As a huge fan of heavy metal music I’m a sucker for a ‘metal tale’. I’ve read more than my fair share of the things, but often come away from the page, eyes suitably rolled at a whole book based around a simple premise along the shaky lines of, “what story? Didn’t you see I just wrote ‘Satan’ and ‘horns’ in the same sentence? In a book!” and my faith in my metal-loving friends with an ability to use a typewriter wilts in despair. So it was with understandable caution that I approached my next book, Eviscerated Panda – A Metal Tale.
All anxieties were swiftly blown away by an imaginary Marshall stack: Hell’s Bells is this good!
Eviscerated Panda is a thrash metal band trying hard to make a name for themselves around the Midlands and south of England. Based in the town of Reading, the five band members hang out at their local metal pub planning their next move which will take The Pandas to the world stage. Playing gigs, drinking beer, and (nearly) having threesomes, the band and their friends/significant others experience the unparalleled joys of being in your first band: the first gig in London and the first album.
Sarah Tipper’s debut novel is a constant joy to read and moves along at an excellent pace. The characters and relationships are well defined and each of their back-stories and complicated love lives excellently handled. It’s a pretty cosy community, one that feels very familiar because if you’ve spent any time around local musicians you will recognize someone in one of the characters. Like the older, thinning-haired member of the band who has ‘been there’ and is still a little bitter about not having ‘done that’ in his career.
What I love about Eviscerated Panda… is the metal is what brings them together (and sometimes keeps them apart). Tipper never takes the story into any parody territory and still manages to make it very funny at times; she has really put some thought into how metal can benefit the story, like relationships are contemplated and can hinge on whether the other person prefers Ronnie James Dio or Ozzy Osbourne as Black Sabbath’s lead singer (yes, it is important).
Eviscerated Panda is heavy on the heavy metal references and while it’s true this could alienate some readers, for those who know what Paradise Lost sound like it and who Dave Mustaine is, it adds so much life to every chapter.
So yes, I will read just about anything with the words ‘heavy’ and or ‘metal’ in the title. This sometimes creates confusion in my little brain, but I haven’t read another metal tale with so much depth in story and character as Eviscerated Panda. This is a surprisingly assured, confident and funny debut novel from a new British novelist.