Released: 2008, Jawbone Press
I have a love/hate relationship with this book. I’ll get more into that in a minute, but let’s follow our tradition by starting our book reviews by looking at some of the technical aspects of this excellent book. As you can likely surmise from the title the book is essentially a list book. There are many, many Heavy Metal ‘list’ book these days, at least a dozen have been published in the past couple of years. This is one of the better ones. McIver is one of the more well-known and respected writers in the genre. His Metallica and Slayer biographies are world-class. You know you are going to get quality.
Jawbone Press has put together a slightly over-sized book that would sit nicely on your coffee table. THE 100 GREATEST METAL GUITARISTS is a soft-cover, clocking in at over 220 pages with lots and lots of big black and white photos. There is a brief forward by Glenn Benton (Interesting choice!) and a few appendices and the obligatory introductory comments by McIver. The layout is appealing and it is easy to read.
The format is the backwards countdown, 100-to 1…which I always love. It adds suspense! Believe it or not, I actually had the will-power to avoid looking at who was listed #1 and I’m NOT going to spill it here for you…you will have to buy the book and read it yourself. There are a couple of pages, pictures and quotes for pretty much everybody. Joel has a really well-blended writing style, one-third academic, one third musical analysis and one-third fan. It works well as he explains why these guitarists he selected are deserving on a technical level and is thoughtful enough to provide examples of some of the songs and solos, so the reader can go hear for themselves.
The appendices are very interesting as McIver adds another 50 runners-up and he adds further analysis of nationality, genre, ages etc. Overall, this is a fantastic book paying tribute to many unsung and well-deserving Heavy Metal guitarists.
Now here is the love/hate part. In his intro McIver details his theory and opinions of Heavy Metal vs. Hard Rock and details his qualification for entry. My main issue with the book is that I just fundamentally disagree with his choices and definitions. McIver chooses to exclude ‘shredders’. He position is that they are known for being Hard Rock and having technical virtuosity and not for being ‘Metal’. Well, despite McIver being a little on the revisionist side, there are a number of people who were conspicuously absent.
Along comes Appendix #2 called ‘Shredders, Not Metallers’. McIver lists 20 guitarists who he acknowledges but says they didn’t make the cut. At least 15 of the 20 should have been on the list in my opinion. Apparently Racer X, Nitro, and the various Ozzy guitarists aren’t ‘metal’. I understand McIver’s reasoning but I just don’t agree with it.
The biggest flaw is that Yngwie J. Malmsteen did not make the list. Widely regarded as one of the longest running, best-selling, most influential Heavy Metal guitarists of all time, Yngwie didn’t make the list! I was utterly shocked. He should have been in the Top 5. Martin Popoff’s book HEAVY METAL states that Yngwie is… “ the cornerstone of no less than three metal sub-genres thriving and striving as we speak.” (p. 109) I lost count but at least 50 of the artists who did make the Top 100 in McIver’s book state that Malmsteen is one of their main influences. Malmsteen's name gets cited about 30 times in the book by people who did make the list. Time Magazine even recognized Yngwie recently as one of the best guitarists of time. If a lame (ie. not-metal) publication like Time Magazine recognizes his importance and influence, how McIver could choose to omit the Swede from his list, is beyond comprehension. Even if McIver personally hates Yngwie, to leave him out was just a poor choice. If it wasn’t for Malmsteen several (at least 20%) of these guitarists wouldn’t even be in this book to begin with!
There are a few other minor inconsistencies and problems. Guys like Zakk Wylde make the cut but the other Ozzy guitarists don’t? Iommi makes the cut but Blackmore doesn’t? How is Sabbath Metal but Rainbow isn't? There are also a handful of guys who are not really all that talented and not really considered ‘Metal’, but are contemporary and temporarily popular, the Slipknots, the Soulfly’s, Bullet for My Valentine, Avenged Sevenfold etc. They could have, should have, been cut in favour of Metal guitarists.
McIver seems to have created quite a mainstream type of list. I suspect this could have been some pressure from the publisher to include popular, mainstream artists in an attempt to sell more books. There are dozens of supremely talented guitarists at home on the roster of specialty labels, where the focus is almost exclusively Metal/Guitar, (Lion Records, Underground Symphony, Leviathan and Shrapnel) that just don’t get the recognition. Where is Chastain, Stump, Smolski, Pell, Petrossi, etc. There is real lack of Traditional and/or Power Metal guys on the list and I suspect they don’t make the list because McIver just doesn’t like them very much, or has never heard much from them.
Having said all, that McIver doesn’t skimp on the ‘Heavy” in Heavy Metal. He lists many, many Thrash, Death, Doom and Black Metal guitarists who normally in these types of lists (produced annually by publications like Guitar World) would never get mentioned. McIver truly champions many deserving artists. I have no serious arguments with really anyone on the list or where they are placed, it is all well thought out and presented in a position that can be defended.
This would have been a perfect 5/5 score (not that it matters what my score is!) if not for the fact I just disagree with leaving out shredders. They are an integral part of the history and lineage of Heavy Metal. Aside from that, this is the best list of guitarists I’ve ever read and say it’s a mandatory addition to your metal library.