview, aren’t I?
Krovatin: Always assume the marketing department will do nothing for you, or will do what a non-metalhead thinks is metal: think Judd Nelson from Airheads. They will promote your book to some real bowling shirt RAWK! websites and magazines. They will decide who to get blurbs from based on Facebook page Likes. It’s up to you to reach out to the people who you care about, which is how we got blurbs from guys like J.R. from Pig Destroyer, Mike from Darkest Hour, Brendon Small from Dethklok, and Joel from Toxic Holocaust, as well as a foreword by Matt Heafy from Trivium. Again, same as with the music industry, if you want something done, either do it yourself or make sure the dude who’s doing it doesn’t bleach his soul patch.
Having delved into the world of metal for the last year, what would you say is the best part about being a metalhead author?
Rosenberg: One time, this woman called me “Axl” during sex.
Krovatin: One time, a woman snorted a Paxcil during sex.