Kerrang! Living Loud: an essential insider account of how 'The Rock Bible' shaped the global rock landscape

Nick Ruskell's Kerrang! Living Loud: Four Decades On The Frontline Of Rock, Metal, Punk and Alternative Music is an eye-opening account of the magazine's storied history, featuring tributes from Metallica, Guns N' Roses and more

Kerrang! book
(Image: © DK)

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You never forget your first time. For Nick Ruskell, author of Kerrang! Living Loud and the brand’s Senior Commissioning Editor, it was issue 501, Kiss cartoon cover, Metallica poster special. For this writer, the magazine’s seventh Editor (2005-2009), it was issue 115, Black Sabbath cover (specifically Tony Iommi and Glenn Hughes, a partnership which lasted only marginally longer than the issue was on newsagents’ shelves), featuring a KKKKK review of Metallica’s Master Of Puppets. And for the wider world, whether it was ready or not, issue 1 of Kerrang!, a “Sounds Heavy Metal Special”featuring AC/DC’s Angus Young on the cover, dropped in June 1981 with a 50p price-tag, a rundown of the “official All-Time HM Top 100” and teasing promises of a “HM Quiz! Elitist LPs! Gross Pix!” and - crucially - “Mayhem!” within its 48 pages.

“If you like what you see, let us know,” wrote Sounds’ NWOBHM champion Geoff Barton, welcoming readers to “perhaps the loudest rock magazine of all time” in his inaugural Editor’s letter. “If this issue sells well enough, Kerrang! could well start to appear on your newsstands on a regular basis.”

That it still does, while every other contemporaneous British music magazine - and most launched in its wake, present company notwithstanding - has long since disappeared from the racks, speaks volumes about its impact, influence, reputation and on-going relevance.

When NME published its final print edition in spring 2018 - and again when Q was closed down by Bauer in the summer of 2020 - every British broadsheet newspaper music editor commissioned ex-NME / Q colleagues to pen navel-gazing, self-regarding eulogies on The Death Of The Music Press, as if Kerrang! - which had been out-selling NME every single week since 2006 - Metal Hammer, Classic Rock, Vive Le Rock and more simply never existed, much less mattered. 

As a counterpoint to this myopia, Ruskell’s perceptive, insightful, engaging and highly entertaining history of ‘The Rock Bible’ is both an unashamed love letter to the magazine he’s proudly called home for 20 years, and a celebration of the misfits, mavericks and mischief-makers who have helped create, define and unite alternative music and culture across the past four decades. For successive generations of rock fans whose passions, appetites and curiosities were never going to be nurtured or expanded by publications churning out cover stories on Liam Gallagher, Paul Weller, Noel Gallagher, The Jam, The Beatles and - ‘Beers! Bugle! BritPop! Lads! Lads! Lads!’ - Oasis in monthly rotation, Kerrang! has been a gateway and guide to another world. 

Kerrang! was it,” Metallica’s Lars Ulrich gushes in his open-hearted foreword to Ruskell’s decade-by-decade account of Kerrang!’s history and evolution. “Nothing was above it, equal to it, close to it, any-fucking-where near it. In hard rock’s heyday, the ‘80s and the ‘90s, nothing matched the importance of Kerrang! It was how we expressed ourselves, how we spoke to the world, to the fans, to each other in our band, to or friends and peers in other groups, and ultimately to our known rock universe… it was next level, super-fucking exciting.”

Ulrich-esque levels of energy, enthusiasm and passion powered Kerrang! from the outset. Its voice was loud, irreverent, brash and unapologetic, its aim to act as an Access All Areas pass bringing readers up close and personal with their heroes at home, in the studio, on stage, backstage, on tour buses, on private jets and down the pub. 

Interviewed by Ruskell, teenage-K!-reader-turned-cover star Frank Carter is correct in asserting “If you work for Kerrang! you’re a music lover first and a journalist second” but its alumni reads like a Who’s Who of the most influential  and respected names in metal media - Geoff Barton, Malcolm Dome (R.I.P), Mick Wall, Xavier Russell, Phil Alexander, Paul Elliott, Dave Everley, Jason Arnopp, Morat, Ray Zell, Ian Winwood, Alexander Milas, Tom Bryant, Simon Young, Emma Johnston, George Garner, Eleanor Goodman - while photographers such as Ross Halfin, Paul Harries, Scarlet Page, Lisa Johnson and Ashley Maile (R.I.P) delivered iconic images week in, week out. Almost every contributor, past and present, interviewed by Ruskell uses the words “dream job” when sharing blurry memories of international assignments, botched interviews, rock star tantrums and alcohol-fuelled misadventures, and their words and photos had power too: on the day in January 2007 when the Frank Carter-fronted Gallows, then signed to tiny UK indie label In At The Deep End, first graced the front cover, billed as “The World’s Most Exciting New Band”, no fewer than six major records labels got in touch offering deals. “We skyrocketed,” recalls Carter. “It was mad. I went on tour and came back 14 months later and Kerrang! was there for the whole thing.”

Interviewed by Ruskell, Machine Head’s Robb Flynn, Muse’s Matt Bellamy, Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda, Evanescence’s Amy Lee and Biffy Clyro’s Simon Neil are among a long list of musicians offering testimony to the magazine’s life-changing impact. 

“I remember my very first Kerrang! like it was yesterday,” says Simon Neil, sharing his memory of purchasing an issue with Ministry’s Al Jorgensen on the cover. “I think I was 11 years old, and I’ll never forget this intense feeling of, ‘What the fuck is that?’ Without Kerrang! being there on that newsagent shelf, I would never have opened the door and become a part of it. For people like me… it was my only connection to like-minded souls and the music that I was interested in.”

To Nick Ruskell’s credit, Kerrang! Living Loud doesn’t shy away from acknowledging ‘problematic’ aspects in the magazine’s history too. This, after all, was a publication that employed the phrase ‘Groping Nurses’ as a gig review rating level and showcased female artists on a page branded ‘Ladykillers’. It should also be noted, however, that Kerrang! was the first major music magazine in the Britain to appoint a female editor (Robyn Doreian), and the first to put Skunk Anansie’s Skin on the cover at a time when, as she tells Ruskell, “we were told over and over again, we can’t have black people on the cover because this magazine won’t sell.”

There are Kerrang! stories which fall outside Ruskell’s remit here. In Mick Wall’s book Paranoid, you’ll learn that the writer, famously namechecked in Guns N’ Roses’ Get In The Ring, cared so little for the “unbelievably atrocious” albums he was asked to review for the magazine that he used to flip a coin to decide whether his review should be positive or negative: “Heads - it’s great. Tails - it’s shite.” In Ian Winwood’s Bodies, you’ll read about an alleged abuse scandal. And this isn’t the book to read to learn about office affairs or arrests, about breakdowns and bullying, about the ‘Wankgate’ trial or the writers’ strike, in-house details destined to remain within the ‘family’. But for anyone wanting to know how the global rock landscape was shaped by the most iconic magazine of its type, Kerrang! Living Loud is an essential, indispensable read.

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.