Hallowread ’18, Part 6! Grady Hendrix’s We Sold Our Souls
Heavy Metal is the only kind of music in which it’s acceptable, if not expected, to write songs about dragons.
For this reason alone, you could say Heavy Metal is the nerdiest of music genres, but there’s more to it than that. The complexity and skill in a lot of heavy metal songs can appeal to certain parts of the geek-brain, and on top of that, there are dozens of sub-genres and sub-sub genres under the “Metal” banner that there’s always stuff for nerds to quibble over. Thrash Metal is different from Power Metal which is different from Death Metal which is different from Doom Metal and so on, ad infinitum.
Which brings us to the most Metal of books I’ve read this year, Grady Hendrix’s We Sold Our Souls. Hendrix knows his way around the horror genre better than anybody– last year’s Paperbacks From Hell is an essential read for fans of paperback horror. In We Sold Our Souls, Hendrix builds on the sub-sub-genre of 80’s era Satanism-Music-Scare Horror Fiction (it’s a thing) and really makes it his own.
Sidenote, while I will heartily encourage you to read We Sold Our Souls in any means you can get it, I really, really recommend you pick up a physical copy. The hardback is a wonderful piece of work– I mean, just look at the black-trimmed pages here. Appropriately metal.
And if that wasn’t enough, if you look inside the dust cover, you get backwards song lyrics! Even better!
We Sold Our Souls centers on Kris Pulaski, formerly the tough-as-nails lead guitarist for 90’s metal act Durt Wurk (I forget how to do umlauts in this word processor so just pretend they’re there). She’s currently a night manager at a Best Western, as her musical career collapsed once Durt Wurk’s lead singer (and Kris’ former best friend) sold out to create Nu-Metal super-act, Koffin. (You can tell Terry’s evil ’cause of the Nu-Metal thing). When Terry announces Koffin is going on one last tour, Kris digs her guitar out of the basement and sets on a cross-country trek to confront Terry and find out just what the hell happened all those years ago.
Of course, since this is a horror novel, things get much darker from there. The title of We Sold Our Souls comes out to be very, very literal, and soon Kris finds herself the victim of an enormous otherworldly conspiracy. On the surface, the ‘getting the band back together’ aspect of We Sold Our Souls kind of reminded me of that of Meddling Kids— but Hendrix soon takes a far grimmer and more unpredictable take with the book. The whole thing is a roller coaster ride, as every time it seems Kris is back on track, Hendrix yanks the rug out from the reader with a new plot twist or betrayal. It’s honestly a little exhausting, to the point where I only read a couple chapters at a time (at least until I got to the final act, which barreled downhill to an appropriately metal finale).
We Sold Our Souls is a horror novel, and it does feature unknowable demons and scenes of gory murder. These face rippings are fairly rare, however– which makes them hit all the harder when they do. The real horror of We Sold Our Souls is in its scathing portrait of modern society. Hendrix depicts banal, strip-mall, rust-belt despair unflinchingly, in a way that hits a lot harder than a story about a haunted guitar ever could.
It’s no coincidence that We Sold Our Souls has two female viewpoint characters– Kris, and a young (and broke) Koffin superfan named Melanie. Hendrix mines the simple, everyday horror of something so simple as a woman walking across a parking lot by herself. Bleak, harrowing stuff– though it serves to make Kris’ return to ax-wielding form even more triumphant.
Music runs through the soul of We Sold Our Souls. I mean, it is a heavy metal horror novel, after all. Hendrix highlights the appeal of metal to weirdos and outcasts– but he doesn’t just stop there. Hendrix touches on music as a whole, and takes special care to highlight metal’s origins in country & blues. There’s even a really great (and unexpected) scene featuring Kris & Melanie bonding over Dolly Parton.
You don’t have to know the difference between Dethklok and Sabaton to enjoy We Sold Our Souls (but at least being down with Black Sabbath probably helps). It’s a hard-hitting, hard-rocking, mosh-pit of a novel, definitely worth your time.