Released: 2000, Collectors Guide Publishing
Over the years, this book has remained one of my favorites. HEAVY METAL is one of his earliest books, his 4th I believe, and it is a part of the Collectors Guide Publishing Series called ‘20th Century Rock and Roll’. There are a number of other specialty titles in the series such as Pop, Punk, Glam, Prog and so forth and Popoff was conscripted to write the Metal edition.
This nice looking paperback is just under 200 pages long; with 66 black and white photos and eight full-colour plates. The early 80’s shot of Scorpions on stage, in full-flight with all four guitars blazing is just classic! The book is laid out into three main sections; the 70’s, the 80’s and the 90’s. In each section there is an analysis on bands from that era and collectively it creates a list of the 50 most influential Metal bands of all time. Each of the 50 bands gets a few pages of commentary as well as a select discography and a couple of quotes from the artists themselves, drawn from Popoff’s extensive interview archives.
I’m going to comment quite extensively on the nature of influence in this book and how it relates to my enjoyment of the book, so you may want to skip down to the last paragraph!
The word influential is important. In fact, it is the key reason why this book remains one of my favourites. Martin’s main thrust is about how influential these bands are. He speaks extensively about influence in his two page introduction. That is why this book is special and unique. There are many, many books that are simply lists; ‘The Greatest Metal This’ or ‘The Top 100 Best Metal That’ but ultimately all of those are quite subjective. By discussing influence as his main criteria for developing this list, Popoff has injected a large degree of objectivity into the book. That objectivity is important to establishing the books credibility and authenticity. This book isn’t just a list of ‘Martin’s Favourite Bands’.
There are several bands in this book that I do not enjoy, especially among the 16 bands listed in the 90’s section, like Korn, Nine Inch Nails, Alice In Chains and Nirvana. In fact I’ve owned this book for ten years and I don’t think I’ve ever fully read the Nirvana entry more than once because well, to be frank, I hated those losers. However, even I have to admit that they were (past tense) extremely influential and they spawned a sea of faceless imitators that plagued the rock scene for a chunk of the 90’s. The same goes for Pantera, or really depending on your perspective, any band in this book. You don’t have to like them to understand influence. You could be a young, modern metal kid but you’d be just ignorant to not acknowledge the influence of Kiss or Yngwie on the history and development of Metal. Martin has enough integrity to set aside his personal opinion and state, ‘Yes, they were influential’. You can refer to his introduction of the Marilyn Manson entry on p. 139 for evidence of this.
So personal preference and bias aside for now, this list is really well developed. It would be hard to suggest that most of these 50 were not among the most influential bands. However, having said that, with the advantage of a decades worth of hindsight, I’m not seeing a huge influence of the 90’s era grunge bands on new, young Metal bands. Why not? Well, based on what I believe to be a reasonable assumption, that if a band records a cover song of another act, there is some degree of influence from the original artist. The same principle applies to the industry of there is supply or demand for Tribute CD’s. I see and hear new, young bands doing cover songs from lots of bands, everyone from Black Sabbath to Helloween but you don’t see many new bands covering bands like Soundgarden or labels doing Metal Tributes to Nirvana. When I go to live Metal concerts and hear a band doing cover tunes, it’s not grunge stuff. Those bands don’t seem to have stood the test of time as being a long-lasting influence on Metal.
Popoff quite rightly realizes that influence is not a black and white issue and in a clever move to expand the list he includes no fewer than 7 (!) Appendices. These 7 lists, spread across 20 pages are the source of countless, late night (semi-drunken) debates about the nature of Metal. With titles like ‘25 Almosts’, ‘Who Influenced The Influencers’ and my favourite, ’15 Amazing Bands Too Unique To Make The List’ these lists are an endless wellspring of amusement, controversy and debate. You know it’s true! You may not have had this book in your hand at the time but you and you Metal crew have had your own legendary discussions.
More often than not, Popoff is very insightful in his observations in the Appendices. A favoured example of mine is from Appendix 2, ’15 Amazing Bands Too Unique To Make The List’, namely his comments on Manowar.
“Here’s another band nobody dared to follow. Manowar constructed their own recording techniques, arrangements and even their own metaller-than-thou language. Viking themes, biker themes, you name it, Manowar did it first and best.” (p. 175)
Truer words were never spoke. However, the above quote serves to demonstrate the temporal nature of lists, now over a decade old. In 2000 the above quote was quite accurate, there were virtually no bands influenced by Manowar. Here in 2011 the quote is no longer accurate. There are hundreds of bands world-wide that fall into the (quite conservative) ‘Metaller-Than-Thou’ category. From Majesty, Iron Fire to Wizard over to Sacred Steel, Nanowar and Van Canto, all of them are direct descendents of Manowar, all of them born of Black Wind, Fire and Steel, naturally.
Some of Martin’s point have stood the test of time, some haven’t but that is part of my personal enjoyment to go back and read his comments on for example, Biohazard, My Dying Bride or Therion and seeing how things are today. I would love to read an expended edition with all the Nightwishes, Rhapsodies and the countless Pagan/Folk/Viking/Pirate/Troll metallers all getting their due. Above and beyond just being a subjective list of bands, HEAVY METAL is a critical analysis of the most influential Metal bands and therefore deserves a place in your library.