“Doomed to Fail”: J.J. Anselmi Talks New Book on Doom, Sludge, and Post-Metal (Interview)
There's a sense of pride I feel, for sure, when anyone who has contributed to Invisible Oranges also endeavours toward great personal achievements in writing and journalism -- such is the case with J.J. Anselmi who is releasing his new book on doom, sludge, and post-metal tomorrow. Simply put, it's a well-researched, well-written, and all-around accessible work on the world of slow and abstract metal; Anselmi always had a sharp pen when writing for us, and I had no doubt in my mind that he'd excel at something long-format like an entire goddamn book. Credit is surely owed for the passion and dedication it takes to commit to an entire book, but Anselmi's writing here flows and feels effortless, allowing for an easy ready that's informative and definitely not draining or dry.
Keep it on your nightstand, read it in the library, or bust it out at a coffee shop: Doomed to Fail works wonders for a quick 10-minute brain buzz or a longer delve into its hefty page count. It was a pleasure to exchange a few words with Anselmi about the book, its role in the metal scene at large, and what angles/techniques he utilized in assembling this beast. Oh, and as a bonus, the enigmatic Cat Jones wrote the forward to this book, and I personally couldn't think of a better person to be given that honor. All-around, we highly recommend picking this up either for yourself or as a great gift for any doom-loving metalhead.
So, why sludge, doom, and post-metal and their respective histories, specifically? Is there a particular vogue for these styles of metal now (resurrected from the past maybe?), or do you perhaps have aesthetic/stylistic attachments to them which helped fuel the book?
One big reason I wanted to write Doomed to Fail is that I felt like there needed to be a book about these styles since there are books on death metal, black metal, grindcore, and hardcore, and several on heavy metal in general. There are so many unique people with amazing stories who play doom, sludge, and post-metal, so it only made sense to me to try to put them together and pinpoint both similarities and differences between the styles.
As far as the aesthetic attachment, I do think slow, heavy music often has a narrative and literary quality in that it invites listeners in to fill the space with their own imagination and interpretations. That’s true of all metal when done well, but there’s something about bands like Sunn O))) and Earth that push listeners to make grander interpretations and become sonic participants on a different level. The space and open-endedness of the sounds leaves a lot of room for your mind to wander.
Along your research and writing journey, did you encounter any standout bands you hadn’t yet heard (if so, you could reflect on how hearing them for the first time in the context of writing your book affected you, for example)? Alternatively, did any of the history you discovered surprise you?
I had a lot of those moments with albums I’d listened to in passing but hadn’t spent much time with. When I really looked at the first two Cathedral records in context, as well as the Winter and Thergothon albums, it completely blew my mind to think about how heavy that stuff was compared to other music of the time. Those bands are still gnarly, so to think of how their music sounded thirty-plus years ago is pretty staggering.
As far as surprising history, I knew about Sabbath getting its name from a Coven song, but I didn’t realize how far the band and its management has gone to erase that piece of history. It’s honestly pretty disappointing, not because Black Sabbath took the name from somewhere, but more because they’ve done so much to create an alternative narrative and deny Coven’s influence and impact. I was also pretty blown away by the band Iron Claw and how they started out heavy but then turned more into prog after Sabbath threatened to sue them.
In your view, what’s the importance of historical documentation and interpretation in the metal world? Beyond the fact that history is surely worth preserving, what value does a book like Doomed to Fail (and others in its ilk) hold for the general metalhead reader? Bonus: what value is held for the non-metalhead reader?
I think the value of a book like this is to give metal the critical reverence it deserves. So many of us know that heavy music can be as profound as any other art, but I think for people who aren’t already into heavy music to see that requires putting it in larger historical context and directly discussing each band’s significance. For metalheads who already know most (or all) of the bands, I hope my take on things can shine new light on records they love and make people want to listen again.
For those unfamiliar with the book, how much can the reader expect to hear “you” in the story and analysis and descriptions? Do you take the point of a 100% external documentarian, or maybe there’s something a bit more gonzo to it?
There’s definitely a defined gonzo element to the book that comes across in my personal experience seeing bands and playing heavy music myself. When it comes to music, I think the idea of objective removal can get pretty silly, so I countered that by underscoring my subjectivity throughout. I really tried to approach it from a similar angle as Hunter S. Thompson in Hell’s Angels. He takes the backseat most of the time, but he’s always present in some way.
Do you imagine readers using your book as a listening guide for sludge, doom, and post-metal? Surely you can’t include every band worth mentioning in just one binding, haha, but now that it’s all said and done, do you feel that your book is comprehensive for how deep it goes? (Maybe something on the balance of depth/breadth here?)
That’s a goal for sure, and I think people who aren’t familiar with these styles will use it as a listening guide.
I feel solid about the depth and breadth, but there are still a few bands that I wish I could have explored (and wonder if I should have). Iron Monkey is a big one that keeps popping up in my head, although my reasoning for not delving into that band is that it’s so heavily influenced by Eyehategod, and I wasn’t sure if Iron Monkey’s sound was different enough to warrant their own chapter. That was my decision-making process in a nutshell for who to include: who was around first and who influenced the style most. There’s a lot of messiness there, but I think it worked overall. Dystopia is another one that I had trouble not including. I think the music is more of a hybrid of grind, sludge, and punk than it fits into any one of those genres, but Dystopia is such a legendary band.
If you had to choose three bands/albums mentioned in your book to be buried with you in your grave, who would they be?
Damn, tough question. Black Sabbath, Paranoid, Neurosis, Through Silver in Blood, and Harvey Milk, Special Wishes.
Got any future book ideas cooking up already? Or, is the writing/promotion process maybe slightly tiring, and you’re taking a breather?
I have pretty solid ideas for the next two books I’m going to write, and they’re both going to be much more narrative-based about my hometown in Wyoming. I feel like I’ve just begun to chip the surface of capturing that place, so the next two will delve way more into it. I’m sure there will be references to metal in both, but it won’t be a major theme.
Doomed to Fail hits shelves tomorrow; order it via Amazon.