Released: 2010, Dakota Stevens
There is a fairly new, interesting series of books about Metal but not much information seems to be available about them. Essentially these books are reprints of articles pulled from Wikipedia and edited by Dakota Stevens. I’m not sure who or what Dakota Stevens is (a person? an editorial firm?) but Stevens has over 400 titles like this covering all forms of pop culture, movies, TV, celebrities and music. For our interest, there are already about 40 books in the ‘Metal Series’, as I’m calling it. Initially, upon discovery of these titles, my feeling was, “Why would anyone want to pay good, cash-money for something they can read for free on-line?” However, the Librarian in me got the better of my wallet and I ordered five titles, the ones that I felt would have the most interest to the fine and cultured readers of http://www.Metal-Rules.com.
This month I will review all of them; A GUIDE TO HEAVY METAL MUSIC, A GUIDE TO TRADITIONAL METAL, A GUIDE TO POWER METAL, A GUIDE TO NEOCLASSICAL METAL and A GUIDE TO SYMPHONIC METAL. There are another 15 genre specific titles in the series, including Death, Thrash, Black, Doom, Glam, Folk, Viking and many more. There are also at least a dozen ‘band’ books as well, focusing on the biggest names in the biz; Black Sabbath, Scorpions, Helloween, Death, and Testament for example.
Mighty, mighty Manowar grace the cover of A GUIDE TO SYMPHONIC METAL MUSIC INCLUDING ORIGINS, EVOLUTION AND SUBGENRES. I don’t automatically think of Manowar as ‘Symphonic’ but in hindsight they have being doing the symphony thing since at least 1988, so I suppose having them on the cover is not so bad, even if it is a really weak live shot. Over 200 pages long this book nicely compliments the neo-classical book and helps keep the distinction between the two genres. There of course is overlap in the two subgenres in bands like Rhapsody but Symphonic bands like Therion and Nightwish are quite distinct from Neo-classical bands like Stratovarius and Dark Moor.
The book is divided into four main sections.
-Origins and Evolution
-Symphonic Metal Subgenres
-List of Symphonic Metal bands
After a five page overview/introduction, the next 38 pages or so are dedicated to the origins of the genre with good articles on classical music, Power Metal, Progressive Metal, Gothic Metal and so forth, each giving a description and pointing out key characteristics of each. When getting into the list of bands and discussions of further sub-genres it becomes quickly apparent that a huge percentage of these types of band employ a female singer. The bands discussed are all the big names Nightwish, Epica, Within Temptation, Edenbridge, After Forever, Sirenia and individual entries on Sharon Adel and Tarja Turunen. The books digs a bit deeper to and it was nice to see Haggard, Seraphim and Lacrimosa included. There is a brief article on the development of symphonic Black Metal and other bits and pieces. Anyone could pick up this book and have a god idea of what Symphonic Metal is all about.
Ultimately the book has a number of potentially fatal flaws. The editor, Dakota Stevens, has to take the word of the person who posted the article in Wikipedia as authoritative and (hopefully) free of bias. That’s the problem, anyone can post anything on Wikipedia but that does not necessarily make it correct. Without knowing it, Stevens may select a very poorly written and biased article and publish it, before the community of on-line observers has a chance to correct or edit the offending article. Some of the on-line articles are written in first person. For example, comments like, “I went to that festival and it was great.” really should have been edited out.
This leads to the second problem, unless Stevens (the person or company) has extensive and intimate knowledge of Heavy Metal, they will be unable to edit the article properly. Accordingly, there are tons of mistakes; little ones, but mistakes nonetheless that the editor did not correct. Reading an on-line article is very different than a book. A book may have a bibliography, references and so on but Wikipedia has hyperlinks that are listed and you can go to that page to read more. In these books the links are mentioned but not included! For example, under the band Black Sabbath the heading would read; ‘Former Members: see: List of Black Sabbath band members.’ On Wikipedia that is a link to another page listing the Black Sabbath band members, but in the book, the page of former members not included at all! The editor should have gone to each of those related links and pages and included the pertinent information. There are dozens of such examples of poor sourcing and incomplete entries.
Lastly, this book is almost immediately out of date. As soon as Dakota Stevens selects the article for physical publication, someone more knowledgeable, could conceivably re-write the entire article on a band or genre and post it on Wikipedia and therefore the book could be almost immediately redundant.
A GUIDE TO SYMPHONIC METAL is a neat idea, a neat project and I do like having the physical copy of the book. It sort of encapsulates the genre up until roughly 2010, sort of like a little 40th Anniversary of Metal series, a snap-shot in time of what popular perception of what Symphonic Metal was like until 2010.