If you call yourself a metal fan and don’t know the name Albert Mudrian, you need to get clued in. As founder and Editor in Chief of Decibel Magazine, Mudrian sits somewhere right near the center of the Heavy Metal Universe as he oversees the biggest and best metal mag, at the very least in North America, and arguably the world. But it doesn’t stop there. Mudrian is also the author of Choosing Death, a definitive tome highlighting the history of death metal and grindcore, and his Decibel imprint has annually lent itself to one of the metal world’s most anticipated North American tours…and now a festival as well. He also happens to be a fellow ‘metal dad.’ Through the magic of the interwebs I had a chance to talk with Albert about his magazine, his book, his many forays into live music, and how he manages to do it all while raising two little ones.
Let’s talk about Decibel Magazine first. Did you ever think when Decibel first launched and you were handing this thing out free at festivals (which is where I got my first copy) that it would become the biggest and best metal magazine in North America, and arguably the entire free world? How has your personal approach to printing this thing every month changed or has it all?
Am I a dick if I answer yes?
The goal was always to make the best metal magazine the world had ever seen. The dream was that anyone would actually give a shit about it and be as excited about it as I was. So, I guess yes to the first part of the question, but, no, I never really expected it to get as popular as it has. I think part of that is just because the market has shifted so dramatically since the magazine’s launch in 2004. There were probably six to ten additional metal and rock publications on the newsstands back then. Now we’re the last man standing in that sense.
The personal approach has changed in that I actually have business instincts that weren’t really tapped at the onset of the magazine. Mind you, that’s only part of what’s guiding me. I mean, you’d have to be a pretty shitty businessperson to think it’s a good idea to put Leviathan, Noisem or Lucifer on the cover of a widely distributed magazine if your goal was simply making bank. Obviously, we’re not in it that for that. Don’t get me wrong; Decibel is my main source of income, and I want as many people to read it and subscribe to it as humanly possible. But I’m not going to compromise Decibel’s vision in order to make it something that belies its foundation in extreme metal. I type this as I stare at Axl and Slash on our latest cover.
You also authored the book, Choosing Death, which details the improbable rise of death metal and grindcore. What was it about these genres of music that first drew you in as a fan compared to other styles of metal? At what point did you feel that your love of death metal and grindcore was so massive that it warranted you to sit down and devote the crazy amount of time it takes to write a book of this nature?
I discovered death metal when I was 15 or 16 in 1991 and it just seemed like the first style of music that felt inclusive to me, particularly. Even though death metal exploded on a global level in 1991, there were, like, three other kids in my entire high school who listened to it, so it felt like we were part of some kind of exclusive club. It was the first legitimate “non-mainstream,” if not underground music, I enjoyed. As I got older that base led to my fandom of other styles of non-traditional music.
Anyway, to me, death metal always felt unappreciated in a historical sense. Especially as it lost traction to black metal in the mid to late ’90s. And, if we’re being honest, the black metal (much of which I was a fan of) that rose to prominence in that era, would not have existed without death metal. Basically, I didn’t want the history to get swept under the rug and I couldn’t believe that someone else hadn’t beaten to me to the punch of documenting it. So, I figured, “fuck it, it might as well be me.”
One of my favorite parts of Choosing Death is all of the rad interviews with the musicians who made it all happen. When you were piecing the book together who were your favorite interview subjects? Were there certain bands or musicians you wish you had gotten to interview but didn’t? Were there some you did but maybe wish you hadn’t?
Mick Harris and Jeff Walker were two of my favorites because they hold nothing back. Mick because you wind him up and let him go—my old Mick interview transcriptions would consist of one question followed by a 4000-word answer. And Jeff because he disarmingly honest about everything and is really quick-witted. I don’t necessarily regret interviewing anyone, but there are a few people who I wish were more forthcoming and/or I wish I pushed harder when questioning.
My only real regret is starting work on the project literally a few weeks after Chuck Schuldiner died, so I was unable to personally speak with him for the book.
You recently went back and delivered an updated and expanded edition of Choosing Death. Was this something that had been in the works for awhile? Were you happy with the initial pressing of the book or were you itching to get another crack at it at some point?
Well, it had been in the back of my head since at least 2005, but I was never convinced I would have the opportunity to do a new version of it. After I saw the reunion tours of both Carcass and At The Gates back in 2008 I determined that I needed to write an updated version of the book. Around that time, Decibel really started taking off and I found any free time to be at a premium. Then in 2011, my wife and I had our first child and that REALLY put the book on the back burner. When she learned that she was pregnant with our son in the fall of 2013, I realized that it was now or never—or now or another five years from now—before I’d have ANY chance of sustained work on revised and expanded Choosing Death. It kind of worked out perfectly, as I had an entire decades’ worth of development to cover in the book, which I think makes for a much more engaging read rather than banging out a new version after only a few years.
In conjunction with the book you just launched the Choosing Death Fest this coming April in Philly. Tell me how that came into being. Is this a one off festival or do you have plans to make it an annual event? How were the artists selected for this first year?
Between the annual tour, our 100th issue show, and some other bits and bobs, Decibel has had a pretty successful run of live events for about five years now, so this seemed like a logical extension of what we already do. Some of the acts performing are good friends of mine; others I’m just a fan of from afar, but they all share FUCKING RULING in common! Honestly, I wanted to put on a cool event that showcased younger bands along side scene vets, grind bands going on right before old-school death metal bands—you know, something with variety, but unified by some kind of aesthetic. The Choosing Death book itself really serves as we away to recognize the past and celebrate the present, so, again, it just seemed like an obvious connection. I dunno if I’ll do another. Let me survive this one first.
One thing people might not know about you is that you are also a father of two. One of the things I try to do on The Metal Dad is talk about the dichotomy of being both a parent and a metalhead. So far how have the two intertwined in your own family? Or have they? Do your kids have any idea how heavily involved in metal music you are, and maybe more importantly, how does their mother feel about it?
Well, I work from home so there’s no escaping the fact that daddy’s silly music is a part of the family landscape. It’s been reassuring to see how unfazed my four-year-old daughter is by all of it—skulls do NOT frighten her in any way. She’s met a number of my friends who play in what must be considered legendary extreme metal bands. She just appreciates them as mommy and daddy’s friends and has no idea that their music has shaped my life, which is cool, because why would she need to?
My wife isn’t a metalhead, but she appreciates the work the goes into creating this music and understands how important the music was/is to me. Our friend Ian Christe once called her “the Michelle Obama of death metal,” which was a title I think she took to heart. She’d much rather talk to Shane Embury about raising his 2-year-old daughter than the new Napalm Death album, which is fine by me as I get enough metal “shop” talk for 50 to 60 hours a week working on Decibel. But to answer your question, no, we don’t shield our children from what what I do, but we don’t have any interest in indoctrinating them into the metal cult either.
You’re a pretty busy guy to say the least – monthly magazine, full-time author, full time parent, now a festival promoter – how do you balance it all besides doing what all parents eventually do…give up sleeping…
That’s pretty much it. I mean, there aren’t really any other alternatives. Literally everyone in the house besides me is asleep while I type this. You just have to find windows and make shit happen and you have to put your face through them when you get the opportunity. It also helps if you remind yourself that this is all temporary. My kids are 4 and 1. The oldest sleeps through the night without any issues. There will come a day when my youngest does the same and stops waking up at 5am. Until then, it’s a lot of patience and even more coffee.
In a recent issue you wrote a really touching and memorable piece about the kid who helped turn you on to metal music when you were younger. One of my favorite things I’ve ever read in Decibel. I’ve talked about similar experiences I had as a kid. We are of a generation where the closest thing to metal our parents could have listened to in their youth was Black Sabbath and Deep Purple. Now as metal-loving parents our children will most likely first learn about their favorite metal bands from us as opposed to their peers. How, if at all, do you think that will change the dynamic of how bands are shared in the underground? Do you think certain bands or genres of metal will be viewed by future generations as “their parents music” and thus as antiquated? Or do you think metal has the ability to supersede that cultural phenomenon?
Thanks for the kind words. I’m guessing you’re referencing the editor’s notes from the November 2015 issue where I write about my childhood friend Bernie. I dunno, man, the Internet has changed the landscape and makes it impossible to compare generations – especially for someone like me who started a family in my mid-30s. My mom listened to Billy Joel, REO Speedwagon and Dan Fucking Fogleberg in the car when I was a little kid, so I don’t really think that influenced me one way or another. Yes, it’s true that she owned the first four Sabbath albums, but she didn’t play them after I was born.
I do think there’s always that element of “I don’t like that lame shit old people like” that kids embrace in their teens and early 20s, but that’s generally just a temporary way of thinking. Metal, in particular, celebrates and acknowledges its progenitors more than any other genre of music I can think of. So, I think that as long as you have kids that get deep into metal, you can guarantee that they’ll go back discover older bands. Just look at the wide range of ages present at an Iron Maiden show for further proof.
We already talked about all of the rad cookie jars you are digging your hands into, but if I had to guess, I’d guess there’s more to come. So what’s next on the horizon for you in 2016?
Well, no more children for sure—maybe I’ll even get surgery! Beyond that, there will be some cool Choosing Death-related stuff in the fall and Decibel plans to release more books (none of which will be authored by me) via Decibel Books throughout the year.