It is hard for me to believe that Metallica have really been around for over 30 years now. The new If You Like Metallica… from Backbeat Books is not so much a celebration of their time together, as it is something of a guidebook for fans. This new series from Hal Leonard Publishing has issued a number of titles, including books on The Beatles, Monty Python, and The Sopranos so far, and they have all made for excellent reading. The basic idea is to give those of us who “like” the group or show or whatever, some pointers as to other items that we might enjoy as well.
For example, the If You Like The Sopranos book mentions classic Mafia films such as The Godfather. I thought the Metallica title would be interesting because they practically invented thrash, and a reference point to who inspired them sounded intriguing. And it is. Author Mike McPadden has done a great job of tracking down some of the more obscure metal bands that the members of Metallica were influenced by, and this guide is a handy resource.
The book is divided into 10 chapters, which cover just about every aspect of this long-running group’s career. It is more than a simple guide however, as the author is obviously a big fan, and offers quite a number of insights into the various phases of the band through the years. There was really nobody else like them when they began. There was the “New Wave of British Heavy Metal” (NWOBHM) however, and Mike McPadden’s listing of these outfits is quite interesting. As the awkward acronym implies, these were all English groups, and unless you were really deep into the scene, you probably never heard groups such as Tygers of Pan Tang or Angel Witch.
But I’m getting ahead of myself here a bit. The first two chapters are devoted to what came before 1981, when Metallica first got together. All the usual suspects are covered, including AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, and many others.
Things get really interesting in the second chapter, “The Frayed Ends of Sanity,” in which McPadden talks about some of the true “crazies” in rock and metal. How about this for a description of 13th Floor Elevators leader Roky Erickson? “Sunbaked and psilocybin-sautéed deep in the medulla oblongata of Texas,” the author says.
The story is actually really sad. Roky got busted with a single joint, and rather than go to jail, he decided to plead insanity. After three years of electroshock therapy, Thorazine, and Lord knows what else, Roky went from being a happy-go-lucky hippie to a certifiable lunatic. He was never the same again, but he made some of the weirdest music one is ever likely to hear.
In later chapters, McPadden discusses the various strains of metal that flourished during the past 30 years. These include punk, hardcore, industrial, thrash, so-called “nu-metal” and more. Through it all, Metallica thrived, although things changed dramatically for them in 1991, with the release of Metallica (often referred to as the Black Album). That was the one with the mega-hit “Enter Sandman,” and wound up selling over 10 million copies.
The tragic death of original bassist Cliff Burton is discussed, as well as the group dissension captured on the (at times) difficult to watch Some Kind of Monster documentary. Original fans have been crying “sell-out” ever since the Black Album, but Metallica keep plugging ahead. At this point, their position as metal legends is assured, but what else are they going to do? Retirement does not seem to be an option.
Even though he is obviously a big fan, Mike McPadden does not shy away from the whole Napster ugliness in 2000, which was pretty much led by drummer Lars Ulrich. The idea of suing his own fans over “stealing” music via the Internet was a thorny issue to be sure. But I share the author’s opinion that Ulrich did not handle it well at all.
Besides discussing over 150 bands alone, the book features a selection of various other Metallica books, movies, and side-projects for further enlightenment. Even more so than in the other If You Like… guides, I think Mike McPadden has done a great job of mixing the history of the group in with his discussions of what has influenced them (and vice-versa) over the years. All in all, a very good read.