By Michael Toland
At this point, tons of books on heavy metal fill the shelves, from encyclopedias to historical narratives. While there are a few of the former sitting around, there are few, if any, longform tomes that focus specifically on the metallic subgenre doom. With Doomed to Fail, J.J. Anselmi, writer for Noisey and A.V. Club and author of the memoir Heavy, attempts to change that with a selective history that tries to tie the sound generated by Black Sabbath to the later subgenres of sludge- and post-metal. It’s a logical progression, and one worth following.
Unfortunately, Anselmi’s path meanders more than it advances. There’s no mistaking his knowledge of his subject, and he shines welcome spotlights on bands and scenes that have long deserved it in metal histories, like the NOLA scene spawned by Eyehategod and Crowbar, or the work of doom metal diehard Scott “Wino” Weinrich. Plus, his passion for his subject shines through, especially on the chapters on the sludge metal pioneers. But often it feels like that passion has gotten in his way, as too many chapters feel like he’s eagerly careened from artist to artist, iteration to iteration, without stopping to give them proper context. While he goes in-depth on most of the artists, from Sabbath to Crowbar to Isis to Chelsea Wolfe, it feels more like a survey of his record collection than it does an actual thematic evolution. The result is a somewhat haphazard tale that skips important developments (despite covering Weinrich in depth, Anselmi pretty much ignores the D.C./Virginia/Maryland scene the Obsessed leader jumpstarted, as well as its attendant European counterpart led by German label Hellhound) and even bands (modern standard bearer Electric Wizard gets passing mention but no real coverage, which is puzzling even if Anselmi thinks the band too cartoonish), and ends up concentrating too long on some acts while slighting others.
Anselmi’s stylistic facility isn’t in doubt – there were several passages that made me think, “Damn, I wish I’d written that.” But his focus and organizational skills are lacking – something a good editor could help him with, though on evidence of Doomed to Fail, that’s something his publisher was missing.