Yesterday I received in the post a copy of All Known Metal Bands, a book that purports to list the name (and no other details) of every metal band. Ever. That's over 51,000 band names.
This is a self-consciously arty book. The gourgeous packaging is what we have come to expect from hipster publishers McSweeneys. The 'author' is an artist called Dan Nelson who, brilliantly, has the same name as the latest vocalist of Anthrax.
The short closing essay states:
For each name that is used by more than one group, that name is listed once for each distinct group. Should one presume that each of these bands had an average of four members, and multiply that by the quantity of bands, one might calculate that at least a quarter of a million humans have undertaken this quest - to unearth, embody, aim, and deliver power itself - and have brough that quest into the harsh light of the public world.
This estimate is almost certainly way off as so many bands share personnel with other bands. Ubiquitous figures like Stephen O'Malley and Hellhammer could fill a books of their own (well, small pamphlets) with the number of projects they've played in.
Nevertheless, 51,000 is a hell of a lot. I don't know what the criterion for listing is but I suspect it must be something like having released at least a demo and played a couple of gigs.
The book confirmed my suspicion that most of the good metal band names are already taken. A quick flick through reveals 9 Salems, 18 Nemeses, nearly an entire page of Eternal - , Funeral - and Necro - bands. Nelson has picked up some weirdly named, tantalising obscurities. Anyone heard of Bao Tap? Czernoknizhnik? Fuzzybearoth? Xaotiko Teloz?
I've been trying hard to find omissions, but Nelson's done his research. He even picked up Israeli bands like Arafel and Substance For God, although he misses some really obscure Israeli acts like Servant's Glory. So far the only surprising omission I have found is Anal Cunt side project Impaled Northern Moon Forest .
Train-spotter fun aside, this is a great book. There is a weird beauty to be found in purusing this extraordinary list. It is a monument to the obsessiveness of metal in mining a few themes beyond the point of their exhaustion. Indeed, it is precisely the glorious redundancy of most metal that is the source of its power (cf Bataille).