666 Days Of Metal (Book Review)
Released: 2017, Indie
Metalheads love our lists. We all make them, trade them, debate them with vigor and passion. Author Chip Mc Cabe is no exception and took his list to a different level. Initially commissioned to do a Top 100 list for an unnamed website he found his list clocking in at 300 albums in no time flat. He pitched the idea of a Top 666 to the site which was rejected and so McCabe reasoned he would do a list on his own. Starting on Halloween (naturally) of 2012 he wrote one review a day for 666 consecutive days, wrapping up the immense project in August of 2014. I’m not sure why the book took almost three additional years to get published but in May of 2017 it was released but better late than never!
666 DAYS OF METAL is an independent publication. It is bare bones, black and white, just a brief introduction and then, page by page, 666 album reviews counting down from 666 to #1. In his introduction McCabe states these are not necessarily the most popular or best selling Metal albums. His says these albums are essential, but his criteria of what is essential is not that well defined. There are some really obscure albums that by no means could be defined as essential, and there are a bunch of non-Metal albums included as well so it is more like a big list of albums he likes. It is actually clever of him not to have a grandiose, authoritative title for the book such as, ‘The Best 666 Metal Albums’ or The 666 Essential Metal albums’ or other similar glorified statements. He has a bonus section with the awesome title of ‘Examining The Body' adds some appendixes with various statistics, of albums sorted by year, country, decade, etc, as well as an index. He stops the list at 2012 but includes 100 more albums, 25 per year from 2012-2016. This is not a bad idea because the general consensus on these new releases has not been established if they have stood the test of time. I love this type of statistical analysis and he does it well.
McCabe has fairly narrow tastes in Metal. In his introduction he says he covers it all but in reality he doesn’t. By objectively assessing his picks, it is easy to tell he is an American fan who grew up in the 90’s listening to the mainstream stuff on Relapse and Roadrunner and his preference is more to extreme Metal styles. That is not a negative, that is just what he likes and what he enjoys. His picks are not really representative of the global metal scene and all its myriad genres. There is virtually no Power Metal. No Folk Metal, No Pirate Metal, No Viking Metal, and no Guitar gods like Yngwie for example. There is virtually no Progressive Metal or Speed Metal. There is none of the symphonic female fronted stuff like Nightwish or Epica and it is almost like he doesn’t enjoy female singers because I think only one or two albums of the 666 on his list has a clean female vocalist and maybe less than ten women vocalists in total. There is certainly no melodic Metal or older Metal bands like Ratt, Motley Crue or Quiet Riot and the whole list is very slanted towards North America (mostly America with a few Canadian bands thrown in) with albums from the 90’s. Over half the list of albums were from North America bands in the 90’s.
So what does he review? Lots of Death, Thrash, Grind, Industrial and Black Metal and a healthy smattering of Stoner and Doom which is good because sometimes some of these genres (like Grind) get under-represented in other lists you see in magazines and on the internet. He likes his hardcore and sub-sub-genres of crust and all that stuff as well. He loves bands that dance on the fringes of Metal, bands like Coalesce (4 albums reviewed), Opeth (6 albums reviewed), Neurosis (5 albums reviewed) and many, many one off reviews of the more experimental, avante-garde styles; bands such as Dillinger Escape Plan, Type O Negative, Wolves In The Throne Room, Ulver and so on. I’m trying to choose my words very carefully because I really like what McCabe has done and I do not want to seem condescending or negative but I can’t shake the slight feeling it is a trendy list. There were a few surprises but by and large, in terms of broad tastes, it matched Martin Popoff’s massive Top 500 Metal albums of all time poll/book from several years ago…maybe just a bit more grind and less Trad/Power Metal.
Recently Rolling Stone Magazine put out their Top 100 Metal albums of all time list and pretty much every album on Rolling Stones list is on McCabes list, so you can see he is line with what most Metal people think is cool. There were very few big surprises. I found my shaking nodding in agreement as he hit all the key albums that ‘should’ be on the list. When an author does these kind of lists, he or she can’t win. If the author does an unconventional/underground list the critics (like me) will say, “That’s not essential!” but (!) if she or she does a conventional list, the critics (like me) will say, “That list is uninspired, dull etc.” So, it is a catch-22 and not really fair either; it is easy to criticize someones subjective opinion when you don’t agree in the first place and the information (list) is presented objectively.
One last minor little gripe, Mc Cabe used the term ‘criminally under-rated’ (or overlooked, or under-appreciated or neglected etc) almost 50 times in his reviews, which is odd because most (at least 500) of these albums are all very highly rated by the general Metal community. It seems like he is a bit out of touch when he says albums by band like Destruction or Sacrifice are under-rated when they are often among the very first thrash bands that anyone talks about when discussing the origins of the genre. An album can’t be under-rated and ‘essential’ (highly rated) at the same time so in a weird way it is kind of contradictory.
Despite what might seem like a bit of extended analysis and critique, I really, really loved this book. McCabe is really insightful on so many points and observations I found myself saying, “Yes! Exactly!” a number of times. He is a keen observer of the larger Metal world. It was a real nostalgia trip for me to read these great reviews because I own well over 600 of these 666 albums.
I’m not going to micro-manage or bitch about what about made the Top 10 or whatever, they order is on par with most other lists. There were a couple of exceptions where a universally acclaimed album was way down on his list, but that placement is probably more of personal preference. You will have to buy it and read it to find out what album is #1 and the Top 10 are. I have no complaints! McCabe did a superb job, I’d love to have a beer with this guy and talk Metal shop for hours. 666 DAYS OF METAL is great, entertaining read and another addition to an ever-expanding list of books that are becoming authoritative lists, and by default is adding to the objective criteria of what Metal albums rule!