Dan Nelson’s epic 243-page book All Known Metal Bands is full of death, destruction, pain and unspeakable acts of depravity. You won’t find any graphic descriptions or wordy explanations, however, just a list of more than 50,000 bands that the author claims are associated with the endlessly fascinating metal genre.
Nelson, a conceptual artist from Oregon, spent a significant amount of time researching the names before printing them inside a beautifully designed book, which features gothic typography on the cover and silver print set against black pages inside. It should be noted that most of the names could be found on the website Encyclopaedia Metallum long before All Known Metal Bands was published in 2008. Nelson acknowledges this, but as he explained on his website, no one else had the idea of publishing the names in such an elegant fashion in a book that he considers more of a work of art than a mere encyclopaedia.
Dedicating so much time to compiling such a list might seem unfathomable to non-metalheads but there’s something deeply captivating about Nelson’s labour of love. Leafing through page after page of bleak-sounding names such as Bound by Entrails and Premature Autopsy on a cold winter’s night is much more fun than it should be. Plus, you can’t help but be intrigued about the stories behind the names.
The most entertaining way to view the book is as a study of the bizarre naming conventions and recurring themes found throughout the mixed-up world of metal. For example, there are 170 bands featuring the word “dead”, 68 beginning with the word “goat” and nine bands that share the name Scum. More than a whole page is taken up by bands featuring the word “blood” somewhere in their name.
So what does All Known Metal bands tell us, if anything, about its subject matter? In the book’s endnote, Nelson states: “The names in this book are invisible tokens to be uttered aloud, each conjuring a group of humans formed to play rock in its extreme form – with the greatest impact of sound, in which the floorboards shake and walls quiver, and ears split and leak blood.”
As terrifying as that sounds, it doesn’t ring entirely true. There are plenty of acts featured in All Known Metal Bands that purists would refuse to accept as true metal bands. Perhaps the most obvious is Led Zeppelin, whose music is loud and occasionally ear-splitting but not particularly extreme (except for those 12-minute drum solos). Meanwhile, the fact that Guns N’ Roses are notably absent, despite their keen embrace of various aspects of hair metal during the 80s, is sure to raise a few pierced eyebrows. Nelson does not provide his reasoning, but perhaps it doesn’t matter.
As the the title acknowledges, providing a definitive list of every metal band in the world is an impossible task. Metal is made up of many constantly evolving sub-genres from the relatively well known (thrash metal, melodic metal) to the utterly obscure (dinosaur metal, goblin metal). This contrasts with the persistent myth that metal bands are stuck in the past, unwilling to innovate or embrace technological change. Metal’s huge breadth of variety, coupled with a longstanding tradition of boundary pushing, is what makes it a truly fascinating subject, but also one that can never be truly defined.
Much like metal itself, All Known Metal Bands isn’t for everyone, but it holds up well as a celebration of some of the most daring, absurd and amusing band names to be found in any genre – and, if nothing else, it will look absolutely beautiful on your coffee table.
All Known Metal Bands, described by Rolling Stone as “the best bathroom book ever”, is still in print (although Amazon in the UK says it is currently out of stock). You can get it online from The McSweeney’s Store for a bargain $15.