Friday, April 19, 2013

Review: "The Merciless Book of Metal Lists" by Howie Abrams and Sacha Jenkins

I think there’s something innate in music fans that drives them to want to make lists. And then, of course, to argue about those lists to the death.

With "The Merciless Book of Metal Lists" ($18.95, Abrams Books), Howie Abrams and Sacha Jenkins take it to a new level. After a foreword by Slayer’s Kerry King (which is really more of a Q&A, actually), they jump right into all of the obligatory lists — best metal bands, best guitarist, best singer, best drummer, best bassist and so on.

Sure, those are fun to agree or disagree with, but it’s the other pieces of the book that actually make it so entertaining. It’s quite possible that even the hardcore metalhead might find something to explore in some of the lists where they play it straight.

While you should know the albums they list as the 20 best metal albums ever, even if you don’t agree, I found a couple of unfamiliar titles in their list of hardcore/punk albums that influenced thrash and a few artists to check out in Metal Blade Records head Brian Slagel’s list of the Top 20 New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands that you don’t know. Just for kicks, there are also a couple that I have to hear from the list of 10 Horrifically Bad NWOBHM Bands — Dumpy’s Rusty Nuts, in particular.

There are lists of metal songs about metal — 70 for other bands, and a second list of a dozen, of course, for Manowar alone — as well as a list of bands with the word death in their name, a list of the real names of metal stars and dozens more.

But it’s when the authors have a little fun that the book shines. It starts with a personal favorite, “The Very Best Qualities of Metallica’s Load and Re-Load Albums.” I’ll leave the secrets of that one for you to discover.

Then we move on to a list of 200 Embarrassingly Bad Album Covers. I really thought we needed more photos with this, as metal has been blessed/cursed with some truly awful album art. It’s a lot of fun looking some of them up, even if, again, I don’t agree with all of them. Savatage’s Gutter Ballet (No. 87) may not be their best, but I don’t think it’s embarrassing. Iced Earth’s The Dark Saga (No. 90), featuring Todd McFarlane’s Spawn is very cool for a comic geek like me. And I quite like Bruce Dickinson’s Accident of Birth (No. 171).

Along the same lines, there’s a list of album art featuring goats and the most illegible black metal logos (for those not familiar, black metal bands tend to work overtime making sure there’s no way you can read their name). Then there are the 25 Most Fucked-Up Song Titles by Cannibal Corpse, which I pretty much can’t argue with.

Then there are some lists that are pretty much straight goof lists. Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine, who declined to participate, catches his share of grief in several places in the book. He’s featured in 10 Reasons Dave Mustaine Probably Declined to Participate in This Book. Then there are the 10 Reasons There is No Need to Have a List Concerning Ozzy Osbourne in This Book. My favorite, No. 2: “Shaaaaarrrrrooooon most definitely wouldn’t approve of its inclusion without a fee.” And Motorhead frontman Lemmy Kilmister gets his turn with 10 Observations from Lemmy’s Warts.

There’s also relationship advice with 10 Things Metalheads Should Avoid Saying While Online Dating – No. 6, ‘SLAYERRRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!,” with the addendum that if it gets you laid, marry the girl. Doesn’t always work out, trust me.

And what metalhead could dislike a book with a list called WWVD: What Would Varg (Vikernes) Do. If you don’t know who Varg Vikernes is, and thus don’t get the joke, it’s a pretty safe bet that you’re not the target audience of Abrams and Jenkins. Though, on the off-chance that he does read the book, they might want to look into some security.

Finally, we get a bit of a rambling ode to Venom and Slayer from Pantera/Down vocalist Phil Anselmo, that kind of, in his own way, sums up the book.

“The Merciless Book of Metal Lists” aims for (and takes aim at) the hardcore metal fan. There’s a bit of argument-inducing list-making, a bit of poking fun at metal culture and a lot of just pure fun for that segment of metal fans that aren’t too high-strung to laugh at themselves and the music they love. I thoroughly enjoyed it, even though there’s no way that Metallica and Slayer should be ranked above Judas Priest, and you’re crazy if you think Jason Newsted is a better bassist than Rob Trujillo, and who in their right mind thinks Killswitch Engage’s cover of “Holy Diver” is good, and … oh, sorry.

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