The New Noise: An Oral History of Decibel Magazine (The Team)

By Steven Ward

How did you get pulled in to write for or edit Decibel?

Rod Smith: Albert called me in July of 2004 and said, "We're starting a new magazine, mostly metal and hardcore, and I want you to write for it." Or something like that. As usual, I was wasted (it was like, 11:00 a.m. already), and can't even be sure if it was really Albert, or maybe Alex pretending to be Albert, or somebody else altogether. As I'd been writing for Red Flag Media's in-store pubs since 2002, I was surprised. Whoever it was should have known better.

Anthony Bartkewicz: I was working a copy-editing job with a ton of downtime, and my post count at the Relapse Records message board started to skyrocket. Nick Green was doing an article on metal message boards and my name came up as someone he might want to interview. The interview didn't happen, but at the time I was writing reviews for Punk Planet and doing a little writing for a local music mag, and I asked Nick if I could contact Albert about possibly writing for Decibel. Albert went for it, and I worked freelance for a year or so before they asked me to join them full-time. After a Greyhound ride to Philadelphia, some meetings and lunch, and the embarrasing revelation that I throw a football like a girl, I was in.

Andrew Bonazelli: Albert was pretty severely overworked when I joined the staff (as Reviews Editor) approximately two years ago; it was only natural to start building a concrete editing hierarchy to take some of the pressure off of him. At the time, I was fairly unfulfilled and uninspired with my role as Music Calendar Editor for a Seattle-based alternative weekly; while I donít remotely have the metal-for-life pedigree as many of our contributors, my aesthetic tastes (music, film, lit) have always leaned towards the nihilistic and misanthropic, so this was a natural fit.

Brent Burton: I've never asked Albert how he found out about me. Joe Gross and I had been arms-length metal fans for years--since the mid '90s. We used to get together for lunch every week in downtown DC and eat sushi and talk about almost-metal bands, such as Man Is The Bastard. We loved Breadwinner and Confessor, but felt as if metal was something unknowable, that it was too underground to find more of what we liked.

I had a few friends who started a record store in Arlington and one of them ordered Dillinger Escape Plan's Calculating Infinity and Neurosis' Times of Grace when they came out. I saw them sitting around and played them both on a boombox in the back and that's when I realized that there was more out there than just the cookie monster stuff I would hear in the early '90s when I was doing college radio.

Around the same time I started writing for the Washington City Paper. No one was writing about anything vaguely metallic, so it was easy for me to get my foot in the door. I endeared myself to Relapse when I did a WCP arts feature on Pig Destroyer. This was before 38 Counts of Battery came out and I think it was the first long piece written about the band. I also wrote what I think was the first mainstream print review of Mastodon's Remission, which was circulated widely by Relapse. This got me on board at Revolver. And I suspect Albert knew about me through my Revolver writing.

I don't think I met Albert until he and Nick Green and I went to see Converge and Red Chord at the Nation. I can't remember when this was, but I think it was about a year and a half ago.

I knew Albert's name when it popped up in my e-mail box, because I had heard that he was writing Choosing Death. He got me a copy of the book, so I agreed to do some writing for him.

Nick Green and I have become good friends. I also got buzzed with Andrew Bonazelli when I went up to Philly for a weekend last winter.

Kory Grow: Between sending them a query e-mail asking to write for them and one of my best writer friends recommending me, Andrew contacted me asking me to write some reviews. My first was Nuclear Assaultís Third World Genocide. Albert later told me he knew he liked my writing when he read that review and saw I closed it with a Napalm Death reference. With time they offered me some up-front features, and then some even bigger ones. When I got my first cover story for them, Cannibal Corpse, I was on cloud nine.

Nick Green: In 1998, I was still reeling from being dumped by my first girlfriend and embarassing my parents by working at a minimum-wage job, and the highlight of my week was scouring the Help Wanted ads in the Chicago Reader to see if I could pull myself out of a horrible situation. I saw an ad that Alex Mulcahy had placed looking for writers and sent him some clips from my college paper. I had actually been freelancing as a theatre critic for the Reader in that interval, but hadn't written about music since college. So I started freelancing for Stereo-Type that fall and hung on through various editorial transitions. Albert Mudrian edited that publication for awhile--it was actually where he had written a history of Earache Records that eventually spawned his seminal book Choosing Death, which, in turn, more-or-less led to the creation of Decibel. So I knew him really well at that point, had read early chapters of Choosing Death before it was published, had been turned on to all kinds of records through him, and I just generally had a ton of respect for him. I don't remember how the conversation came up, but when Choosing Death was in its editing stages--maybe 2003 or so--he mentioned that he was tossing around the idea of starting an extreme music magazine. And then less than a year later, I was talking with him and he was like, "This is really happening, and I want to bring you and Rod Smith [who also wrote for the in-store publications] on board. What the fuck do you want to write about?" I think Albert remembered this piece I wrote on High on Fire for him when he was still editing the in-store publications and thought I'd be a good resource. Or maybe he just wanted someone who could meet deadlines. I'm not sure. But I interviewed Page Hamilton about his kinda lousy new Helmet album and did a handful of reviews for that first issue and I've just been really psyched to be a part of the magazine ever since.

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