Too Hard-Core for Metallica? Here's a Magazine for Serious Metalheads
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because sometimes it really isn’t all sweetness and light.
By Eugene S. Robinson
If you’re most people, there are certain things that you kind of know of but don’t really think too much about: Formula One racing, Picasso’s “Blue Period,” gluten-free Fritos. If you’re most people over the age of 17, we could probably throw heavy metal in there too.
“You mean like Metallica?”
Uh, yeah. Um, no. Well, not really/entirely. More like Embalmer, Hirax, Mortician, Kreator, Abbath and dozens more. Musicians who are keeping musical-instrument manufacturers in business by buying basses, drums, guitars and Marshall stacks, who don’t use turntables and who largely don’t give two craps that you’re not digging the din they’re making. A din that is the appeal of the multiheaded monster that modern heavy metal is. To get a handle on death metal, black metal, grindcore, hardcore, NWOBHM (new wave of British heavy metal) — and the list goes dizzyingly on — there’s one magazine that corrals them all under the general rubric of “heavy metal.” That magazine? Decibel.
Celebrating its 13th anniversary this year and with a 150th issue published in March, the Philadelphia-based monthly magazine with a 50,000-plus circulation has branched out into shows, events, books and beer (craft, thank you), in an age when most mags are struggling with page counts and relevancy. Thanks, in large part, to insanely dedicated fans. Which is what Decibel editor-in-chief Albert Mudrian is.
Decibel makes manifest a deep and abiding love of the raucous in an ambitious way that has the magazine routinely punching way above its weight.
“Jesus, could you imagine how shitty my life and this magazine would be if I didn’t love this music?” Mudrian says from his present digs in Virginia, where he moved “one month after the Phillies won the World Series in 2008.” With a Philly-based staff of roughly five regulars and a whole host of freelancers, Decibel makes manifest a deep and abiding love of the raucous in an ambitious way that has the magazine routinely punching way above its weight.
Which sees writers digging deep with the long-form pieces in the popular Decibel Hall of Fame series that covers 360 degrees of essential recordings and artists in the metal canon, and the Flexi series, in which subscribers receive an exclusive flexi disc with each issue. Even with the Decibel tours and the beer fest, they’ve got … ambition. “We’re expanding the Decibel brand in a non-barf-inducing way and creating new revenue streams beyond the print magazine,” says Mudrian, offering a primer on how to stay relevant in the age of digital if you’re doing print. “The same can be said of Decibel Books, which we launched in 2015 with the revised and expanded edition of my book Choosing Death.”
Detractors are prone to deride Mudrian’s shotgun approach to heavy metal media as scattershot. “Every other page is something about their other publications, or their fests, or whatever,” says a musician who, in a nod to the sway that the magazine holds, declined to be named. A criticism that Mudrian calls bullshit on. “We’re just driven by a simple desire to do something cool,” he says, laughing. “We start with that idea and then we figure out if it’s financially viable. Never the other way around. So, I guess it does go all the way back to authenticity.”
Or as J. Bennett — a writer with the distinction of having had articles in every single issue of Decibel, as well as being the man behind the camera for the cover photos of the first two issues (Dillinger Escape Plan and Converge, if you must know) — puts it, “I still write for Decibel because, as corny as this might sound, it’s a publication I’m proud to be a part of. Plus, Albert is holding my mint-original pressing of Mayhem’s Deathcrush LP hostage until I ‘finish mowing the lawn,’ or whatever euphemism he’s currently using for my next five years of deadlines.”