My first encounter with Danny Lilker was 27 years ago. Relatively new to thrash metal, I bought Nuclear Assault’s The Plague and that clanking bommm, buh-buh bommmmm of the bass and striking image of a gangling mass of black curly hair stirred me to investigate more. Though he blazed a different trail than mine over the next 25 years, it amazes me upon reading Dave Hofer’s in-depth biography from Handshake Inc. how many times those trails crossed. Death, blackened doom, electronic metal…all twisted and perfected by the constantly low-fi, yet always curious and inventive Lilker.
Hofer paints his subject with warmth, familiarity, and honesty. Having ‘roadied’ for Brutal Truth in 2007 he swiftly became friends with Lilker, and has spent the last six years interviewing and researching for these 160 pages. That warmth is translated into the style of the book, loosely peppered with scrapbook-style photo insertions and dialogue consisting almost entirely of interview transcripts from Danny and many of the people he has encountered down the years.
Lilker’s words veer from self-deprecating – ‘I’m a slavic mutt’, he asserts almost from the off when discussing his Polish / Ukrainian ancestry – to remarkably laid back: even when discussing the tragic downfall of his beloved elder sister Barbara, an influence on his musical direction and lost to drugs when Lilker was just eleven. It was Barbara who introduced him to his lifelong love of ‘pot’, a recurring theme throughout the book and a road seemingly travelling parallel to his love of and devotion to creating music. Brutal Truth vocalist Kevin Sharp sums up his first meeting with Lilker thus: ‘The first time I met him, he said it was “Nice to meet me”, then said, “I have some pot. Want to smoke it?”. That was about the extent of it.’ His memory, though, is undimmed, recalling all manner of musical detail such as how the drum sound on the first Brutal Truth album was achieved, and how his arm was a bloody mess through chafing against his bass during those sessions. Every band he’s had an involvement with, even for one live gig or a day in the production booth, gets a name-check: it’s a phenomenal quality that displays his love of what he does.
The near-unswerving reliance on pure interview material becomes a little dry as the book progresses, and the intermittent flood of ‘picture pages’, containing often unnecessary images such as every Brutal Truth record cover under the sun, do break up the occasional monotony. It does, however, allow Dan and the people who know him to paint a picture we’d kind of expect. His likeability despite a laconic bluntness; his breakneck levels of creativity; his need to play music; all fondly recalled by all contributors just as myriad anecdotes affirm his legendary status. The ‘metal comedian’ Steve Hughes calls Lilker ‘…the Yoda of the metal underground’, whilst Napalm Death’s Barney Greenway refers to him as ‘Just a music sponge’. Cadaver’s Anders Oddington recalls how he was assisted in a crowd surge at Roskilde by Lilker; and Immolation’s Ross Dolan talks with reverence about Dan’s navigational skills, referring to him as a ‘Road map’.
Whilst not the easiest read there’s an undeniable attraction in such a wealth of information, opinion, humour and love for one of metal’s most prolific, influential and hard-working characters. The history of extreme metal oozes from every page and, for that reason alone, it’s something that all underground rats will devour.