Reviewed: May 2021
Released: 1985 , Omnibus Press
The quest. As many of our regular readers may know, I’d stated on a number of occasions our goal is to review every single book about Hard rock and Heavy Metal. Sometimes I have to dig really deep into the past to fill some gaps and this is one of those occasions.
I recently acquired my very own hard copy of one of the first books ever written about Heavy Metal. HM A-Z THE ULTIMATE HEAVY METAL ENCYCLOPEDIA was first published in 1985 and the front cover has a close up of a guy’s hairy chest. I do not want to descend into identity politics but it is curious that Heavy Metal, from early days, was indentified with male machismo. The person on the front is wearing black leather and has a big medallion of Metal and is making a fist. Very Metal!
HM A-Z was written (it says ‘compiled by’) Paul Suter of Kerrang! Magazine and the periodical was only a few years old at that time. The 112-page black and white, oversized paperback was published by Omnibus and this is the kind of book you would see in a public library. In fact I did see it and borrow it from my public library back in the day.
Each band gets an entry, the current line-up of the band, a brief write-up, basically a brief biography, and a short discography. Most bands get one black and white photo. Suter does a fine job summarizing each band in a neutral and concise manner.
Looking at the sub-title of ‘Ultimate’, was it truly Ultimate? Not exactly. Comprehensive and interesting? Yes. We now know that by 1985 there were well over 3000 Hard Rock and Heavy Metal bands roaming the planet by 1985 having released a total of maybe 1500 albums. This book covers about 130 of bands representing a total output of few hundred albums. Of course the biggest the biggest bands get the attention; AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and other pioneers.
HM A-Z is dated but what did we expect looking at it 35 years later? Bands that are no longer even in the discussion about Metal are included; bands like ZZ Top, BTO, Billy Squier, Bryan Adams, Boston and several others.
Lets get political again for a moment. The conventional wisdom is that traditionally women were always marginalized in Metal. However looking at this book we see that is not necessarily the case. We have entries for Lee Aaron, Pat Benatar, Lita Ford, Heart, Girlschool, Headpins, Joan Jett, Rock Goddess, The Runaways and Wendy O’ Williams.
As expected most of the bands listed are American, the UK and Canada coming in a distant third with about 15 bands listed (Kick Axe!) It was nice to see a few bands from Europe, mostly Germany (Accept, Scorpions) and a few more, Baron Rojo, (Spain) Krokus (Switzerland), TNT (Norway) and Vandenberg (Holland). The fledgling scenes in South America and Asia don’t make the cut.
It is so easy to critique in hindsight and with the internet at our fingertips. Without the web, it was much harder to know who Sepultura, for example, were in 1985. I will admit I was a bit surprised that Loudness did not make the book with already four albums under their belt by 1984 and thrash Metal was just starting to come into play with Venom and Metallica, the only remotely heavy bands (by today’s standards) to make the cut.
HM A-Z is really fun to go revisit. It is neat to see what was defined as Metal, and how things have evolved. This book is useful tool to help demonstrate to the many historical revisionists out there who attempt to redefine Metal to make it more palatable to their tastes, that certain bands were indeed classified as Metal. For example, the classic debate about the band Kiss being Metal or not (that rages on the internet even to this day) is settled once again with their inclusion in the book. As a historical document it is an interesting snapshot. My generous grade reflects the time in which it was written.
File this one with other half-dozen, ancient metallic texts of yore that cropped up up in the mid-80’s. Combined they paint a pretty accurate picture of what was going all those years ago.