The myth of musicians selling their souls to the devil in exchange for success goes back to 18th century violinist Niccolò Paganini, a rock star in his own time. But of all the musical genres, this Faustian pact has become most associated with heavy metal, the modern-day “devil music.” It’s one thing to choose to sell your soul to gain fame and fortune, but what if someone bargained your soul away for their own benefit without your knowledge, leaving you broke and in despair? That’s what happens to rising star Kris Pulaski in Grady Hendrix‘s We Sold Our Souls.
In the 1990s, guitarist Kris Pulaski and her band Durt Wurk were seemingly on the verge of a major breakthrough. They had released several well-received albums and had toured the world, where they opened for the likes of Slayer and repeatedly won over live audiences. But then one night, Durt Wurk’s lead singer, Terry Hunt, deceived and betrayed his bandmates, tricking them into signing a contract that led to his – and only his – eventual stardom and their downfall.
For the following 20 years, Kris has lived in obscurity, currently working as a hotel clerk. She still can’t recall the exact events of “contract night,” but ever since then, her life has been one of misery and misfortune. At 47 years old, she has no real career, no place to live, no money, no friends or real family, and she hasn’t touched her beloved guitar in years. She laments the loss of her old life as a blistering lead guitarist and prolific songwriter, but she trudges along nonetheless. That is, until she spots a highway billboard advertising the farewell tour of Koffin, Terry’s massively successful solo project, propelling her on a cross-country road trip for a final showdown with her former bandmate and the forces of evil.
We Sold Our Souls is heavily peppered with all kinds of hard rock, punk, and heavy metal lyrics and references, as we learn about the rise and fall of Durt Wurk, and Kris’s subsequent quest to reunite with her former bandmates to not only fight against Terry, but to finally uncover what really happened to them that fateful night all those years ago.
Now that you know a bit about this heavy metal supernatural horror tale, I should tell you that I, 100% percent, am the target audience for this book and that I totally loved We Sold Our Souls. I was a teen in the ’80s, I’m a life-long metalhead, musician, and horror fan, and I own three copies — one on VHS — of the 1986 cheesy horror film Trick or Treat. So, yeah, this was basically written for me.
Since signing on with Quirk Books, Hendrix has had one great horror offering after the other, starting with novels Horrorstor (2014) and My Best Friend’s Exorcism (2016), before moving into reference book territory with last year’s Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of ’70s and ’80s Horror Fiction, all of which I enjoyed the hell out of. And then earlier this year, the Quirk Books catalog came and listed was the author’s newest novel. There was no cover art yet, but just by the title alone I KNEW in my gut that it was going to be a heavy metal horror. A HEAVY METAL HORROR STORY!!!!!!!!
That’s because the book’s title is a nod to the popular 1979 Black Sabbath compilation album We Sold Our Soul for Rock ‘n’ Roll. Once the final book cover art was revealed months later, I saw that it also borrowed from the album’s black and red color scheme.
Therefore, it’s no surprise that the legendary godfathers of heavy metal get a shout-out right in the novel’s opening line, as the then-13-year-old Kris struggles to learn their signature tune “Iron Man” on guitar. Which, by the way, was just like me! and sure, countless other kids back then, but definitely me at that age and time. I was like, did Hendrix read my teenage diaries? I especially felt that way when Kris and her bandmates quoted the lyrics of an obscure Runaways song throughout the story.
Another aspect of the novel I really loved was the significance of Durt Wurk’s unreleased progressive metal concept album, which was conceived by Kris. We learn so much about it, that I really want to hear it! Also, each chapter title, styled with a ransom note font, is the name of an actual metal album, with each new chapter preceded by a gray page with a different radio show transcript that provides current events as Kris makes her journey.
So, metalheads, this one is for you. With Halloween coming up, this makes a great All Hallows’ Read selection. And then at Christmas time, grab copies to gift to all your like-minded friends.
But what about the horror fans? This one’s for you, too. This is a more psychological thriller. Aside from the nefarious pact, there’s a force manipulating people, but you don’t know who to trust until it’s too late. There’s also a sequence in the eerie “Well in the Woods” that is incredibly chilling and highly memorable. I was shouting, “No, no, go back!” the entire time. My heart is pounding now just thinking about it. Granted, the epic ending gets a bit convoluted at times as the supernatural aspects get their full reveal. But on a whole, We Sold Our Souls is riveting. Once you start this book, you will not put it down.
A note on the cover and design: I already mentioned the book title and cover color scheme’s ode to Black Sabbath, but it also contains all the usual heavy metal trappings – upside down crosses, pentagrams, spikes, flames, and a guitarist throwing up the metal “devil” horns. Beneath the jacket is a black hardcover with silver backwards writing; view in a mirror to get the hidden message from the aforementioned concept album (another heavy metal trope). The page edges are black all around (genius), with red endpapers. This is my favorite book design of the year, hands [metal horns] down.