‘100 Greatest Metal Guitarists’ Book Review and Author Interview
By Greg Prato
Respected UK music journalist Joel McIver certainly had his work cut out for him when he decided to assemble his brand new book, ‘100 Greatest Metal Guitarists.’ As stated in his intro in the book, McIver makes it clear that this is not going to be your average listing – there will be no Randy Rhoads, Yngwie Malmsteen, nor Angus Young, because according to the author, these players were not pure metal players. Although this point can be argued (especially since McIver does include players like Fast Eddie Clarke, Rudolf Schenker, and Tony Iommi on the list - all of which have incorporated non-metal styles into their playing), the list that McIver comes up with is an interesting one. And it becomes clear from right off the bat that McIver has put a lot of research into this – and countless late nights analyzing shred-heavy solos.
As expected, the book starts with “guitarist #100” and works it’s way up to “numero uno.” For each entry, there is a bio about the player, a “genius moment” blurb (that discusses a top song from each player), and a quote that ends each entry – from the players themselves. There are plenty of b&w pix throughout as well, and McIver analyzes oft-overlooked players (Down’s Kirk Windstein, Strapping Young Lad’s Devin Townsend, Watchtower’s Ron Jarzombek, etc.), along with the expected fretboard blazers (Michael Schenker, the Maiden lads, the Priest chaps, etc.).
And McIver’s choice for the top spot is a very pleasant surprise. Although we’ve been sworn to secrecy to not unveil who it is, it is a player that when you think about it, really has influenced countless subsequent guitarists – in both his rhythm and soloing talents (not to mention his songwriting skills). If you’re looking to read a knowledgeable list of top guitarists for a change, definitely check out Mr. McIver’s ‘100 Greatest Metal Guitarists.’
What prompted you to pen the ‘100 Greatest Metal Guitarists’ book?
This book had to be written. I admit, I wrote it partly because of my own geeky desire to make a list of the best guitarists in metal, but it was also a reaction to some of the more ludicrous ‘best metal guitarists’ lists that have appeared in the press in the last few years. One particular magazine which I won’t name included Neil Young in their list (presumably because he’s played some distorted solos in his time) and Kurt Cobain (who would have been horrified to be labeled a metal musician). They also included Jimi Hendrix (rock), Alex Lifeson (prog-rock), Ted Nugent (blues-rock), Robert Fripp (prog), Pete Townshend (rock)…truly pathetic. Someone had to stand up and call these people’s bluff.
How much research/preparation did you put into the book?
List books generally suck because they’re so subjective, so I made a point of backing up each and every entry in my choice of 100 guitarists with solid technical information about what each guy can do and why his work has been influential over the years. That obviously took a lot of time, but I have to say it was fun listening to the best metal albums ever…I also wanted to include original quotes from as many of the 100 guys as possible, which took a while to collect.
Do you think this book will ruffle some feathers, and why?
Of course. Lists always do, by their nature. I’ve included some enormously underrated guitarists in the list, even as far as the highest entries, which will make people think a bit. My choice of No. 1, by the way, is going to make more than a few people pretty furious – but anyone who really knows about metal guitar and what it demands from a player will understand my reasoning immediately. Everybody has their favorites, though, and I’m expecting some pretty entertaining emails. Bring it on, I say – I welcome all criticism, positive and otherwise. The guestbook on my site is full of messages from people who are either delighted or enraged by what I’ve written in the previous 11 books.
Now that we know who your choices are for top guitarists, who are a few of the top stinkiest metal guitarists of all time, and why?
Well, I should clarify that there are plenty of non-technical players on the list – guys who can’t necessarily shred but whose pioneering ideas have made them legends. For example, Max Cavalera can’t solo – and cheerfully admits that fact – but his early riffs with Sepultura were executed with a picking-hand precision that still blows my mind to this day. The Seps were also massively influential on any number of later bands. Tom Fischer of Celtic Frost is no virtuoso either, but Frost were one of the most respected bands in metal for years because of his amazing songs. There are a few others like that. None of them are stinky, as you put it, but of course there are plenty of overrated guitarists around!
Do you play guitar yourself, and if so, what equipment do you use (guitars, amps, effects, etc.)?
I do, but not remotely as well as any of the guys in my book. I play a Les Paul through a Peavey combo via a bunch of random effects – a Marshall distortion pedal and others. I have a couple of acoustics for those drunken campfire moments, including an Epiphone 12-string. I also play bass, usually a BC Rich Beast through a big old Ampeg.
Would you say metal guitar soloing is definitely back (a few years ago, it seemed like many bands were scared to include solos in their tunes)?
Absolutely. Even Metallica thought solos were uncool back in 2003, but luckily most people have wised up. If anything, too many bands are trying to prove their ‘true metal’ credentials, when there’s no need to prove anything – if, like the 100 players in the book, you can play a tasteful solo that serves the song it’s in and which sends shivers down the spine of the headbangers who hear it, your job is done.
Pick up any guitar tricks or secrets while penning the book?
Yes, quite a few. Mike Amott told me that he always tries to tell a story with his solos, a trick he learned from Michael Schenker. Mikael Akerfeldt told me how he got a decent sitar emulation out of his PRS. There are loads of things like that in the book. Most of the guys nominated their favorite guitarists – many of which were quite unexpected. A lot of them named James Hetfield as their favorite rhythm player and Dimebag or Iommi as their hero when it comes to solos. All three of those are in the Top 10, of course.
Any idea where metal guitar is headed in the future?
If I knew that, I’d form a band and make a fortune…but I predict that the borders of extremity will continue to expand, little by little, year by year, as players continue to get faster and more technical. At the same time, there will be a backlash against technicality for its own sake, with other metal bands choosing a simpler, more melodic approach. It all has its place and it’s all worth listening to, so let’s all try to be a little less snobby – although I realize that’s rich coming from a guy who’s just written a list of who’s better than whom.
The 100 Greatest Metal Guitarists is out on Jawbone Press in January and is available for pre-order at Amazon now. Contact the author via www.joelmciver.co.uk.
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