A History of Heavy Metal by Andrew O’Neill

Title: A History of Heavy Metal
Author: Andrew O’Neill
Publication date: 2017

Date started: 26/08/2020
Date finished: 30/11/2022

First sentence: “There are two types of people in the world: people who like heavy metal, and dicks. Don’t worry too much if you fall into the latter category; I’m very persuasive.”
Last sentence: “And then a new big bang starts the whole thing once more. Humans evolve on a new earth, begin bashing rocks with sticks and… well. You can just go back to the start of the book and read it again…”
Favorite sentence: “[Venom was] explicitly satanic. Black Sabbath’s apologetic, scared-Christian approach to the infernal was replaced by a celebration of Satan as an ally. Venom considered Ozzy a disappointment because every time he talked about Satan he’d go ‘OH NOOOOOOOOOO!’”

Summary: Andrew takes us through the history of heavy metal, starting with the bands that influenced Black Sabbath, to the boom of thrash metal in the 80s, to (while grinding their teeth) the horrors of glam and nu metal. They end the book with an appraisal of what the metal culture is like nowadays (thriving thanks to technology, apparently) and a prediction of how it will be in the future (with the help of the spirits of Lemmy and Dio who were summoned for the occasion).

Opinion: This book was really nice! It’s loosely based on a comedy show the author made about the history of heavy metal, and thanks to this it’s packed with humour. I wrote down a lot of band and album recommendations that will take me a while to go through. I will say though, it feels like they often spend more time talking about small bands they love, than about the big influential bands, and I’m not sure how I feel about that – on one hand it’s great to give visibility to smaller bands, on the other hand, if we’re talking about the history of the genre, surely the more influential bands should be given more space? There were also a few messy parts, like when they started talking about their personal childhood and experience with metal (which I appreciated) completely randomly in the middle of a chapter (which was confusing), but even that didn’t bother me too much as the book overall was still very enjoyable. The last thing I have to say is that O’Neill has very strong opinions on what bands are good, what bands are mediocre, and what bands suck so much that anybody enjoying them must be an absolute idiot. This bothered me a bit because I tend to absorb these kind of opinions very quickly, and I want to like or dislike a band because I like or dislike them, not because an author told me what to think – also, they end up sounding quite snobbish. Still, it’s the first time I read a book about the history of a music genre, so I don’t have much to compare it to, but if you want a fun and approachable book to learn more about heavy metal, I would definitely recommend this one!


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