Profile: Max Norman – A Heavy Metal Legend
Written by Matt Drummond
Do you remember the “we’re not worthy” scene from the movie Wayne’s World? Well, for those of you that do, this is the real life version of that. An avant-garde in the music scene for an extremely long time, innovative record producer Max Norman was at the helm for the rise of the music we all love.
A visionary from the beginning, Max has a mind-blowing resume consisting of some of the most preeminent albums ever recorded. A short list of his momentous contributions is as follows; Ozzy Osbourne albums ‘Blizzard of Ozz,’ ‘Diary of a Madman,’ ‘Speak of the Devil,’ ‘Bark at the Moon,’ and ‘Tribute’; Megadeth’s ‘Countdown to Extinction,’ ‘Youthanasia,’ and ‘Hidden Treasures.’ In addition to those, Max has also produced albums for bands like Malice and Death Angel. Although this only scrapes the surface of his inconceivable donations to heavy music, it helps paint a picture for those of you unfamiliar with his work.
I sat down with the man himself to inquire about what drove him into the field of music, and the history he shared with me was incredible. The critical role that Max Norman played in constructing the genre of heavy metal is something we are all indebted to him, and showing him his due appreciation is what’s on the docket.
The only proper place to begin learning how Norman became such an acclaimed figure in rock and heavy metal history was to simply ask when the music bug first bit him.
“Probably when I was about 11, after playing the guitar for about 3-4 years and realizing it was a quite difficult thing to keep going. I was very influenced by the early rock scene; John Mayall, Eric Clapton. I was right in that kind of rock and roll zone. I started to just gravitate towards music, blues, rock and roll, Led Zepplin, Jimi Hendrix, Cream. Those were basically my influences growing up.”
Trying to narrow those influence down just a tad, I asked Norman which albums in particular stood out to him.
“Certainly one of the biggest albums at the time was John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers, with Eric Clapton, the first three records by Jimi Hendrix, the original Fleetwood Mac. There was this DJ in England named John Peel who used to play all this underground music, that was pretty influential. He would introduce us to the stuff, Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd with ‘See Emily Cry.’ it was really right at the beginning of the whole British thing. Of course, The Beatles were there, The Rolling Stones were there. I listened to The Shadows, Hank Marvin, an instrumental guitar band, and that was a precursor to the whole blues scene. At that point, I guess a lot of musicians in England were learning how to play the blues; people like Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, and changing towards the kind of modern day blues guitar playing. I was right there, listening to this stuff. It was really the golden age of change.”
Hearing incredible stories pour out of Max, I couldn’t help but think that maybe because Max witnessed such a change in music at such a remarkably young age that possibly that experience groomed him to command another change in music – one of his own.
Everyone knows that Max Norman assisted in making numerous Ozzy Osbourne albums, but unfortunately some of his other historic albums are overshadowed by Ozzy. If you want to read about his work with Ozzy, read any other article that’s been written about Max, because the majority will talk greatly about it. I decided that shining light on a different, equally groundbreaking album was the road for me.
Max produced a trailblazer of an album for a California speed machine by the name of Death Angel, and with ‘Act III’ Death Angel and Norman really helped ensure a revolution in sound. Death Angel was my curiosity and Max seemed surprised, but very happy that I asked him about it.
“Oh, that’s great that you talk about Death Angel, because nobody ever asks me about that. It was interesting, I got asked by their manager to work on that, a Dutch guy, andI listened to them, and I tell ya, when I listened to it, I thought it was like impossible. It was just beyond anything anyone had ever done and it drew me in. I thought this is impossible music, ‘how are they doing this?’ Working on it was just a blast. These young guys just ripped this stuff out. I can’t say i made any major adjustments, but maybe tightening it up a bit. It turned out to be really quite a grand album, really a groundbreaking album of that time. The main thing I did was try to keep my seatbelt on. I was very impressed by them, very impressed by their musicianship. We did it up in San Francisco, in a week, or ten days, and it was great. I was very happy I did it, those guys were great. We all felt at the time that we were breaking some ground.”
Well, the way they felt at the time was 100% correct. Max isn’t the kind of record producer who “plays it safe.” He’s a man completely committed to creating great music, through an endless array of artistic expression. After a 15 year hibernation from the music scene to ensure he was present while his kids grew up, Max Norman is back at the controls. The noise you just heard, was mainstream music industry shuddering at that thought. If I learned anything from talking to Max, it’s that he enjoys taking the road less traveled. What’s important to him is to help create unbelievably original and authentic music that makes people scratch their heads in utter confusion.
Lastly, I asked Max if he, or any of the bands, were aware that what they were embarking on with the music they were creating at the time was a historical journey in sound.
“Not at all, you’re very much in a microcosm with that stuff. Basically, you just want to do the best you can at the time. At that time, there was far less pressure as far as financial pressure, so it was a lot easier to do stuff correctly, and it was a lot easier to be artistic. You have to remember, back then, heavy metal was dead. In 1980, Hendrix had been dead for six years and Deep Purple had been gone for 10 years, so the pressure was off us.”
Currently, Max Norman is working on an album with Ethan Brosh. Upon the completion of that record, nobody on this earth should be surprised if he helps revolutionize music again. The saga of Max Norman has not concluded, and anyone and everyone that loves music should be overwhelmed with excitement that he’s back.