At some point everything becomes a coffee table book. Heavy Metal is no different. The Merciless Book Of Metal Lists, compiled by Howie Abrams and Sacha Jenkins, is the ultimate look at the world of heavy metal via the ease and convenience of a list. No stone is left unturned here, and I mean no stone. If you think you have a list about metal that isn’t in this book, chances are you’re wrong. Both Jenkins and Abrams have exhaustively researched and brainstormed Merciless and delivered a look at their beloved genre that is informative and fun.
Best and Worst. Good and Bad. Albums, Players and Secret Facts, Merciless covers it all. If any good book can spark conversation; The Merciless Book Of Metal Lists will start all out wars. Abrams and Jenkins know their metal, but they also saturate the book with their own opinions, which might irk the metal purist. I applaud the two for not making this a research project alone. Being a fan of metal is all about taking a side and defending it. Priest/Maiden. Metallica/Anthrax, Reign In Blood/South Of Heaven, the metal battles wage eternal. By pushing their own point of view, Abrams and Jenkins bring a very real and conversational feel to the book. It’s like a hardcover version of that friend you always argue with.
Outside of our intrepid authors, Merciless is chock full of guest list makers. Scott Ian, Danny Lilker, Phil Enselmo, Kerry King, and Metalblade Record honcho Brian Slagel are just a few of the names that make appearences. Granted without me included in the book it can never be a perfect look at heavy metal (yeah guys, I was a little peeved at not being mentioned in the Headbangers Ball section), but this is pretty close. No matter who you are or how much you think you know about metal, The Merciless Book Of Metal Lists will school you on something.
The best aspects of the book come from unexpected places. An opening and frank interview with Kerry King is a nice hook, though after the guitarists recent unsavory actions towards longtime Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo it might come back to bite the authors. Abrams, a longtime fixture in the New York Hardcore scene, was smart enough to include the hardcore/metal crossover list. Finally seeing that connection recognized in print was a very cool moment, though I did take issue with part of it. Venom is on a hardcore/metal crossover list but the genre changing bands Rorschach and Deadguy are not? According to the book, the Bad Brains record that best represents the hardcore/metal crossover is Quickness. I would have gone with I Against I, but these disagreements are part of the fun.
Abrams and Jenkins hit a lot of nails right on the head. Best metal singer? Dio. Period. End of story. The two also take a few potshots at hipster black metal, especially with the list from iconic metal bassist Danny Lilker. His quote, “Ok, so your band plays minor chords over blast beats--but you’re still wearing a knit hat”, is one of my favorites in the entire book.
For Cannibal Corpse fans, the list of their most fucked up song titles will be a must read. I also applaud Jenkins and Abrams fearless confrontation of how much Metallica suck now, though I disagree with them that the Black album is something to be proud of. Don’t get me wrong, Merciless pays massive respect to both old Metallica and deceased bassist Cliff Burton, they just slap down hard on the Load/Reload era.
Not everything works in The Merciless Book Of Metal Lists. First, the two authors give their combined top list of heavy metal bands, yet on this list there is no mention of Chuck Schuldiner’s Death but Motely Crue makes the list? Keep in mind this is a book that has a list of bands that are NOT metal that includes Guns N Roses and Poison. How Motley Crue doesn’t fit into that grouping is beyond me. Same on Best Metal Albums. Motely Crue has a slot on there but not Death?
Like most metal albums, Merciless also has some filler. The list of “Most Metal Hockey Players” is unnecessary and the list detailing how good it was that Paul Di’anno stepped down as singer of Iron Maiden felt forced and a even a little mean. The list about albums with goats on them is funny, but seriously, it’s filler. I also found very little in the way of newer bands in these lists. There are one or two lists about newer bands but in many ways Merciless comes off like a text version of two old headbangers screaming “It was better in my day”!!
Those issues aside, The Merciless Book Of Metal Lists is great fun. The metal elite will dig arguing with each other about the book, those unfamiliar with metal can learn more about it and folks who just like books of lists can marvel at the detail. The Merciless Book Of Metal Lists is a lot like Metallica’s And Justice For All album. A little too long, not always perfect, but still a kick ass slice of metal awesomeness.
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