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.
In terms of structure, this is one of the better books in the series. The focus is narrow enough that it can take a stab at being comprehensive. The full title is awkward and grammatically incorrect. A GUIDE TO NEO-CLASSICAL MUSIC INCLUDING INFLUENCES, PIONEER AND OTHER ARTISTS WHO FOLLOWED. It doesn’t look good when the title of your own book isn’t proof-read very well! The cover is horrible, just really poor, a live shot of some kid drumming. If he is the drummer of a ‘known’ band it is not even referenced properly. You think they would at least find a photo of Rhapsody or somebody to put on the front.
Oddly enough, A GUIDE TO NEOCLASSIC METAL, is one of the bigger books in the series at 232 pages, there is a heavy focus on the origins of the genre, making it, in my mind, more relevant and interesting to read, rather than a list of neo-classical Power Metal bands. The book is divided into seven sections with multiple sub-sections.
The overview is standard, but acceptable. The stylistic origins section, running 28 pages delves into the combination of Speed Metal, Progressive Rock and Classical music and discusses many aspects of the evolution of the genre. Under the influences sections there are entries on Paganini and Chopin, which might too long, as they are extended articles on their lives covering 34 pages. There is an extended section on Yngwie J. Malmsteen in the Pioneer section.
The next couple of sections double as a spotlight on guitar heroes. The 1980’s section discusses Blackmore, Uli Jon Roth, Van Halen and Rhoads. The 1990’s section covers a number of guitar gods like MacAlpine, Moore, Gilbert, Tafolla, Friedman, Becker and Chastain. The final section touches on even more neo-classically influenced Metal musicians like Warmen, Stump, Batio and Kuprij.
When the book finally gets to neo-classical bands it covers some good picks from around the world, TSO, Rhapsody, Artension, Heavenly, Symphony X, Rata Blanca, Stratovarius and some Japanese bands, Versailles, Sound Horizon, Concerto Moon and Galneryus. This book is quite comprehensive and detailed.
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 NEOCLASSICAL 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 neoclassical Metal was like until 2010.