“Strums a guitar on flames”
Let me take you down on a metal memory lane trip back to the 90’s when MTV had actual music with actual musicians and heavy metal was no mainstream…no, forget it. That’s kind cliché, isn’t it?
But still let’s toss some hair around and aggressively stroll back to the 90’s to meet the rising heavy metal band called, wait for it
Dürt Würk is born and formed out of boredom, anxiety, bloodied fingertips, and childhood trauma I suppose. Kris Pulaski, the only female part in the band learns her notes and Black Sabbath intros in the basement of her home and soon enough other outcasts flock to form what is essentially every band’s biopic journey – it’s epic in a blood spitting way, ends each night with shouts and sucker punches; plays at the utmost dumps and run-down bars etcetera; creates massive mosh pits that end up consuming stage, band and instruments; rolls on by high and mighty, young and hella metal. It is an epic journey, no question. It leaves marks both physical and mental. When you read about it while Kris reminisces you kind of want to be there a part of the sweaty extreme, bombarding a wild crowd with everything you’ve got, pouring soul and heart out. It’s sad and poetic in strange ways.
So get this, the band writes their own music which is pretty neat for a heavy metal band in the 90’s and early 2000’s with deeply rooted influence in various heavy metal bands – along the way and as the primary characters are introduced Hendrix gives us a tiny showcase of the various subgenres of metal most not-into-metal people might not be super familiar with like Slayer, Tool, Motley Crüe; we meet a drummer who’s heavily into Viking metal! (think Amon Amarth), and then we have what the books refers to as mainstream, basically nu-metal bands such as Korn and Slipknot.
But Dürt Würk aims for something more than that; they sit down, more like Kris sits down and writes and after time she creates this massive album called “Troglodyte” which is not only probably the best heavy metal album that never was (will get to that in a minute), but it’s a mythology on its own that tells the story of a main hero – Troglodyte, breaking out of his chains down below Black Iron Mountain and escaping the Blind King. Each track on the record develops the story – it has a beginning, a middle and an end. It’s a full cycle.
Now, I 100% fell in love with that first part of We Sold Our Souls, because I grew up in the 90’s and was exposed to this type of fantasy, dragon-slaying nuanced heavy metal – think Manowar for one. So thinking the novel would explore that mythology and that it somehow might be real was an exciting notion that naturally I wanted to pursue. So, I read onwards.
Jump to present time and 20 years later, Kris Pulaski, the girl who once wore a leather jacket with bones painted on it and had a firm grip on her guitar, is now a miserable 40-something working a poor job, at a downgraded neighborhood and making poor life choices. She is reminiscing the good ol’ Dürt Würk days when she meant something as a being, when she was a rising star, make no questions about that – she was THE guitarist of the band everyone was talking about; back then she was fearless and could take on the whole world. We come to learn, however that her former band-mate and best friend, vocalist Terry Hunt is essentially an evil bastard on two legs. Years back, Terry quits, scratch that, essentially sells the band and everything it stood for and instead creates his own mega successful mega popular and pretty mainstream brand called Koffin, where he is The Blind King. Get it? The myth lives on.
We also learn something terrible has happened on the so called contract night when Dürt Würk were supposed to sign the deal of their lives and become the band that they’d always dreamed off. Instead Terry did something…but what? Here the notion that we sell-out constantly as people to the corporate, thus selling our souls, becomes apparent and remains a running theme making the title of the book dual checking both horror and the horror of reality. That is a clever part on Hendrix, because even when the novel is fiction and has all these supernatural elements going on, it still feels grounded enough and close to real life, not only for musicians and not only for the rock stage, but for artists in general and then a second time for people in general, for consumers. But I don’t want to get all political here, I dig the way Hendrix spins the narrative that way but honestly I’m here for the fiction aspect of it, for the horror stuff.
40 something year old Kris is somewhat content with what she has until Koffin announce one last farewell tour and Kris decides its time to face her past, face Terry and learn the truth that ruined her life.
So she goes on a little journey to reunite with her bandmates and ask for their help only to discover there is a major, and I mean major conspiracy going on – Black Iron Mountain is watching and it’s not happy with Kris trying to expose the darkness. So begins We Sold Our Soul’s second spiraling into a bloody frenzy journey from the suburbs of Pennsylvania out on the road, out to Las Vegas and the worst, biggest and craziest music festival in the history of both fiction and reality.
The novel has a tune to it, I’ll give it that. It plays a constant rhythmic solo that allows crazy riffs here and there when the tension amps up to a claustrophobic scale. But as a whole We Sold Our Souls isn’t a typical horror story, I don’t think it aims to be that – it sure has a lot of “wtf” moments that are on the creepy, uncomfortable to read/experience scale. Some scenes can easily be nightmare worthy, so maybe don’t read it late at night, while in bed, just before sleepy time. A note of advice.
It has satanic undertones but their actuality is more hinted at than anything else, at least in my view. Cult vibes, oh yeah it has those going for it, not only via Koffin’s mega fan base, but with the general population. No spoilers here.
The main character, Kris Pulaski is really up against everyone all the time and the narrative escalates to a paranoid, conspiracy-crazy second part that accents on this brain-washing mythology her former band has created and which ultimately is a key to fighting evil. How it comes to be or why is not explained but in the general aspect of things it doesn’t need to be. It just exists and that’s the horror of it in a way.
The novel powers through tossing Kris in various uncomfortable, messed up scenarios that seem to be very final for her, but she manages to somehow escape, find alternatives that semi-work in her favor. That doesn’t mean she leaves unscathed. Oh dear, no.
She’s out of luck for 99% of this story but it’s the end that counts, right?
There were some issues at the second part of the novel, some typo’s, some narrative and plot misses that earned a re-read of the section, so that’s a bit of a bump in the flow.
However, it’s a story you can enjoy and follow through. It has many cool metal references, pseudo interviews and radio interruptions that add up to the conspiracy, brain-washing part.
What I most enjoyed was the mythology of the album “Troglodyte” and how it’s existence was worked into the solution to the reign of the Blind King. I kind of wish there were recordings even one or two from actual musicians to represent what Dürt Würk sounds like, because their lyrics are imbued into the storyline heavily and they mean a lot. But then again having the lyrics there on the page and having the notion of what the band was and was meant to be allows for a certain rhythm to play in your head as you read. You can make it as heavy as you like.
All in all, We Sold Our Souls is a gory, crazed, fast-paced novel that takes you free of charge to a festival you kind of want to go to but are too afraid to visit, because of obvious reasons such as death; it features a good-hearted but troubled musician who only wanted to contribute, to not waste her life and for her songs to be heard and for her to be remembered in the heavy metal hall of fame as the guitarist of Dürt Würk; a bunch of quirky musicians who worship music and live and breathe thanks to it; a satanic, weirdly supernatural myth that comes to be of existence and some heavy ass metal.
“A girl with a guitar never has to apologize for anything.”
Damn straight, Kris!
My recommendation – check it out. It whiffs of early 90’s, it’s scary enough to keep you on edge and it’s a very interestingly written and presented by Grady Hendrix biography of a band that went straight up and came crushing down because of real life events aside from the messed-up supernatural ones.