The world of heavy metal music is broader than almost anyone who hasn’t spent time in it is likely to guess, so if you’re contemplating this book as a gift for a metalhead in your life and/or yourself it’s helpful to know the focus and bias. For Abrams and Jenkins the core of metal is first and foremost Black Sabbath, and secondarily the “big four” American thrash* bands: Anthrax/Megadeth/Metallica/Slayer (although they think Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine is a prick). They’re explicitly not into any of the genre-boundary-pushing stuff going on right now (Agalloch, Kylera, and Nachtmystium make it onto the short list of “Best Bands to Form Since the Turn of the (New) Millennium”; that’s about as kvlt as it gets). Hair metal, grunge metal and nu metal are not “metal,” but some industrial metal is. The editors consistently rate Voivod and Nuclear Assault higher than I would expect, but that’s jake with me, coz I do too. They’re kind of dismissive of black metal, death metal, and NWOBHM overall (despite love for a handful of standout artists like Venom and Iron Maiden). And they’re way, way, US- and GB-centric (despite love for handful of standout artists like Sepultura). Although the authors highly rate music by bands with racist, sexist, and homophobic on-record content and/or off-record comments, they also pay some lip service to women, people of color, and non-straight people — well, Rob Halford, at least — in metal.
The book has guest content from a handful of interesting folks, with Slayer’s Kerry King and Metal Blade’s Brian Slagel probably the most prominent, and I found it amusing, but it also seemed both a little lazy and a little safe. I was hoping to learn about more obscure artists to check out, and only one list really delivered: Slagel’s “10 NWOBHM bands you don’t know” (Eddie Trunk’s “Top 5 bands you probably never heard of that I think should have been huge” tried, but covered familiar ground). A lot of the lists are wishy-washy: “25 of the greatest” vs. “The 25 greatest,” so the book doesn’t spoil for fights as often as I think it should. The “10 illegible black metal logos” list was fun, but it was disappointing that only 22 of the “200 embarrassingly bad album covers” were pictured (although it’s funny and apt that the list includes 12 volumes of Slagel’s groundbreaking “Metal Massacre” comps).
In the era of rdio, Spotify et al, I also thought it was a bit disappointing that there were no links to listen to some of the featured music. I took it upon myself to make three of the lists (as best I could with the available tracks): Our Favorite Songs by the Best Metal Bands (on rdio/on spotify), The Best Metal Albums Ever (on rdio/on spotify, and Great Crossover Albums (on rdio/on spotify).
* at least at the start of their careers. Let’s not start fighting this early in the review, ok?