When Jason Netherton pressed rewind on his career, the 41-year-old Media Studies PhD student helped preserve a near-forgotten part of music history.
For more than a decade, Netherton has been a member of Misery Index, a successful American death metal band. The vocalist and bassist started the band while completing a master’s degree at American University in Washington, D.C., and has since lived a two-pronged life of an academic and a musician.
“After I got my master’s, I did the band thing for about eight years or so. It kind of took off, but the band is more part-time now,” said Netherton, adding he’s not the only band member pursuing graduate studies.
For the uninitiated, Netherton describes his band’s sound as a combination of the ferocity and precision of death metal with the chaotic attack of genres like grindcore, hardcore and crust. The band’s lyrics are “somewhat politicized” with music characterized by screaming over singing and an abrasive sound heavy on guitars and drums.
The band’s debut five-song EP, Overthrow, received considerable praise in underground circles when it was released in the early 1990s. Since, the band has performed more than 1,200 shows, in more than 40 countries.
You could say he’s kept himself busy both off-stage and off-campus, though. Netherton recently published his first book, Extremity Retained: Notes From the Death Metal Underground. Nearly 500 pages, the book is a collection of oral history of underground metal music, media and culture.
“I started (the book) in 2010. I was doing so many tours and because I’m part of the scene in a way, I had this access to a lot of the other bands of the same genre,” said the Maryland native.
“We’d often be back stage at festivals and talking to each other, and sharing stories about the music scene and how it was in the old days. The old days for this genre are the mid 1980s early 1990s; that was kind of the classic time, when the genre was invented,” Netherton continued.
In the process of talking and sharing stories, he had an idea.
Seeing as there was no real oral history of death metal as a sub-genre to date, Netherton got out his digital recorder and captured interviews. He recorded more than 100 stories, which he transcribed over three years and organized them into sections to piece together a historical perspective of the scene, as well as musicians who helped shape and create the scene.
“Instead of inserting myself into it, and narrating my own book, I just handed it over to everyone else. No oral histories of this exist; the genre is only about 25 years old, and it’s starting to get acknowledged as here to stay,” Netherton noted.
“With other genres like punk, even jazz, they have oral histories, so it would be good to have one for this genre.”
Netherton’s PhD work, on the other hand, focuses on the political economy of music, looking at how art and music are funded and paid for, even outside dominant frameworks, contracts and record labels, to include crowdfunding.
Now that the book is complete, Misery Index is back on tour, having recently left for two weeks in Europe.
“We do really well in Europe. We’ve toured enough that people know who we are,” Netherton said.
His book is out now, and will be available at shows, and for sale through independent shops as well as Amazon, he said, adding he has had roughly 500 pre-orders already. The book is independently published by Handshake Inc. and captures the experience and ethos of the global extreme metal scene from its origins in the late 1980s, through the successive evolutions that made it a subcultural force.