Reviewed: April 2021
Released: 2020, Lawrence King Publishing
This is a really, really great book and I like it a lot but we need to address the elephant in the room. This is not really a book about ‘Metal’. In his introduction author and all round cool and relaxed dude, Bruno MacDonald addresses that point from the very beginning. He says, “The biggest challenge in compiling a list of 666 metal songs is actually decided what Metal is. If we limit it to acts to who actually admit to being Metal, there would be a lot of Judas Priest, Manowar and Saxon in this book, and not much else”. (p. 3). 666 SONGS is not intended to be the 666 greatest Metal songs of all time and is not presented in that context. Elitists need not apply and you should probably read the introduction to the book first or you might get all annoyed.
Now that we know what this book is NOT, what is it exactly? 666 SONGS TO MAKE YOU BANG YOUR HEAD UNTIL YOU DIE is a very pleasant, extremely well done look at 50 years of…shall we say… rocking tunes! In this instance let’s not get hung up on definitions.
Also in the introduction Macdonald asks, “Does it compel you to drum on the nearest surface? Does it make you grab a tennis racquet, broom or docile cat to use as an air guitar? (p. 3) I laughed out loud when I read that because I have no problem admitting that to this day I use my cat as an air-guitar, much to the amusement of my young kids and probably considerably less amusement to the cat. For reference, a cat’s tail makes an excellent whammy bar.
In technical terms, 666 SONGS looks superb. It is a 200+ page hard cover. The cover is a bit uninspired but very eye-catching in terms of graphics and font. The book has nice paperstock and the whole thing is in full colour. Visually it is a treat. Each every entry has a photo of either the album or the single. It is fantastic to look at. There are also lots of references, source, quotes and citations. It was nice to see Macdonald used Metal-Rules.com as a source.
Somewhat logically we start at the beginning tracing rocking songs from the usual suspects; (the ‘the’ bands) The Kinks, The Yarbirds, The Troggs, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, and so on. We move on into the early days, Zep, Sabbath, Purple, Cooper, Kiss and it is off to the races. From 1958 to 2019, it is all here.
The format is that each song gets a little write up, just a few sentences. Macdonald keep it light and fun with a joke here or there, some context, and more often than not a quote from some one else, usually a rock star, commenting why that song is so good, influential, important etc. Each one is a snap-shot of that song.
What I really liked was that the author didn’t always pick the predictable hits or mainstream songs. Often he did, but not always. He dug deep into some of the catalogues which shows that he has a true appreciation for the album format. For example he choose ‘Big Trouble’ from David Lee Roth’s album, EAT ‘EM AND SMILE instead of one of the big hit songs. Another example is that he picked the 10 minute epic ‘Ghost Love Score’ by Nightwish instead of one of the two big hit singles. There are a lot of the big hits and a surprising amount of cover tunes, which seems like a bit of a cop-out but a good song is a good song, no mater who redid it later. Also watch out for cool trivia at the bottom of every other page!
I’ll fully admit I’m a Metal snob, a Metal elitist and the self appointed for life President of the Metal Purity and Anti-defamation League (the MPAADL?) Sure, I got mildly annoyed that there was virtually no Traditional or Power Metal represented but there was Baron Rojo, Devin Townsend, Mago De Oz, Turisas, Septic Flesh, Destroyer 666 and BabyMetal so it is obvious Macdonald knows and appreciates his global stuff and appreciates all genres. He just chooses to substitute lots of non-Metal bands; nu-metal, alt-metal, industrial, mainstrem rock, etc, instead. It says right on the front ‘ A Guide To The Monsters Rock and Metal’. It is obvious he still reads Kerrang! magazine and that is both a compliment and insult!
If there is one thing that I didn’t appreciate about the book is that it served to expose my ignorance (in the purest sense of the term) of much of heavy modern music and how out of touch I am compared to Macdonald. For fun I counted how many of the songs in his list I own or have heard. I’ve been listening to Metal exclusively for 40+ years and I only heard about 250 out of the 666 songs! Of the almost 400 songs listed from 1990-2019 I only have heard 100 and it was the same bands over and over, Maiden, Slayer, Metallica. I have no idea who the modern rock artists are such Rolo Tomassi, Billy Clyro, Muse, Paramore or Flyleaf are, among many others but I’m sure they rock in their own way.
As a side note, if you are looking for that ‘pure’ Metal list book, I’d recommend Chip McCabe’s book 666 DAYS OF METAL, published in 2017. (You can read my review of it here on this site.) That is where you will find Dissection, Gates Of Slumber, Running Wild, Rage and all those guys.
However, I’m bright enough (I hope) to recognize and acknowledge, the skill, fun, humour and talent that Macdonald has in his appreciation of the heavy musical arts. That is why 666 SONGS TO MAKE YOU BANG YOUR HEAD UNTIL YOU DIE is so much fun to read.