Hell Bent for Leather

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The son of a middle-class English family, Seb Hunter fell in love with heavy metal music as a child and has not, some twenty years later, quite gotten over this passionate involvement. In this witty story of a childhood and early adulthood spent in and around the world of live rock and roll, Hunter provides readers not only with his personal history, but also with a sort of humorous primer of heavy metal history, terminology, and aesthetics.

The story begins in the early 1980’s when Hunter, at that point a ten-year-old boarding school student, is first exposed to the music of the metal group AC/DC. This musical awakening changes his life: he calls it “the only real eureka, blinding-light moment I’ve ever had.” From that point on, his life becomes a ceaseless quest to transform himself into a heavy metal musician. Hunter tells the reader of acquiring his first guitar and his first amplifier; of teaching himself to sing and play; and most of his entire largely unsuccessful—but very funny—career as a “rock star.”

Some of the book’s wittiest and most successful parts are devoted to Hunter’s instructing the reader in the lore of heavy metal. Early on, readers are told the distinctions among different schools of heavy metal, from “thrash metal” to “death metal,” and a few pages on are given a tongue-in-cheek listing of reasons why guitar solos are essential to the genre. Various famous and less-famous metal bands are profiled, and all different types of guitars are described.

The book is far more than an autobiographical narrative. At its best, Hell Bent for Leather tells the story of a musical era that came after disco and, according to Hunter, was “killed” by Kurt Cobain and grunge rock.