Reviewed: April 2021
Released: 2020, Indie
Metal heads love our lists. There are many Metal books that are essentially just a list, I own at least ten of them. Websites too…countless lists. Top-this, best-that, worst of, rank, compare and analyze, lists are fun and easy to do and are a part of the appreciation of Metal.
British author Gareth Endean has written his list and titled it …HALF A TON OF HEAVY METAL. In it’s essence, Endean has listed 50 albums, one per year, from 1970 to 2019 with no band duplications. 50 years of Metal, 50 albums. That’s it, short and sweet. Each entry/album gets a detailed two or three page explanation why that particular album is important, relevant, innovative, influential, why it has stood the test of time and so on.
HALF TON is a standard paperback, an independent publication. Half ton does not have a lot of frills. There are no pictures, no index, no table of contents, no references or citations, no list of recommend listening, this is really bare bones in terms of design. It’s not bad, just very plain with lots of white space. The whole book is about 150 pages long. Endean gets bonus points for the flaming skull on the cover!
In terms of presentation it could have used a bit more technical information. Little things like including the band name, label and date of release in the chapter header. It might have made it a little clearer. For example: The entry for 2017 simply says ‘Forever’. I’ve never heard of that album so I didn’t know what band the author was referring too. It wasn’t for two or three paragraphs until the band name is actually mentioned and that I found out that the band is called Code Orange. This happened on several occasions. It is a common mistake for new writers to assume that the reader knows what he or she is talking about, and that the reader had the same knowledge and experiences.
For example, in my opinion, Linkin Park are just garbage. It’s not Metal and I don’t know the name of any of their albums but (!) for Endean they are a huge band! An album called METEORA was obviously strong enough and important enough to be his one pick for 2003! It’s obvious he is intimately familiar with it. However, he assumes everyone is aware of them. These are not really horrible flaws in my mind I just felt like half the time I didn’t know who he was talking about. Context is important.
After reading his introduction I immediately got the sense that Endean is a witty and thoughtful writer. He says, How you read this book is up to you, from front to back, back to front, dip in and out at random or just head to 1992, disagree and come fight me” (p. 6) Brilliant! He also says “ But ultimately if it just ends up causing rows (a British term for arguing) on the internet, I’ll know I’ve done my job.” (p. 7). He clearly lays out his criteria for his list and the methodology he used. It all seems very reasonable and well thought out. Endean is clearly far more open-minded and wise than I am.
I’ve written quite a few reviews of these types of list books and I am always careful to make that all-important distinction between objective and subjective. It’s critical for reviewing a book that is essentially just one person’s opinion.
To boil it down, based on Endean’s very broad and inclusive definition of Metal to include heavy music genres like alt-Metal, Nu-Metal, hardcore, grunge, etc, his list is objectively superb. He nails it. Endean is measured and methodically, giving good examples and evidence to prove his points.
The only year where I felt his pick was objectively a bit weaker was 1997. His pick was AROUND THE FUR by a rock band called Deftones. While his reasoning for choosing AROUND THE FUR is pretty solid I would have went with Hammerfall-Glory To Be Brave on Nuclear Blast. Hammerfall’s debut is widely credited by multiple sources as the album that single-handedly re-launched the massive global resurgence of Power Metal which continues unabated to this day. They have influenced hundreds of bands including Sabaton who author did include as his pick for 2016 with their thematic album THE LAST STAND. Aside from that minor quibble that would be the only Metal pick that I might change as Hammerfall influenced more bands than Deftones with AROUND THE FUR.
All the rest I probably would have picked the same albums. I would have liked to seen Yngwie Malmsteen’s ground-breaking, influential, genre-defining, Grammy nominated, 1984, debut album RISING FORCE on the list but, my preference aside, I feel that Endean made the right call going with the equally influential RIDE THE LIGHTNING. How do you compete with that? Objectively Endean picks are all top notch with sound reasoning to back his opinion.
The other side of the coin is that subjectively I don’t like his catch-all definition of Metal. To me, it really tainted the credibility of his list. There are 20 albums on this list I don’t even own because I don’t consider them Metal and there are probably 10 bands I’ve never even heard. They are just not my Metal radar. That is my bias and my elitist attitude!
With that taken into consideration I felt really neutral and ambivalent about the book. When he talked about metal he was bang on. 100%. I could not agree more.
When he talked about all the non-Metal crap (Korn, Deaf Heaven etc) I couldn’t care less. I did learn a lot and Endean was still insightful, intelligent and analytical when talking about albums I don’t own or care about. However, the end result was that I just wasn’t engaged in about half the book.
So to summarize: objectively half ton is fantastic. Subjectively, it felt like it was just another’s guys list of heavy music like one you might see in the trendy music magazines like Revolver, Decibel, Kerrang, and so on. Ultimately the good outweighs the bad taking into my own bias so I could not in good conscience give HALF TON a poor grade just because I don’t agree with his definition of Metal. Setting aside the physical presentation of the book, let’s put it this way.
Objective grade 4.5/5
My Subjective Grade: 2.5/5
Regardless of my rambling on about subjectivity and objectivity, HALF TON is a really fine book, I fully recommend it to any open-minded fan of heavy music and it is without a doubt one of the better list books I’ve read….even if author is wrong half the time. Just kidding.
Now that the review is done, I’m going to go argue with strangers on the internet about why Manowar is the greatest band in the history of recorded music and make my own list of reasons why all the other bands on the planet suck in comparison.