‘The Merciless Book of Metal Lists,’ written by Howie Abrams and Sacha Jenkins, is exactly as advertised: a compendium of lists, all pertaining in some way to heavy metal. The book was written with tongue planted firmly in cheek, although only the most elite scholars of metal will come away from it without learning a thing or two about their favorite kind of music. Metal seems to attract a fiercely loyal and hardcore fanbase, too – these aficionados happily devote countless hours to poring over the liner notes to albums by their favorite bands, read every interview with the musicians, etc. Yet how many would know that death metal titans Cannibal Corpse played some shows with the Goo Goo Dolls back in the 1980s, when both bands were signed to Metal Blade Records? ‘The Merciless Book of Metal Lists’ is liberally peppered with fascinating and bizarre minutiae.
Just as many of the lists are completely irreverent though… the top fifteen albums featuring a goat on the cover, ten observations made by Lemmy’s warts (they have no idea what the song “Killed by Death” means either), and so on. Abrams and Jenkins definitely have a healthy sense of humor and aren’t afraid to poke fun at many of the genre’s biggest icons. Check out the lists that mention Metallica’s ‘Load’ and ‘Reload’ albums, for example. The phrase “it’s funny because it’s true” definitely applies to lists such as those. The gay bashing at Rob Halford’s expense does wear a little thin though. Not that homosexuals can’t be made fun of; it’s just that the humor often comes off as pretty forced.
Of course, the vast majority of top ten lists are highly subjective, and the ones in this book are no exception. Of course “Last Caress/Green Hell” is not the greatest Metallica cover tune ever, as the authors claim; everyone knows that honor goes to “Breadfan.” However, the point of these lists is to generate endless hours of discussion and arguments amongst metal fans, so if you divide time by price, $18.95 for this book is almost literally a steal. From best metal instrumentals to most embarrassing metal videos, ‘The Merciless Book of Metal Lists’ is sure to cause many sleepless nights for fans engaging in debates with each other.
Even though this book is chock full of the authors’ personal opinions and jokes, it’s clearly evident that Abrams and Jenkins put a lot of work and research into it. Their list of 200 worst album covers is extraordinarily thorough. It must’ve taken considerable time to compile such a comprehensive list. The authors cover more than music too: they collate lists of books to read (except they neglected to mention Ozzy Osbourne’s phenomenal autobiography ‘I Am Ozzy’ (read my review here)), what metal websites are worth checking out, what documentary films to watch, etc. There is a veritable cornucopia of excellent recommendations for all sorts of heavy metal media in addition to albums.
In addition to Abrams and Jenkins’ opinions, a lot of very cool guests chime in with their own lists, from Max Cavalera to Scott Ian to Metal Blade Records head honcho Brian Slagel to Flemming Rasmussen (the producer of Metallica’s best three albums). Their input more often than not is well worth reading. Exodus guitarist Gary Holt’s compilation of quotes taken from between-song banter by late vocalist Paul Baloff is absolutely priceless! Ditto Richard Christy’s list of the craziest things he’s done on tour, though your stomach might churn while reading it.
Without a doubt, every reader will find at least one thing that will tick them off (Overkill is virtually ignored, for example), but just remember: it’s all opinion. There’s only a few legitimate gripes one could lobby against ‘The Merciless Book of Metal Lists.’ One of them is the amount of vitriol aimed toward Dave Mustaine, apparently just because he declined to participate on the book. Could that be why Megadeth’s ‘Rust in Peace’ wasn’t in the list of best metal albums ever?
The book also features a brief interview with Slayer’s Kerry King and a superb afterward written by Philip Anselmo. The former Pantera/current Down vocalist is a genuine fan of metal, as well as an excellent writer, and if his upcoming autobiography is anything like the afterward he penned, we are all in for an unparalleled reading experience. His contribution here is the frosty icing on a deliciously irresistable cake. This book really should’ve been released closer to Christmas because it is the perfect stocking stuffer for every metalhead. At 208 pages, however, it’s definitely not the be-all, end-all of metal, so ‘The Merciless Book of Metal Lists’ could conceivably — and hopefully — be just the first in a series of books.