For my column, I will be covering an underground metal publication each month. This way, I hope to provide you with an entry point into this oversaturated niche of metal subculture. Because even if there is a lot of crap to wade through, the occasional gem makes it all worth it. For this first edition of Read or Die, I will be taking a look at The Winding Sheet, a new fanzine by Andrew Cunningham of Malthusian. Its first issue was published last June and features 96 pages of just interviews with both local (Irish) and international artists.
Like the vast majority of the underground metal zines, this new publication focuses on interviews. However, The Winding Sheet takes this focus to the next level by including no other content apart from these interviews. Even the customary editorial that gives the reader an overview of the contents is absent. This minimalism was consciously chosen by Cunningham, who intended for the magazine to revolve entirely around the artists instead of the editor. Noble an idea though this may be, the addition of more diverse content would have benefitted the overall reading experience. Interspersing interviews with some more off-beat content can provide the reader with a breather before he delves into the next conversation. Moreover, great fanzines such as Quadrivium prove that establishing a consistent narrative expressed through different types of content serves a higher purpose than merely tickling the ego of the writing staff.
Ultimately, though, a zine falls or stands with the quality of the content proper. In this sense, The Winding Sheet is moderately successful, which is more tricky an achievement than it may seem for a publication centred around interviews. As the word implies, fanzines are written by enthusiasts. In interviews, zine editors must therefore be careful not to let the ‘fan-idol’ relationship seep into the conversation, as it makes for embarassing writing that has no other use than quenching the interviewer’s juvenile curiosity. The Winding Sheet avoids this trap by consistently maintaining a mature, knowledgeable tone throughout each of the conversations. The best parts of interviews are when they stop being simple question-answer sessions and instead turn into an exchange of thoughts and ideas. These moments do occur in The Winding Sheet, with Cunningham’s own reputation as a musician perhaps helping establish the equal footing necessary for this to happen.
Sadly, the musician’s perspective that runs throughout the pages of this publication also has a disadvantage. Too many questions focus on the background information of records, with each interview following a similar template used to extract this info from the designated artist: What does your bandname mean? How did you compose/write the album? What bands were you influenced by? How did the recording process go? These are questions that will generally only interest other musicians (as they can compare the bands’ experiences with their own) and die-hard fans. But for all other purposes, these interviews stick to scratching the surface and fail to provide any mind-blowing insights.
The Winding Sheet #1 is a modest debut that avoids the most glaring pitfalls while also failing to leave a strong impression. With its uniform content and orderly, minimalist design, this publication offers a reading experience that is mostly light-hearted, but occasionally too bare-bones. However, a second edition is in the works, and with some polishing and a clearer direction, this might turn into a very successful fanzine. Until then, you can file this under ‘good-but-not-great’.