Set against a nicely-drawn '80s backdrop of "moral majority" religious groups' outrage over "satanic" rock music and their attempts to censor it, The Scream offers up a huge cast of characters and relationships. Jake Hamer, a Vietnam vet, is now leader of a popular rock group; Jesse Malloy, girlfriend of Jake's guitarist, desperately trying to get an abortion; Pastor Furniss, the Falwell-esque religious leader out to bring down rock'n'roll; as well as band members and wives and exes and kids and groupies and bodyguards. And then there is the Scream, the mysterious titular band whose album The Critical Mass has kids coast-to-coast mad with rock-star obsession. But there's something more to them than just cocaine and limos and blown-out amps and a stage show that would put Live After Death-era Iron Maiden to shame, something dark and eternal, and a lead guitarist who quite admires the Marquis de Sade.
The Scream might be a bit overlong in its inter-connecting character arcs, the prose might be informal and sometimes painfully amateurish, but it has energy and drive and bloodshed to spare, and a positively Dantean climax. Not for nothing was this sub-sub-genre of '80s horror dubbed "splatterpunk." Its main characters are treated with some sympathy; its behind-the-scenes nuts-and-bolts have credibility; its Vietnam War flashbacks are effectively intense. In fact, parts of the novel made me think of a mashup between Oliver Stone's The Doors and Platoon, but with George Romero happily stepping in to direct scenes with the Screamers, the zombified, maniacal, and supernatural followers of the Scream:
The Screamer lay in a long skid mark of gore, twitching and flailing. His spinal column had been sheared away between the fourth and sixth vertebrae; his lower half dragged uselessly behind him, connected only by ruined tendrils of muscle and skin. The white fluted ends of his shattered spine jutted out into the cool night air... But the lunatic howl that spewed forth from his lips was somewhere between a laugh and a howl...
Over 20 years later, of course, all this is ripe for hipster humor; something like The Scream can be seen on Adult Swim now in the guise of Dethklok from "Metalocalypse" and their murderous and blood-drenched - yet hilarious - gorefest performances. But in the '80s, man, people were totally terrified by this heavy metal stuff, and I kind of miss that.
And I recommend looking for the first edition paperback because it comes with this totally bitchin' pull-out mini-poster (by Stan Watts) just like rock albums from days of yore. Done by an artist who actually read the book, too.