Heavy Metal Books: Eviscerated Panda - Sarah Tipper
It’s very nearly always a brilliant day when the postman comes a calling with a new book, although it has been a pleasure to read at my own pace (and less intensely) than during my three years as an English Literature student. These days, I’ve turned in my three anthologies of Shakespeare (why I have three is anybody’s guess) and volumes of literary theory for books a little easier to read, a little easier to manage with a full time job and plenty of other commitments. With the exception of David Foster Wallace’s intimidating, headache inducing novels, I tend to support shorter fiction with poetry being my main new acquisition whenever I fill up my Amazon basket. I’m very much into the easier read post-degree.
Naturally, when a book adorned with dementedly iced panda cupcakes flew through my letterbox, I couldn’t wait to start reading it. The cover itself was more than enough to pique my interest. The title of this particular gem is Eviscerated Panda which, thankfully, is not a crusade against everyone’s favourite bag-eyed mammals. Instead, this book is about heavy metal and isn’t afraid to hammer this home. Simply put, if you aren’t a fan of heavy music, 99% of the content here will fly straight over your head and out of the nearest window. Almost without exception, every page here has a reference to a famous band, song or lyric from the metal world, and author Sarah Tipper’s vast knowledge of the genre really shines through. Everything from Manowar, to Black Sabbath, to Type O Negative is covered, making Eviscerated Panda a true joy for a huge variety of people. In this sense, reading this book is a learning experience as much as a narrative tale. It’s thoroughly worth noting down specific bands Tipper touches on and setting up a mammoth playlist for later listening. She’s rarely off the mark with her recommendations, especially if you have varied taste.
Most of all, Eviscerated Panda succeeds not just as a namesdropping exercise (which it is brilliant at all the same), no, Tipper makes this an exciting read by virtue of honest and engaging social commentary in a series of ‘I’ve definitely been here before…’ style encounters. Like one of those articles Vice seems to post every five minutes entitled “10 TYPES OF PEOPLE YOU DEFINITELY KNOW” or similar, this book’s main protagonists Phil (Guitar), Ian (Guitar), Nick (Vocals), Jim (Bass) and Paul (Drums) alongside their host of groupies (yes, there are groupies) and partners, ring true as real people you could meet, or probably already have met, in a rock bar anywhere in the country. The dialogue is, for the most part, conversationalist and plants the book firmly in the realms of reality; there’s nothing much here that’s hard to believe, and if you’re a metal fan, you probably won’t have to suspend your disbelief at all. There really are obsessive Manowar fans in the world and they’re documented pretty effectively here, alongside a whole cast of other vibrant, colourful characters.
So, the character development really is what makes this book tick. Tipper isn’t afraid to go into pages of detail about trivial things and really does try to paint in every aspect of these people’s lives. Tangents about past experiences, parents, old friends and concerts shape the reader’s appreciation of each individual, which for me is important considering the homogenous ‘barbarian’ image the metal community has in the mainstream. That is simply not true, and Eviscerated Panda stands as a testament to the fact that we’re all unique and perplexing in our own way. I’m wearing a suit, drinking a vastly overpriced cup of coffee, and listening to Slayer whilst writing this – and if that isn’t outside of the typical ‘metal fan’ image, then I don’t know what is. Society probably thinks I should be listening to Bruno Mars or something. (N.B. when Bruno Mars decides to slap on some corpse paint then I’ll reconsider my allegiances). In terms of the plot, not a huge amount happens in Eviscerated Panda. It’s a largely simple tale of a thrash band from initial formation to success with plenty of humour and points of reference throughout. It’s an easy, fast read (it took me a long time purely because I’ve been writing a book of my own) and keeps just enough narrative intrigue in tow to keep the pages turning. It’s not a literary masterclass, neither does it claim to be nor should it be. What this book is, is fun. Just really bloody good heavy metal related fun.
What Tipper has crafted in Eviscerated Panda is a novel which successfully documents a niche that is seldom written about. For this reason alone, as a metal fan, it’s worth a read. I promise that it will make you smile, cringe, laugh and get nostalgic about all the stupid shite you did when you were growing up, as well as think about some bigger issues like ‘where is my life going and what the hell am I going to do’. If you like metal, pick this up. Simple.
Words: Ben ArmstrongYou can pick up a copy for as little as £8.99 from Amazon - click here