We Sold Our Souls by Grady Hendrix

September 27, 2018

In the 1990s, heavy metal band Dürt Würk was poised for breakout success — but then lead singer Terry Hunt embarked on a solo career and rocketed to stardom as Koffin, leaving his fellow bandmates to rot in rural Pennsylvania.

Two decades later, former guitarist Kris Pulaski works as the night manager of a Best Western – she’s tired, broke, and unhappy. Everything changes when she discovers a shocking secret from her heavy metal past: Turns out that Terry’s meteoric rise to success may have come at the price of Kris’s very soul.

This revelation prompts Kris to hit the road, reunite with the rest of her bandmates, and confront the man who ruined her life. It’s a journey that will take her from the Pennsylvania rust belt to a Satanic rehab center and finally to a Las Vegas music festival that’s darker than any Mordor Tolkien could imagine. A furious power ballad about never giving up, even in the face of overwhelming odds, We Sold Our Souls is an epic journey into the heart of a conspiracy-crazed, paranoid country that seems to have lost its very soul…where only a girl with a guitar can save us all.

I’m old enough to remember the media outrage regarding Judas Priest and alleged Satanic messages in their lyrics (if you played their album backwards). Laughable, I know, but it does suggest a cracking premise for a horror story. The idea that dark forces are using metal music to control the masses. Grady Hendrix’s latest novel, We Sold Our Souls, takes that idea and runs with it.

Kris Pulaski is a fascinating character. Having come tantalisingly close to rock stardom only to have it snatched from her grasp has left an indelible mark. She is broken and more than a little bitter. For years she has hidden away from the world, working a dead-end job, denying her history. Underneath it all though, somewhere deep down in the depths of her soul, there is still a tiny spark of rebellion. There is that lone voice in the dark that refuses to ever give in, refuses to quit. When she learns her ex-bandmate is on the road again she realises she needs to confront him. She needs to understand why it all went wrong, how the dream fell apart.

Terry Hunt is the flipside of the same coin. Where Kris has faded into obscurity after the break-up of Dürt Würk, Terry has become a living legend, The Blind King. Koffin is the biggest band on the planet and their enigmatic frontman is viewed as a true megastar. It’s only towards the end of the novel that you discover more about the real Terry, the handful of scenes he appears in do a perfect job of rounding out his character. The ultimate resolution of his thread in the story is particularly well handled.

I think a lot of the horror in We Sold Our Souls can be viewed as psychological in nature. Is Kris imagining it all? Her erratic actions could be viewed as those of someone teetering on the brink of insanity. There are moments where the narrative suggests that all the events could be nothing more than the twisted imaginings of a rock star wannabe. It could be that Kris is projecting her anger onto everyone she thinks wronged her in the past. Or is that what the dark powers want you to think? As Kris continues her road trip, the author ramps up the tension. Each step brings her closer to achieving her goal, but as it does the horror also escalates. There are a handful of moments that manage to be as gory as they are unexpected.  

I have come here to chew bubble gum and review books, and I’m all outta bubble gum! This is good news as there is a wonderful John Carpenter-esque quality to We Sold Our Souls. Like the cult classic They Live, the novel explores how faceless entities can use their endless reach to control and manipulate. Hendrix really plays into these topics, and the book reads like a laundry list of 21st century paranoia. Mass market consumerism and social media are the new religion. It makes perfect sense that the ultimate evil would view these as the ideal tools to enslave a generation. Looking at the news from time to time, I reckon this suggestion may actually have some merit. The only thing that can combat this seemingly unstoppable march is the spark of creativity and individualism. Kris is driven by the need to make music. It burns in her, right down to the marrow of her bones. Rock music is angry, it is uncontrollable, and it refuses to back down.

There is something unashamedly rebellious about We Sold Our Souls. I’m of an age where every comment made by our heroine, excuse the pun, struck a chord. If you’re looking for rock and roll horror then look no further.

I’ve gone proper old school with my music recommendation to accompany We Sold Our Souls. It strikes me that Master of Puppets by Metallica has the ideal tone. The tracks Battery, The Thing That Should Not Be or Welcome Home (Sanitarium) could all easily be viewed as Kris’ own personal anthems.

We Sold our Souls in published by Quirk Books and is available now.

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