Apataoff, Ben- Metallica: The $24.95 book (Book review)

Spread the metal:

Reviewed:  November, 2021
Released: 2021, Backbeat books
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer:  JP

Damn this compulsion of mine to collect and read books about Metal.  I already have a dozen books about Metallica in my library and here we go again!  When you are one of the world’s biggest bands every pundit, wag and flak has an opinion. I’m not suggesting that pop-culture writer Apatoff is any of those things but talk about going for the low-hanging fruit!

The cleverly titled Metallica biography (and I’m not being sarcastic)  is next in a long line of biographies of the iconic band.  Backbeat has presented a decent looking 280 + page paperback, with a simple but effective cover. There are the usual features; a bibliography, a brief introduction, and a disposable foreword.  Anchored in the middle are about 60 photos some of them never before available to the general public.

I was wondering what Apatoff could do to stand out from the pack and he has taken a rather clever approach. Instead of an album-by-album style or a linear timeline, he picks a topic per chapter and runs with it. For example, we get Metallica At The Movies (Chapter Seven ‘Hit The Lights’) or bands that influenced Metallica (Chapter Two ‘Find The Hero Of The Day).  Each member gets a chapter, each album gets a chapter as do books that inspired Metallica, fans, videos and more. I find this breaks the book into nice digestible chunks.

I like his confidence and enthusiasm.  On p. 91 He says Master Of Puppets is the greatest metal record, no qualifiers, no second guessing.  His energy his high, his style fast and fun.  He packs in a ton of information and it is never dry. Even though there was not an enormous amount of new or interesting information to a veteran Metallica fan the way he presents it is beyond reproach.  His focus on the pop culture  impact and influence of the band, and who they were in turn influenced by, is an interesting and fresh approach.

Apatoff unfortunately makes quite a few minor mistakes, or at very least used a source that made the mistake originally.  Most of them are insignificant but die-hard Metal fans will notice.  For example he says Metallica was named after a book and that they had a track on Metal Blade’s compilation series, Metallica Massacre II. Neither are true.  The ‘obscure English reference book on metal bands’ that Apatoff is presumably referring to is Encyclopedia Metallica (not just ‘Metallica’, as Apatoff claims) written by Malcolm Dome.  First it was not obscure, it was widely available in bookstores and libraries and has been reprinted and updated several times since.  Secondly, the book theory has been discredited and it is that Ron Quintana actually came up with the term which Lars poached.

Metallica did not appear on the Metal Massacre II compilation, he is getting confused with the fact that for the second pressing of the original Metal Massacre, the band supplied a newer version of ‘Hit The Lights’.

He also said that, “…Metal Blade’s first record, was a compilation featuring Pandemonium, Malice, a then unknown Ratt, and several other long-forgotten bands…  ”. (p. 12)   This is a bit off for a number of reasons.  Ratt who had been around since 1979 were hardly ‘unknown’ being one of the biggest west-coast concert draws at the time.   Secondly, Cirith Ungol, Bitch, Ratt, and Malice are all still around which hardly qualifies them as ‘long-forgotten’.

He continues on to call the compilation album ‘boring’, which is technically not a mistake because it is his subjective opinion, but it goes heavily against the grain of popular consensus that Metal Massacre is widely considered to be one of the most iconic Metal compilations of all time.  It has been reissued and pressed countless times and there is even a tribute to it!  Keep in mind that Apatoff wasn’t even born when Metal Massacre was released. So by the time when he would have started to be cognizant of stuff like this (say around age 13 in 1996) Metallica had just released LOAD and label compilation albums were largely becoming a relic of the past. Metal Blade released Metal Massacre XII in 1995 and took an eleven-year break before releasing Metal Massacre XIII in 2006.

Apatoff also says Megadeth had been nominated for a Grammy Award, twelve times prior to winning, but it was only 11.  Not a big deal, but still incorrect.  So as you can see despite being an engaging and exciting storyteller, Apatoff credibility as a researcher took a big hit early on with several mistakes and this is only by the end of page 12!  I could list all the other mistakes but it would be pointless and just nit-picking.

Another minor negative point, I felt Apatoff tends to over-emphasized the cerebral nature of Metallica songs and exaggerated their lyrical depth and uniqueness.  Tons of bands have written so called ‘political’ lyrics since the dawn of Metal.  From Sabbath singing about war in ‘War Pigs’ in 1970 to Judas Priest singing about crime and youth alienation in ‘Breaking The Law’ in 1980 to Iron Maiden in 1982 singing about the new plight of the Indians in ‘Run to The Hills’, it is not new.

Just because someone sings about real events it doesn’t automatically make it political, cerebral, intelligent or even that well done. The fact that some people feel, for example, the song ‘Disposable Heroes’ is an insightful work of lyrical genius, in reality the lyrics can be boiled down to ‘war is bad’, which is not all that of a unique or original sentiment or lyrical topic.   However, by writing this book Apatoff is putting the band on a pedestal. Their lyrics are certainly not the worst in Metal and Metallica have been called worse things than ’political activists’!

The write-up on the back of the books says it is “…an in-depth look at the band and their music that both die-hard fans and newcomers can enjoy”.  That seems to sum it up nicely.  If this is your first Metallica book it is very well done. If you are like me and have read a dozen books about the band, you will see it as highly commendable albeit a bit flawed. Either way, pick it up and you won’t be disappointed.


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