Every great story - real or fictional - involves risk. Whether it’s 300 men versus the entire Persian army or a hopelessly-awkward teenager blasting Peter Gabriel from a boombox outside his girlfriend’s window, it’s the potential for loss, failure or even total destruction that pulls us into the story. Musicians know this element of risk only too well; to reach any level of enduring success in the music industry, it requires musicians to sacrifice nearly everything - their relationships, their finances, their sanity and often their very lives. Throw in all of the personalities, the epic highs and crippling lows and a healthy dash of rock and roll decadence along the way and you end up with some pretty interesting stories to tell.
In no particular order, then here are ten biographies for the heavy music enthusiast that offer such well-written and deeply-compelling stories that even non-metalheads would enjoy the read. Still, it definitely helps if you’re a fan.
Rob Halford: Confess (2020)
Rob Halford’s autobiography plays out as a series of enthralling mini-epics set against the backdrop of his evolution from a blue-collar kid from deep in the Black Country to the singular vocal force known across the globe as “The Metal God.” Incisively-written and enormously well-paced, Halford digs deep into his memory stores to unearth brilliant anecdotes about his years in Judas Priest, coming out as gay on MTV in 1998, his battles with substance abuse and fifty year’s worth of stories as one of metal’s most iconic voices. Told with equal doses of heart, humour and salacious candor, Confess will catapult readers gleefully into a Judas Priest vortex with a renewed appreciation for both the man and his music.
Randy Blythe: Dark Days - A Memoir (2016)
If you’re looking for a boozy backstage tell-all, then this book is not for you. Then again, if you’re a Lamb of God fan, you weren’t expecting that, anyway. Clocking in at nearly 500 pages, Lamb of God frontman Randy Blythe offers the definitive account of his 2012 arrest and incarceration in the Czech Republic. With just two years of sobriety under his belt, Blythe was literally plucked from the middle of a tour and cast into the white-knuckled terror of Prague’s Pankrác Prison, where he was held on manslaughter charges stemming from the death of a fan after a Lamb of God show in 2010. Blythe conveys complex emotions and vivid detail in compelling prose. Running the emotional gamut from abject terror to absurdist humour, Dark Days never loses sight of the fact that the entire chain of events stemmed from the tragic death of a young fan. There’s no trace of self-pity nor any self-serving spin — just a raw and gripping story that might be difficult to believe if it weren’t one hundred percent true.
Bruce Dickinson: What Does This Button Do? (2018)
Is there anything that Bruce Dickinson cannot do? It’s a question one can’t help but ask after reading the autobiography of Iron Maiden’s multi-faceted vocalist. In addition to fronting one of the greatest bands in history, Dickinson has forged highly-successful careers as an airline captain, a motivational speaker, a brewer of craft beers, a writer of scripts and novels and a world-class fencer. If you’ve seen his spoken word tour - online or in person - then you know that the man can spin a yarn and that his “Aw, shucks...” demeanour is a paltry facade for his arena-sized ego. Together, however, these qualities make for some ripping tales, some of which you’ve certainly heard before, but his musings on consciousness, human suffering (he performed in a war zone in the former Yugoslavia) and the power of the human will reveal fascinating aspects of the man that you’d never glean from his music or from interviews. Essential reading for any Maiden fan but also for those who enjoy books about success and personal growth.
Dave Grohl: The Storyteller - Tales Of Life And Music (2021)
In recent years, there’s been a deluge of autobiographies from artists still well within their prime. In certain cases, it feels premature or more cynically, in others, it comes across as a cash grab. But while Dave Grohl is arguably the biggest rock star on the planet these days, his bestselling autobiography feels perfectly-timed. Certainly his journey from a spindly east coast hardcore kid to the drummer of the then-biggest band in the world, Nirvana, is worthy of its own book. Tack on his second life as frontman of the stadium-filling Foo Fighters, not to mention a dad and a well-earned reputation as one of the most likeable, down-to-earth guys in the music industry, and you’ve got a timeless story told with the easy intimacy of two friends huddled in the back booth of a dive bar, swapping stories over beers into the early hours of the morning.
Ronnie James Dio: Rainbow In The Dark (2021)
Legendary rock journalist Mick Wall has released some of the most important rock and metal biographies of the past twenty years, including comprehensive new biographies of Metallica, Led Zeppelin and The Doors, with a penetrating new light. In his latest title, Wall delivers the authoritative account of the life and times of Ronnie James Dio, with assistance from Dio’s widow Wendy. What consistently sets Wall’s books apart from others are his unconventional insights that cast even well-known events in captivating new contexts. Dio’s legendary stints in Rainbow and Black Sabbath set the stage for his emergence as a solo artist for his band Dio and with plenty of anecdotes from the people standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Ronnie, the book shines a new light on the fiery ambition that fueled his ascension. This is no whitewash; Dio’s story is told with unvarnished, warts-and-all honesty. The icon left this world too soon but there’s a real sense that if he had lived long enough to tell this story himself, it wouldn’t sound a whole lot different than this book.
Dave Mustaine: Mustaine - A Life In Metal (2011)
One of metal’s most polarising figures sat down and told his story (with author Joe Layden) in 2011, and while the Megadeth founder and guitarist continues to release new music and tour, this account hits all of the major stops along the way of Dave Mustaine’s gruelling heavy metal odyssey. Mustaine has secured a reputation for being both outspoken and opinionated and as such, zero punches are pulled as he discusses his time in Metallica and his ignominious exile from that band, founding thrash legend Megadeth out of pure spite, his struggles with drug addiction and the devastating effects of a compressed radial nerve that rendered his left arm numb and entirely unable to play guitar. Like everything else in his life, Mustaine re-learned guitar through sheer self-will. Of all of the titles in this list, Mustaine is perhaps the only one where knowing at least something about the man will enhance one’s enjoyment of the book.
Max Cavalera: My Bloody Roots - From Sepultura To Soulfly And Beyond (2022)
Joel McIver remains one of heavy metal’s most committed biographers, with thirty-four books under his belt, and in 2022 he and Max Cavalera paired up to tell the latter’s uncensored story for the first time. Together they dive into Cavalera’s destitute roots in Brazil, following the trail through his time in Sepultura and Soulfly. It’s a story fraught with challenges, setbacks and tragedy. Cavalera candidly reveals the story behind his split with Sepultura and subsequent formation of Soulfly. He wouldn’t speak with his brother Iggor for two years. Along the way he lost family members, battled with drugs and alcohol and eventually reunited with Iggor as Cavalera Conspiracy. The freshly-updated version brings the story into the present day, with Max’s formation of Go Ahead And Die and his participation in metal supergroup Killer Be Killed.
Duff McKagan: It's So Easy And Other Lies (2012)
As the bassist for Guns N’ Roses (and later Velvet Revolver, Walking Papers and other projects), Duff McKagan might have slipped beneath the radar somewhat as some of his bandmates commandeered the headlines in the late-80s and early-90s. But McKagan’s story, told here for the first time, is an absorbing account of growing up in his native Seattle, amid that city’s punk scene just as heroin had begun its deadly infiltration. At age twenty, he set out for Los Angeles, where he answered a classified ad from someone named “Slash” and the rest...well, you know. In unsparing detail, his autobiography confronts McKagan’s punishing descent into alcoholism that ended with his pancreas literally exploding. He would recover, get sober and go on to form platinum-selling Velvet Revolver with Slash, Scott Weiland, Matt Sorum and Dave Kushner. His insights into his two biggest bands make this a must-read but lesser-known stories prove equally compelling. For example, his story of sitting next to Kurt Cobain on a flight from Los Angeles to Seattle on March 31, 1994 is utterly heartbreaking. Cobain committed suicide a few days later. A phenomenal, heartfelt read.
Mark Lanegan: Sing Backwards And Weep - A Memoir (2020)
The late Mark Lanegan, frontman of Screaming Trees, Queens Of The Stone Age collaborator and an acclaimed solo artist, passed away only two years after releasing his memoir, casting a sad poignancy across its pages. Bleak and unflinching, Lanegan recounts the rise of Screaming Trees at the height of grunge and his parallel spiralling into drug addiction. A talented lyricist with a whisky-soaked baritone tailor-made for narrating Cormac McCarthy novels, Lanegan describes in agonising detail how he fell from shit-hot rockstar status to homelessness, addiction, petty crime and brawling. To Lanegan’s credit, he tells these stories without a trace of the rosy sentimentality that has plagued other rock bios. His eventual recovery converts an unmitigated tragedy into a story of profound redemption and ultimate sadness, knowing that his life story ended shortly after the final page.
Dee Snider: Shut Up And Give Me The Mic (2013)
Twisted Sister owned the airwaves in the 80s and while they didn’t exactly disappear, they never regained the prominence they achieved on the backs of stadium-shakers like We’re Not Gonna Take It and I Wanna Rock. Lead singer Dee Snider, however, has built upon those successes to become a popular solo artist, a Broadway performer and mentor to younger bands. The stories of Twisted Sister’s rise in the 80s amid a seemingly endless field of hurdles before them are among the book’s most entertaining chapters but equally arresting is his account of testifying before the US Congress when rock, metal and other mainstream artists were under fire for what the now-defunct Parents Music Resource Center alleged to be profane. Shut Up... tells a fascinating story with fresh insights and boatloads of humour, usually self-effacing. Hard to put down once you get started.