Pitchfork’s 500 tracks of the decade countdown is all very well – but at no point while compiling their list did they have the opportunity to reference a band whose singer once had his face singed by a malfunctioning flaming codpiece.
Yet – despite the best efforts of W.A.S.P.’s Blackie Lawless – metal isn’t all superficial, cock-obsessed clowning. It’s also a genre that encompasses a record as weighty and epic as Mastodon’s ‘Moby Dick’-inspired ‘Leviathan’, perhaps the most effective concept album ever, a masterpiece whose oceanic sense of scale ably captures the colossal heft and rolling, Shakespearean cadences of Melville’s novel. And that’s not a sentence you could write about, say, Jens Lekman.
Hard rock has always been associated with fantasy, from Robert Plant bellowing about the darkest depths of Mordor in ‘Ramble On’ to Anthrax’s ‘Among The Living’, inspired by Stephen King’s ‘The Stand’.
But there’s more going on than mere adolescent swords-and-sorcery: look at Iron Maiden’s Coleridgean ‘Rime Of The Ancient Mariner’ (what is it with metal bands and 19th century allegorical seafaring epics?), or Metallica, whose desolate lyrical mode was shaped by the howlingly bleak cosmic horror of ‘HP Lovecraft’. Meanwhile, Whitesnake’s ‘Slide It In’ is a coy tribute to Virginia Woolf.
Ok, that last one isn’t true. But the points remains: metal is brilliant at synthesizing elements of the wider culture – whether it’s Carcass employing HR Giger to design their album sleeves, or Cradle Of Filth penning a concept album based on Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’.
Metal thrives on establishing vivid fictive worlds: it’s therefore a more visual medium than, say, indie-rock, which is why logos and T-shirts have always been key to the experience of being a metal fan. It’s difficult to think of Iron Maiden without also thinking of Eddie.
For that reason, I wonder if metal is fundamentally ill-suited to the iTunes age: these are albums you want to own, as physical artefacts, rather than atomise into individual, invisible, colourless MP3s.
But enough chin-stroking. Take a look at the 100 greatest metal albums list and let us know what you think. Any glaring omissions? Too much Kiss? Not enough Faith No More? Staggered by the omission of anything by Alien Ant Farm?