A Review

Released in December of 1992 NIRVANA's compilation album Incesticide was just a hastily cobbled together collection of B-sides, outtakes and offcuts, intended as little more than a Christmas-time stocking filler to cash-in on the success of Nevermind prior to the release of the next "proper" album, right?

Well, that's wrong according to the author of Dark Slivers: Seeing NIRVANA in the Shards of Incesticide. On the 20th Anniversary of the release of Incesticide this book proffers a radically different view: Incesticide was in fact a coherent and carefully crafted album which, when examined in detail, represents "the final harbinger of the evolution of NIRVANA's sound". This central thesis of Dark Slivers is certainly an innovative take on Incesticide as an album, but is it convincing, does it make for an interesting read and does it add something new to our understanding of the band and its music? Or is it just a rather long conjecture by a hitherto unknown author who is over-analysing? Read on for our full review ...

The author is clear about his intentions: this isn't another biography of Cobain or the well-versed story of NIRVANA's rise-and-fall. That's a good start, because "the NIRVANA story" has been covered many times before with varying degrees of success and accuracy. Instead the author is seeking to focus on NIRVANA's music, charting its inception, evolution and final manifestation. To do this the author adopts the unusual approach of using the album Incesticide as a lens through which to examine NIRVANA's music. This works well as Incesticide is positioned nicely in the middle of NIRVANA's career, allowing the author to move backwards and forwards seamlessly along the NIRVANA timeline.

To achieve his aim the author focuses in on Incesticide's songs in order to examine the band's musical evolution. The songs are deconstructed from a number of angles, for example examining the lyrics, themes, musical style and contemporary context. This deconstruction includes meticulous references to NIRVANA's own comments about their songs, style and influences as given in contemporary interviews. It is also neatly cross-referenced with performances of the songs live, in the studio and on official releases to help back up the author's assertions. The book doesn't confine itself just to the songs on Incesticide either, as it also seeks to examine why certain songs weren't included, thus covering the whole of NIRVANA's output. It also covers the sequencing of the tracks and the album's artwork itself. All these threads are sown together to try to paint the picture that Incesticide was a carefully crafted release which charts the evolution of NIRVANA's music. In this regard the author ticks the boxes in terms of both a new angle on the NIRVANA story as no books to date have focussed quite so closely on NIRVANA's song and musical evolution. We also like how the book presents and uses data, for example from NIRVANA's live performances, in a number of interesting ways, such as maps, graphs, tables and diagrams, to walk the reader through the thesis.

From a research perspective the author should also be commended for the wide range of secondary sources, such as magazines, books, websites and interviews, upon which he draws. It is refreshing that these sources are meticulously noted in the footnotes, which are a great read in themselves. It also helps that the author has a well-rounded view of the alternative scene in general, often cross-referencing with NIRVANA's influences and contemporaries which helps him place NIRVANA's music into context. The author attempts to provide some new information through first-hand research. For example, through new interviews with Bruce Pavitt he seeks to debunk the myth that Incesticide was a joint Sub Pop/DGC effort and there are some interesting new contributions from folks such as Jack Endino and Miti Adhikari. The amount of genuinely new information in this book is, however, limited. That said, the only chapter which really suffers in this regard is Chapter 14, which is a rather dry examination of Cobain's last recordings. To be fair, it is difficult to unearth new facts at this stage in the game, especially for new authors. Finally it should also be noted that the number of factual inaccuracies is low given the length of the book.

But just how convincing is the book's argument? At the micro-level where the author is drawing mostly on fact it's very convincing: for example, his analysis of how NIRVANA's sound changed over time, how songs were simplified, the presence of recurring themes in the music and NIRVANA's influences all ring true. At the macro-level, where the author draws his assertions together to assert that Incesticide was a coherent and carefully-crafted whole, we weren't really convinced. Ultimately Incesticide acts as an anchor in NIRVANA's history, pointing backwards and forwards, but this owes more to its position in the timeline than any deliberate crafting per se. Without having put many of his assertions directly to the band ultimately we have conjecture, albeit well-reasoned and interesting conjecture! I felt that the author was perhaps prone instead to seeing significance where there was none, which he admits himself is a danger. For example, his assertion that cover artwork intentionally mirrored the "harsh" sound of Side B of the record, and the "soft" imagery of the back inlay dovetailed with the "softer" songs on Side A. To be fair, however, the author does make clear that these musings are his own and he regularly invites the reader to make his own mind up.

Finally a note about the author himself. This is the author's first book, written by a genuine fan, whose day job is in an unrelated field. We mention this as it has implications for the book's particular strengths and weaknesses. For example, the author's attention to detail is second to none and the range of sources used is outstanding, pulling in both contemporary sources and the best of the output of biographers and journalists post-1994; it's "nerdy" in this regard, but in a good way. On the flip side, the author's familiarity with his subject does mean that NIRVANA "newbies" without an encyclopaedic knowledge of NIRVANA may find it a little hard-going at times. But ultimately the book is well-written and its informal style is a strength overall.

The Verdict:

In sum Dark Slivers is certainly an innovative, well-written, and thought-provoking take on a subject which has not been tackled directly before. This is an achievement in itself, given the amount of ink spilled on NIRVANA books. Thankfully its remit is much wider than just the Incesticide album, instead using the album as a lens to examine the band's musical output and development. Whilst limited, the author does bring some new facts to the table, his referencing of existing sources, such as interviews, books and websites, is wide-ranging, up-to-date and engaging to the hardcore fan. The book does fuse fact with interpretation but doesn't read overall as just an "opinion piece", ultimately leaving the reader to make up their own mind and in the process provides a satisfying, thought-provoking and interesting read.

NOTE: the author maintains a regularly updated and interesting NIRVANA blog where you can also order a copy of Dark Slivers ( | all documents, unless otherwise noted, © 2002 | Contact webmaster