Reviewed: April 2018
Released: 1985, Signet
I was quite pleased to add this book to my growing collection of Metal literature and memorabilia. Released in 1985 by Signet Publications, this is one of the first books about Heavy Metal ever published. It is also one of the first, if not the first book on Metal I ever read. I remember getting it from my public library back at the time and devouring it. Information about Metal was very hard to find and I didn’t have a ton of money at age 15 to buy Hit Parader or Circus magazine, because I’d rather keep buying cassettes and actually listen to the music instead of reading about it. So this book was a bit of a godsend and I certainly have some nostalgia towards it. It is great to finally have a nice copy in my collection. I have come across it before but most copies were beat-up and in really bad condition, understandable for a title now, over 35 years old.
HEAVY METAL was written by Elianne Halsbersberg and intended for a younger audience, people like me! It is not a huge book by any means, only 65 pages long and formatted like a nicer magazine. It is loaded with photos colour and otherwise. Broken down into it’s core, HEAVY METAL consists of short biographies of 58 bands. It is broken down into four main sections; ‘The Beginning’ (13 bands), ‘The Originals’ (14 bands), ‘The Continuation’ (22 bands) and lastly ‘The Women’ (I’m not joking) consisting of profiles on Pat Benatar, Fanny, Heart, Girlschool, Suzie Quatro, Joan Jett, Lita Ford, The Runaways and Wendy O Williams. Yep, in 1985, you could pretty much count every major women in Metal on two hands.
At 58 bands this book actually covered a decent chunk of what was out there. There were hundreds of Metal bands in existence around the world by that time but really very few had ‘made it’ in terms of commercial awareness or attaining the goal of getting a record contract. The bands are by and large from England, Germany and the US but the author does acknowledge the growing global metal scene and gives honourable mention to another three dozen bands like Accept, Loudness, Queensrcyhe and Helix. Other than that any knowledgeable Metal fan could make a educated guess at what bands are featured here…Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath etc… the big guns.
The book also has lots of quotes and early insights in the early Metal scene. There is a pretty heavy emphasis on W.A.S.P. as well which I appreciate for a couple of reasons. One I feel they don’t get enough credit and two I like them a lot so I’m biased! In addition, the author apparently was friends with Blackie Lawless. From today’s perspective the book is kind of out of sequence when looking at the evolution of the genre. Artists like Gary Moore, Mahogany Rush, and Montrose are included in the section called ‘The Continuation’ when buy most modern standards those would be called ‘pre-Metal’ or ‘proto-Metal’ or some such term and probably should have been included in the first chapter called ‘The Beginning’, which covered the late 60’s early 70’s. Organizational quirks aside, the book is very well done for the time.
I find it extremely interesting to look back at these books with today’s hindsight. Metal as a genre was more nebulous, less defined, and dare I say it, inclusive? It wasn’t thought of in those terms of inclusivity back then but this book has bands like Cream, Grand Funk, Blue Cheer, Blue Oyster Cult, Aerosmith and Jimi Hendrix.
What I also like to point out, veering off the actual book review for a moment, is the revisionism that exists today in certain sectors. For example, the back cover of HEAVY METAL says…
“Ask 100 people to define heavy metal and you will probably get 100 different answers. But one thing they will all agree on-it’s LOUD! Stacks of Marshall amps, decibel levels beyond average human tolerance, screaming guitars and mammoth drums,-heavy metal is a sound, an attitude, for some even a lifestyle. From ALICE COOPER, KISS, JUDAS PRIEST, AC/DC, VAN HALEN, DEF LEPPARD, MOTELY CRUE and TWISTED SISTER to many, many more…”
It is curious to note even based on the above quotation, that Metal was still struggling to be defined back then. It is also interesting to take note that one of the world’s biggest Metal databases (you know who I’m referring to) in a stubborn streak of revisionism, refuses to include half of the bands listed above in their so-called ‘Metal’ database because in their minds they are not ‘Metal’, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
Judas Priest, Def Leppard, Motley Crue and Twisted Sister from the above list makes the cut to be included in the database, but Alice Cooper, AC/DC, Kiss and Van Halen do not. There is no logic or examination of evidence or history in that decision-making process, it is purely subjective. So to summarize my side-rant, from an academic perspective, it is curious to see how definitions have evolved as people rework how they define Metal to fit their own world-view, biases and own agendas. Eg. ‘My Dad/Uncle/older brother listened to that band so it is not ‘cool’, I don’t like it, so I’m not calling it Metal!’, despite what every publication, scholar and journalist might say to the contrary.
Ultimately, it this book, (which, again, is called HEAVY METAL) actually about Heavy Metal bands? To a young person who only listens to Converge and reads Decibel magazine, no, this book doesn’t even come close. Academically, it is a very accurate snap-shot of Heavy Metal when the genre was really just becoming a cranky teenager…only 14 years old. Fascinating to think about, nostalgic for me to re-read, and well worth owning if you are interested in reading a history of Heavy Metal that is untainted by modern social politics and agendas.
Format Reviewed: Paperback