Released: 2012, VMB Publishers
There are a small number of large-scale, glossy, photo intensive, coffee table books that provide a broad overview of the Metal genre. Chris Ingham (editor of Metal Hammer) did one in 2002 called THE BOOK OF METAL. Bukszpan did one in 2004 called THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF HEAVY METAL. Gary Sharpe-Young (editor of Rockdetector/Musicmight) did one in 2007 called METAL: THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE. Now Kory Grow (Editor of Revolver Magazine) has thrown his hat in the ring and produced HEAVY METAL: FROM HARD ROCK TO EXTREME METAL.
My initial enthusiasm was high as I really enjoy these kinds of books. However, my gut-instinct had me a bit worried because Grow is the Senior Editor of Revolver Magazine. He also writes for Spin, Decibel and Alternative Press three other warning flags. Revolver is a very glossy, commercial magazine based in the US that was founded in 2000 and it has a heavy emphasis on many mainstream acts. To be blunt and state my bias up front with full disclosure, I don’t like Revolver or Decibel at all, they are very out of touch with Metal underground and the global Metal scene and they emphasize trendy bands with commercial potential. They remind me of Hit Parader and Circus in the 80’s, profit driven and not especially dedicated to the cause of promoting and supporting Metal. That’s fine, Revolver serves it’s role and does it well, but my initial hesitation was that Grow book would be a glossy commercial for Revolver and Revolver type bands. I’m pleased to say that is, for the most part, not the case.
In terms of technical detail HEAVY METAL is a gorgeous book. The title is lacking a bit, there are already at least a dozen books called ‘Heavy Metal’ Something’ or ‘The Something of Heavy Metal’, but on the other hand, what else could you call it? This huge hard cover book is generous at over 270 pages long and has a really eye-catching visual theme through the entire book of blue flame and blue lightning on black. It’s printed on glossy paper and looks stunning. When you cut to the chase the book is essentially a write up on 54 bands, four essays and lots of photos. Grow pens an insightful and agreeable introduction and Kerry King writes a nice, down-to-earth Foreword from a fans perspective.
The bands are broken in to four categories with four corresponding essays; ‘Hard Rock’ (19 bands), ‘Heavy Metal’ (9 bands), ‘Thrash Metal’ (10 bands) and ‘Metal Mutations’ which includes Power Metal (4 bands), Death Metal (4 bands), Black Metal (3 bands) and Alternative Metal (whatever that means) with 5 bands. The categorization is predictable and in places weak. For example in ‘Thrash’ the usual suspects are present, The Big Four (you know who they are) and The Big Three of Germanic Thrash (which should be the Big Four with Tankard). However, it is odd to see Pantera, Celtic Frost and Venom classified as thrash as none of those bands play Thrash Metal. There are a few other weird classifications that makes me think that Grow is a bit out of touch or generally unaware of the genealogy and lineage of Metal genres and sub-genres. Black Sabbath is classified as Hard Rock which goes against the widely held acknowledgement that they were the first Heavy Metal band ever. Ozzy Osbourne, a far lighter and more commercial proposition than Black Sabbath, is classified as Heavy Metal. Motorhead, who vehemently deny being Heavy Metal are labeled as such. It’s strange in his essays on each broad sub-genre, Grow script demonstrates he has knowledge of Metal but then he includes bands like Ministry which are not even Metal at all and misclassifies them as ‘Alternative Metal’ instead of being an Industrial band. His categorization needs refinement.
There are a few spots when the book seems a bit rushed and could use a bit more technical editing. The page numbers at times do not match up to the table of contents. Dream Theater is in the book but listed as Metal (not Progressive) and they don’t appear in the Table Of Contents at all. Accordingly the index is a bit out of sync as well. There are a few minor mistakes here and there but the book is mostly error free.
There are a few major omissions. I don’t know if Grow had space restrictions, budget issues or pressure from the Italian based publisher but some of the longest-running, best-selling, most influential Metal bands of all time are absent. I would have dropped the non-Metal bands, Tool, Ministry, Korn and Marilyn Manson in favour of bands like W.A.S.P., Yngwie Malmsteen, Candlemass, Sepultura, among others. Conversely, on a personal fan level, I’m delighted to see bands like Savatage merit an entry when deep down I know they could have been omitted. Prog Metal gets represented with Queensrcyhe and Dream Theater but gets lumped into Metal. Doom is not represented at all, neither are the guitar gods. In fact, none of the newer sub-genres get entries and in reality the bands are all 70’s and 80’s bands. There is nothing wrong with that, those bands like Rainbow and Manowar have to be there but the book doesn’t feel very up-to-date and would have benefited from the inclusion of a few slightly more contemporary bands like Nightwish, Meshuggah and Opeth for example. The book also lacks international focus. Half the bands (about 27) are American, 14 from England, six from Germany and of course, predictably AC/DC flies the flag for Australia and Rush for Canada. Metal hotspots of Brazil, Japan, Italy, Spain and Greece get completely passed over.
I’m not a huge fan of Grow’s writing style. He is at times quite negative which is a shame because he had an opportunity to be a true champion of Metal, instead he stoops to name-calling in a misplaced effort to be humorous. He calls Manowar and Poison ‘corny’, Blind Guardian ‘dorks’ and ‘geeks’. It’s hard enough with the vast majority of non-Metal fans slinging undeserved insults at bands, it’s worse when one of our own does it. However, his prose is light, effective and engages people, so there is no problem there, it's just his style. He includes many fun bits and pieces of trivia, anecdotes and quotes to liven things up. However, Grow trots out the same old stories older Metal fans heard a million times before...Ozzy bit a bat, Stephen Tyler did lots of drugs, Alice Coopers fans killed a chicken, Mayhem burned a church etc. It's all very entertaining but nothing new.
Despite my complaints, HEAVY METAL is a really decent book and I'm likely being a bit too critical and over-analyzing what is in essence a bright, fun, fact-filled, Metal 101. I'd recommend this book for younger fans of Metal as a good education piece on the importance of the classic 70's and 80's pioneers of the genre. To compare with other Metal coffee-table books, HEAVY METAL is better than Ingham's book, on-par with Bukszpan's but not as good as Sharpe-Young's. Worth owning.