The Top 500 Heavy Metal Albums of All Time review
Compiling a list of the best of anything artistic - be it art, music or literature, is an impossible and to some extent pointless venture, even if the result can be interesting and a starting point for a good discussion.
Art really is very subjective, it is a matter of personal taste where no hard measurements can be applied. And if this book was one mans personal list, it would be a curiosity at best - not really all that interesting.
But this book is slightly different, a bit more "scientific" in its approach, as it is based on extensive polling, where thousands (I can't find an exact number anywhere, but "thousands" is mentioned in a few places, as is "hundreds upon hundreds".) of metal fans have sent in their lists of top metal albums. The result of these many contributions has then been compiled into this 450-page book listing the top 500 metal albums of all time.
(Apparently, there also exists a 500 metal songs book, which is made following the same m.o. - I have not read that.)
With each entry, you will find a short review or comment by the author, as well as a quote or interview snippet from a band member talking about the album. Ending the book is a number of appendixes, presenting the list sorted in various ways and with useful statistics.
So how did the selection turn out? Well, not all that bad, even if it is very different from my personal list.
On the top part we find the usual suspects; Metallica, Iron Maiden, Megadeth, Black Sabbath etc.
Overall I find the selection ok, but very heavy on 80ies albums and on melodic metal (& thrash) - the more extreme bands are mostly found at the bottom part of the list.
On the top 15, we'll find 7 entries also found on the current (Nov09) MS top 15 - most notably in its absence is Opeth, which the general metal public apparently do not rate as highly as is the case on MS.
But enough on the selection - as I said earlier, lists are subjective and should not be taken for more than they are, entertainment and a source of debate.
(A warning though: This book is definitely not for metal purists - the definition applied is very loose indeed, resulting in the inclusion of various hard rock, grunge and nu-metal bands. Don't say I didn't warn you!)
Books of this type are suited for discovering albums - learning about classic albums that went under your radar - at least if the comments are any good that is. So are they?
Meh - not uniformly. There is no doubt that the author, Martin Popoff, knows & likes metal and hard rock and has a long history with the genre. But it seems to me that perhaps he also overly much like to make cleaver puns and stilted sentences and therefore tend to come across as a bit pretentious.
The comments are often informative - but to be honest, also sometimes a bit strange and pretentious, "…AC/DC painting in primary colors the blueprint for the specifics of rock 'n' roll" - frequently hard to understand ("Rocked awake with a shot of discipline and a diminishment of their death wish, Crüe realize that metal's arc is too high to poop a pooch").
This kind of review/comment is just hard to understand and not very helpful. Personally I would have wished for a less "artistic", more matter of fact writing style, but perhaps that is just me.
I do also miss an effort to put the albums into a commercial and/or historical context. (This album that has just been voted the Xth best ever - how did it actually do at the time of its release - and historically.)
So what's the verdict? Well, overall this is an entertaining book and a solid attempt to compile a "best of" list, but it is far from the definitive say on the subject and it surely has some problems, the writing style being the major one of these. Buy it if you are curious and/or love to read about metal - but you shouldn't loose any sleep if you never get to read this book.
Author: Martin Popoff
Publisher: ECW Press
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