by Niklas Göransson
Louise Brown is a British music journalist who once edited publications such as Terrorizer and Iron Fist. In a candid retrospective, we explore the ride which culminated with her unceremonious exodus from the metal media.
The following is an excerpt from the full article, which is twice as long and published in Bardo Methodology #4. The same issue also includes conversations with PROFANATICA, PRIMORDIAL, SOLSTICE, Götz Kühnemund, THERION, KATATONIA, BLACK FUNERAL, COUNTESS, Stockholm Slaughter, MARDUK, and TAAKE.
Editing these conversations, I’ll often investigate contentious claims made by interviewees. In the early summer of 2018, I consulted Louise Brown about Götz Kühnemund’s assessment of the British metal media. Her response was so eruptive that I had to dedicate a separate feature to it.
– I had this sudden gut-wrenching need to defend my country, like a rabid wolf mother, even though I know my pack is doomed. To me, yes, absolutely the English market is ‘fucked’, but it’s not as simple as Götz presumes. Let’s get one thing straight here: I’m out-for-the-count in terms of the British heavy metal music industry. I got burned one too many times and I walked, and that wasn’t easy. And I still glance backwards, sometimes wounded, sometimes bitterly, but not enough to be turned to salt like in the biblical parable of Lot’s wife. ‘Never look back’ they say – it’s not that simple when everything you spent a decade trying to build is burning all around you.
First things first, she says, not everything in the UK metal media is ‘sold’.
– It’s actually the complete opposite; that’s what we always presumed about the German market so this was interesting to hear. In my understanding, magazines like Legacy pretty much had a pay-to-play editorial policy so maybe we were just expecting the worst from the rest. You see, when magazines do that, even just one, it shifts this whole symbiotic relationship the music media and industry are meant to have. There was very little evidence for this in any of the British publications I worked for or knew – at least not blatantly. Oh no, the Brits are much more conniving and manipulative in performing their pathetic little power games.
Louise adds that while Götz’s claims of sold feature space aren’t entirely accurate, what’s true is how certain UK magazines are being run by some of the most boring, lazy, passionless egotists she’s ever had the misfortune of sharing breathing space with.
– If you’re a music fan, a true music-obsessive and you run a print magazine with space for ten big features and ten newer bands – you’ll rattle off that list in twenty seconds, right? If you’re simply running your magazine because your ego won’t allow you to move aside for some new, young blood… well, then you’re gonna allow yourself to be fed the labels’ bullshit. The music fans will make a list of bands they want to cover and go to the PR and say, ‘Arrange the interview for me.’ Bored old careerists will wait for labels to dangle the purse strings, then say, ‘Yeah, okay, I haven’t even got the imagination to argue.’ Look, the UK magazines don’t ‘sell’ anything, just their souls. Metal Hammer absolutely doesn’t sell feature space, Kerrang! doesn’t sell, Zero Tolerance certainly fucking doesn’t, and when I was there neither did Terrorizer or Iron Fist. I just wanna put that straight.
Louise feels as if she should perhaps explain the ‘reciprocal bullshit’ surrounding magazine production so people actually get it. The prime fact to bear in mind, she says, is how everything costs money.
– I’m constantly bemused by this idea that I’m meant to be some fucking martyr because I write about heavy metal. As if I don’t have bills to pay! And besides – just paying freelancers, photographers, locations or studios for the photos to be shot in… then you rent an office, manage business rates, buy paper, computers, pens, and printer ink. You’ll need a Dropbox account, and an internet connection to access it. The printer must be paid, as does the distributor and so, well, truth is, producing a magazine is really expensive and the cost the reader is prepared to pay these days is just not gonna cover it.
This, she explains, is why any editor with a sense of self-preservation sells advertising space.
– It doesn’t have to be a nasty business, this can in fact be a really exciting way of maintaining a relationship with labels who are willing to support you. It’s a great way to let readers know what’s coming out and in terms of keeping the cycle of the metal industry going, why not? What’s ugly is when you get, again, a lazy label working with a lazy editor or publisher – that’s when it becomes commerce. It turns into something as simple as ‘Do you want to cover band X?’, ‘Will you advertise?’, ‘Yes’, ‘Okay then.’ It actually makes me cringe. How it should be is: ‘I really love band X and want to feature them.’ ‘Okay, let’s set that up for you and while we’re here, how about arranging a cool advert at the same time’. Simple, right? But no, it doesn’t work quite like that. And perhaps that’s what Götz was getting at. I’m not going to hide the fact that I’ve actually had conversations go like this: ‘I love band X, can I do a feature on them?’ ‘Yeah, of course, I’ll arrange it.’ ‘Thanks, will you do an advert?’ ‘No, why would I if you’re already featuring them, it’s free publicity.’ ‘Oh, okay then, never mind, I love them so I’ll cover them anyway.’ ‘Good, now what about this other band I represent?’ ‘No thanks, I’m not into them.’ ‘Well fuck you then, I won’t advertise.’ Everything is so twisted. I had to leave, it was so vicious. Actually, here’s a not-so secret: towards the end of my time at Terrorizer, when I knew I had to go, there was a benchmark for advertising targets or pages would be pulled. So, you’d work really hard at creating an amazing one-hundred-page magazine – but since they failed to sell all the adverts, the publisher makes you re-edit the whole thing down to seventy pages. And guess which features got pulled?
That would presumably be the underground bands whose labels couldn’t afford advertising.
– The ones who were the absolute bedrock of everything Terrorizer was meant to represent. So I would stay until midnight, begging people for adverts. And that became the game our publisher would play on me because she knew I would fight to the death before my pages got cut, and I was burning out. It was traumatic. And some of them would play me too – like make me actually beg for a cut-price, low-cost page when I know they’re one of the wealthiest labels around. It made me sick that someone running a bedroom operation putting out underground death metal would be paying twice as much as some of these big record companies, just because they knew they could squeeze me dry. It was fucking toxic. I can’t even remember making the decision to leave but I’m still surprised and glad I did.
She predicts that the only ones who’re going to be able to cover all popular subgenres of metal in the future will be the leading magazine in each country – like Metal Hammer in the UK.
– They know what’s up; they give the headlines, they’re Starbucks and I’m not knocking them, I love Starbucks. Metal Hammer is a great magazine that’s currently edited by a young guy who’s totally passionate about what he’s doing and that shines through. But they’re still Starbucks. Metal Hammer are at the top of the foodchain and you can’t beat them so don’t bother trying. Don’t open another Starbucks opposite them – that’s what Terrorizer tried to do just before I left. It’s a fucking death trap. I’ve used this analogy before, but I wanted Iron Fist to be the bespoke barista, the specialists. Starbucks didn’t kill the connoisseur coffee emporium and vice versa, they just co-exist in harmony.
Louise says that when she was at Terrorizer, Metal Hammer would administer harsh chastisement if they ever got ‘too close to their shit’.
– They’d pull all sorts of stunts like demanding country-exclusive photos and interviews and because they were the big fish, we’d get crushed. They didn’t do that to Iron Fist because we knew our corner. Well, except once – when we put GHOST on the cover. But come on, Tobias is a pal of mine so that shit didn’t fly. They actually threatened to get my publisher sacked from the label he works for. Who has that power? You can’t destroy someone’s livelihood because some small magazine that proudly sells no more than two-thousand copies to a small section of heavy metal obsessives puts a band you felt you had some exclusive claim to on the cover. So, that’s the type of issue you’re dealing with if you go to war with the big guys in the UK.
She attempted to stay away and do her own thing quietly, with dignity and integrity. She also thought Iron Fist should know its core and stick to it.
– I wanted that for Terrorizer as well but they were too ambitious. I’m by no means saying I was the magazine’s saviour, no, I think you can map its downfall from the moment Jonathan Selzer left in September 2007. He’d been editor for seven years, a master of forging the path that stamped Terrorizer’s legacy and authority over every issue while walking a fine line between staying true to the magazine’s underground ethos and pleasing advertisers and record labels. He taught me everything I know. When he left, the baton was passed to Joe Stannard – whom I admire massively now. And as far as regrets go, I massively regret not having his back when he left because he was a maverick. He was crazy, but a maverick.
Stannard was looking to take Terrorizer more left-field by putting the likes of Diamanda Galás, BORIS and NACHTMYSTIUM on the cover, while throwing out more predictable names such as arch enemy and in flames.
– Not the sensible decision if you wanted to remain employed. I was deputy editor during this time and the publisher would appeal to my ego. Say Joe wanted to put someone like SKULLFLOWER on the cover, she’d turn to me and ask what I would’ve done and I’d be like, ‘Well, CARCASS just got back together so we could do a photoshoot where they look like resurrected zombies.’ Guess what made the grade? And that’s how I got to be editor, by stabbing my mate in the back and making Bill Steer wear some make-up. Not my proudest moment, and Bill’s never forgiven me.
What was the biggest mistake you made as an editor?
– That would be Terrorizer’s fated ENFORCER cover. Not the answer people expect – they’re not only one of my favourite modern heavy metal bands but also brothers for life. But it represents all the sick fucking mind-games Terrorizer played. I can’t remember who was meant to be on the cover, I think it was something like MEGADETH and Metal Hammer had a last-minute switch on their cover so ours was pulled. That’s the way the cookie crumbles, they’re a bigger magazine so fair play to the label for making the right decision for their band. But we were screwed. And as we’re having this big fancy dinner with Earache they suggest, as a joke, that we put ENFORCER on the cover. At the time they were a new band, maybe second or third album in. And I just laughed because seriously, I love them but no. But my publisher just runs with this and arranges it then and there with Earache putting up a lot of cash to make it happen. So, we’re in the office the next day and she’s like ‘Louise has an idea to save this issue!’ Now, imagine the scene; I’m working with four guys who are really serious about their music, to them it’s all NAPALM DEATH and CANNIBAL CORPSE and DEMILICH… and they already think I’m a class-A twat for loving bands like ENFORCER, PORTRAIT and BULLET. Any credence I had with them was out the window and I didn’t have the headspace to put a stop to it. I don’t think that cover did anyone involved any favours – it just cemented my publisher’s notion of how she could divide and conquer her staff until they all quit, one-by-one, and leave me broken.
Before this could happen, Louise left Terrorizer and focused on establishing her own publication: Iron Fist.
– I was living in London and living fast. A bit of dough from the Fist, a part-time job at an art gallery and a few DJ slots and freelance writing gigs afforded me just enough to make rent and eat. Drinks were free, drugs were free, shows were free; it was wild. But that lack of structure fucks with you and the people you surround yourself with fuck with you. It becomes an extremely toxic co-dependency.
Heavy metal had become everything Louise had to live for. Alas, it became tragically evident how there wasn’t much else outside of this box once her proverbial house of cards came tumbling down.
– I was made homeless, essentially. My landlord suddenly needed me out of the flat I’d lived in for years and I was left without options. No savings and no income, it was like the rug had been pulled from underneath me. Suddenly, playing DEATH SS records to twenty people in an East London basement bar or interviewing SODOM didn’t seem so important – perceptions change once you’re wondering where to live. Life caught up with me, hard. My parents are cool, probably too cool, and picked up the pieces for me but they understood neither Iron Fist nor my obsession with keeping it alive. They didn’t understand that while suffocating me, it also afforded me my lifestyle. I became extremely anxious that everything about me was owed to Terrorizer and Iron Fist. I felt extremely naked and vulnerable without that status and my ego was in charge of every decision I made through that whole period.
Over the course of the next year, Louise lived with her parents while trying to rebuild both herself and the magazine she’d helped birth.
– But of course, as soon as I was living outside of London my energy for that small, insipid heavy metal scene soon dampened and my relationship with the guy I’d started the magazine with was pretty much demolished. Almost a year to the day after moving home, I was handed a lifeline by Melissa Gray from ADORIOR. I’d been helping out on her music-dance-theatre project, shaRds, which is this magical, immersive, and massively ambitious beast she’s been slowly building over several years. Melissa really brought some creativity and confidence back to my world and, knowing a bit about this crisis of mine, offered me her house to stay in while she went to Sri Lanka for a month. I was left with instructions to meditate, do yoga, eat good food, go for walks in the woods, and work out my next steps; I really used that time to ask the universe what it wanted from me. It all happened extremely fast. I remember sitting at the table in Melissa’s front room, looking out at this amazing garden with her wise cat on my lap and having just finished an article about MAYHEM for a freelance client when I realised that the fire had gone out.
Louise updated her LinkedIn profile to reflect that she was currently on the prowl for a job – what she didn’t realise was that the networking platform would send an email to everyone in her contact list.
– It wasn’t long before the then-editor of Terrorizer called me to ask if I’d quit Iron Fist. I hadn’t made any decisions at that point but said to him, ‘Why, do you want the job?’ Within three days he rang me to say that all was agreed upon and my publisher had said he’d be in touch. Still waiting for that call by the way! But it was all so smooth, and sudden, and respectfully done – well, between me and the new editor, the same can’t be said for me and the publisher. And it made sense. Around the half-way point of my housesitting, I invited a new friend to come and stay. I’d met her through mutual acquaintances and we’d become good pals. She worked for an environmental charity, which I thought was pretty cool, and through talking it was revealed that there was an opening in her department and she could get me a temporary position if I fancied a career-change. Eighteen months later, I now work full-time for an organisation which lobbies the government to protect environmental regulation.
Did Iron Fist fail, according to your ambitions?
– Yes. No. Look, here’s the fact of it: when quitting Terrorizer I knew I was being left behind. I think Terrorizer was beyond my scope of ambition. They wanted to beat big standard-bearers like Metal Hammer and I just wanted it to be this niche little underground rag who knew its place in the world and featured good stories about good bands by good writers. I was part of a growing movement of people who loved traditional heavy metal, death metal, black metal, doom, whatever. So, I started Iron Fist.
The new publication covered essentially any band, as long as they had a respectful nod to the holy trinity of BLACK SABBATH, IRON MAIDEN, and MOTÖRHEAD.
– I would go to festivals like Live Evil and Muskelrock and DJ before these hordes of whippersnappers raising their fists aloft to MEDIEVAL STEEL and GOTHAM CITY and I wanted to make a magazine for them. But what I failed to realise was that these kids didn’t read magazines. They were the internet generation, who downloaded albums from Strappado and got bootleg BATHORY shirts off eBay and that’s how they found their way in life. I’m not knocking that approach either, fuck me, Strappado was king. So, I founded a publication with all the best of intentions but none of the audience. Then, ever so slowly, came the realisation that people had found us – but they weren’t the target group we’d expected. We started hearing from old school metalheads, those who remembered Sounds and had gone to Shades to buy records in the 80s and been to The Marquee for gigs, or Monsters of Rock Festival. They would write me and say that Iron Fist was what they’d always been waiting for. We changed our stance slightly upon realising that these guys didn’t want GHOST on the cover – they wanted DIO and SCORPIONS and VENOM. But the problem is that ambition burns up and when ambition becomes a chore, it’s time to die. When money runs out and you’re getting sick due to not taking care of yourself, and the industry starts sniping at you and tearing you down, then it stops being a dream and becomes a damn nightmare. That’s what happened.
Do you think Iron Fist under your helm might have survived financially if you’d given labels more influence over the content?
– No, because here’s another twist in the tale: Iron Fist is broke. And by the way, I only know that by rumour. I’ve had to completely break my ties with everyone at that magazine for my own sanity’s sake, but I know that they’re owed thousands by advertisers who booked adverts in good faith and, I think, had no intention of actually paying for it. These labels wonder why the magazine industry is dying, well fuck them; I hope their empire burns, this is on them. If you take out an advert, at least be fucking honest. I could go on about all these topics forever but I think it’s best if I just simmer in my own sorrow for the whole damn industry.
This is an excerpt from the full article, which is twice as long and published in Bardo Methodology #4. The same issue also includes conversations with PROFANATICA, PRIMORDIAL, SOLSTICE, Götz Kühnemund, THERION, KATATONIA, BLACK FUNERAL, COUNTESS, Stockholm Slaughter, MARDUK, and TAAKE.