Released: 2003, Collectors Guide Publishing
This is technically part three of a decade plus long, ambitious, six book project by Martin Popoff. Riff Kills Man started it back in 1993, which morphed into the Collectors Guide to Heavy Metal in 1997. Now the series has been expanded and reworked to include three books, the 70’s, the 80’s (to be released in 2004) and the 90’s (to be released in 2005) and culminating in one final reworked (again) boxset in 2006 or so.
Being a huge fan of Riff Kills Man and the original Collectors Guide there was no way I was going to miss out on this one! For those of you who are not familiar, Popoff is the most prolific author on the topic of heavy metal, this actually being his seventh book on the topic. The Collectors Guide series essentially are reviews of Martin’s own massive collection in an attempt to share his knowledge and enthusiasm for metal as well as rate the music accordingly. In short a massive collection of reviews.
The elements are essentially the same. Countless alphabetical and chronological reviews, lists in the back, appendices, the classic 1-10 rating system and so on. The cover graphic stayed the same as the original CG except for the colour, which is now green. I would have liked some different cover art but I understand the need for continuity in a project such as this. There is a very cool twelve track bonus CD of EXTREME rarities as well. The selection of bands is enormous with all the usual suspects, Kiss, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Led Zepplin, Blue Oyster Cult etc to a number of extremely obscure groups. Martin comments that including these rarities is a way to keep the memory of these recordings alive in some documented form.
There some improvements over the first CG version, namely a two-tier rating system. It was very interesting (but not surprising) that most of the heaviest albums all came in the last few years of the decade. The rating system incorporates a nice duality; namely an objective rank of overall heaviness (for the time) and the more subjective personal attachment.
Another improvement is the visual presentation. Number one being increased font-size for improved readability, and two, the inclusion of tons of album covers. It is remarkable how prevalent metal imagery (skulls, guns, snakes etc) was in the early days. The depicted covers of albums by Bloodrock, Mythra, Dust and Josephus look like any modern death metal cover in 1990 or later. My feeling is that this visual and lyrical extremism for the time helps lends enormous credence to the position that these bands (despite the skepticism of modern youth) WERE truly heavy metal. By including some of these pictures Martin visually illustrates (pun intended) that the illustrations and concepts were quite abrasive, shocking and rebellious for a time when Bubblegum pop bands like The Bee Gees and The Beatles reigned supreme.
On this very point, namely the foundations and definition of heavy metal, I really enjoyed the opening guest introduction by Rob Godwin and the forward by Popoff. Both are mandatory reading (BEFORE reading the reviews) to help give the reader the needed perspective to put the entire book into context as a legitimate academic exercise. The intro nicely wraps up a number of seemingly unrelated threads into a cohesive and comprehensive overview of the primal origins of the genre.
Godwin’s closing paragraph of the introduction reads, “And so the year 1970 has become symbolic of the birth of a new music. It’s hard to argue with Popoff’s assertion that this was the year that metal was born. Especially when you hear that first Sabbath album. There was really nothing like it before and whether you think of Led Zeppelin and MC5 as heavy metal or not, none of it would have happened without a bunch of deranged English hippies who liked Casablanca, an acoustic weapons expert, a bunch of off-shore modern day buccaneers and John Lennon’s bizarre need to separate the chickens from the pigs in his headphones!” If that doesn’t get you wondering and intrigued nothing will; and the funny part is, it all makes sense.
To a large degree I have only heard about one-quarter of these records. In fact of Martin’s list of the Top 100 heaviest albums of the 70’s I only own about 25! I think for this reason alone is why I did not give this book a perfect score. As craft, it is flawless. As art it is of the highest order. But for me there are too many records I have just never heard or owned to make a significant (or any) emotional impact on me. It is hard to give a book top grade when in reality it is like reading an encyclopedia of something I have little experience in. If I was born ten years earlier in 1960 perhaps I would be able to have formed an educated opinion and be able to articulate my feelings on these records, but as it stands, I just don’t know enough about bands like Tucky Buzzard , Atomic Rooster, Finch, Wild Turkey, Crow and Budgie (what is it with the damn birds?) to fully appreciate his advanced, academic commentary.
I must admit I factored very little into my own opinion of the music into this book review. More specifically that, while I agree with some points and disagree with others, Martin opinions were not really factored in to my assessment. After all, everyone is entitled to their own opinion about art and MY opinion of Popoff’s opinion is irrelevant and had little impact on my enjoyment of reading his funny and engaging prose.
Already established as the world’s foremost authority on the topic, Popoff’s new book is another lethal round in his already brimming bullet belt. Visit http://www.martinpopoff.com
for more details about, Martin, his career to date and upcoming projects.