Let’s say it at the start: Joel McIver’s latest book, The 100 Greatest Metal Guitarists is a terrific read.
McIver, who also penned the best-seller Justice For All: The Truth About Metallica, as well as other guitar books, brings impeccable credentials to the subject. To spill just a few names, among his choices are such obvious calls as Dimebag Darrell, Tony Iommi and Kirk Hammett. Also featured, however, are lesser-knowns like Dallas Toler-Wade (of the South Carolina-based band Nile), Polish guitarist Piotr Wiwczarek and "power metal" specialist Jon Schaffer.
McIver makes an eloquent case for each of his choices, while also taking pains to defend the exclusion of seeming shoe-ins like Randy Rhoads and Ritchie Blackmore. At the outset, in the book’s introduction, he makes a distinction between "metal" and "hard rock."
"There’s rock, and there’s metal — and in this book the twain do not meet," he writes. "I admire the skills of Randy Rhoads, Angus Young, Yngwie Malmsteen, Buckethead and Nuno Bettencourt as much as the next guy, but they’re not known for metal: they play hard rock."
McIver is certainly entitled to put forth such a fine-tuned distinction, but legitimate lovers of metal guitar are just as entitled to disagree. And when McIver goes on to describe his criteria for inclusion as "exhaustive analysis of technique, how innovative and groundbreaking I consider [the guitarist] to be, and how far (if at all) they have extended the boundaries of the heavy metal guitar," he undermines his case for excluding the aforementioned Rhoads and Blackmore, among many others.
That said, any metal-guitar fan or player will find much to savor in these 200-plus pages. Richly illustrated and impeccably organized, the book in essence chronicles the history of heavy metal via the accumulation of player profiles.
Each profile contains a "genius moment" sidebar that defines the player’s finest performance on record, as well as a quote from each player regarding technique, work ethic, influence, or some other aspect of the craft. Among these nuggets are tips from Slayer’s Kerry King on how best to warm up before a gig, and Kirk Hammett’s thoughts on the quest for perfection.
Rounding out the book is an appendix that lists the next 50 greatest metal practitioners — which include Lamb of God’s Willie Adler and Mastodon’s Bill Kelliher, to name two. Also included, in part to emphasize a distinction between the two genres, is McIver’s list of the 20 all-time greatest shredders. As with his metal-guitarist picks, one can argue about the choices, but the author's passion and knowledge are beyond reproach.