Interview With Martin Popoff - Author

Martin and LemmyMartin Popoff is one of the most, if not THE most, prolific metal reviewers out there with literally thousands of reviews under his belt. Popoff is a blast to read with an acute, often times obtuse style that is as cerebral as it is from the gut. Whether he's describing the 'the strong backhand of the title track' from Nazareth's 'Hair of the Dog' or the 'rope-a-dope lope' of Helmet, you can't help but be impressed by the furnace level of this wordsmith. We took some time to chat with him about metal, his books and who the real Rock and Roll Messiah is.

So, Martin, now that we’re near the end of the year, what are some of you favorite album releases for 2004?

I'd say first off, I like the Clutch album a lot. Definately the new Mastodon CD. I've been playing that a lot. The new Megadeth and Shadows Fall are pretty cool. I was into the Unleashed album. A few months ago, I loved the new Motorhead--to me the recent ones are as good as the classic ones. Dark Tranquility is one of my favorite new bands. There was the Wolf album. Evil Star which is NWOBHM-ish...Evergrey...I like a lot of Finnish bands...they do a good melodic thrash. There was Insomnium. Disillusion off of Metal Blade they're a good band... Dismember...Jizzy Pearl from Love/Hate put out a solo album I thought was great. Unearth--that's good stuff.

The new Van Halen--that's a band that I don't even think about how heavy or fast a song is, there's just the personal chemistry of those guys playing together that is incredible. They're just such distinctive players that to hear them bang off each other is great no matter how loopy or stupid a song is. I love their 3 new songs.

About how many CDs are you spinning per week?

I receive about 250 CDs a week being a rock critic dude and I go through what I can go through.

Is your ear tuned enough to be able to accept, reject and grade in one spin?

I'd say so, in less than a spin. In most cases 30 seconds is more than enough. There are certain genres that you feel your grip loosening on what you can do and for our magazine there is just some stuff where we have to throw our hands up and say we can't review this intelligently, say, an avant-garde or really brutal black metal album or run-of-the-mill death metal album. You have to be a generalist with your hand in a bunch of pies and you also have to start specializing. There just too many genres and sub-genres out there.

Have you ever been bribed or threatened based on a positive/negative review?

Neither, although I've had relations "cool" with a few guys after negative reviews... Frank Marino, Kim Mitchell, and I suspect, April Wine. Bribery takes many forms - i.e. the infamous press junket to some exotic city, hotel, food and booze included, to hear a new album in the studio, or do interviews at some listening session. I've always turned those down, although moreso because traveling is a waste of time.

What's on your playlist right now?

Something that isn't even heavy--Porcupine Tree...Black Field is awesome. I played the new Nightwish and the Helix compilation that just came out. Playing a lot of Dio cause of his new one...Marillion...I've jogged to some U.D.O. and Motorhead... even some old Night Ranger...Cataract, Impious on Metal Blade. Some Victory stuff and the new Saxon is good, I've played that a few times lately.

What are you looking forward to?

AC\DC--it's always a happy time in the world when a new one from them comes out even though I think the last three have declined in value. In terms of what's coming out and who's releasing what, I'm not one of those guys who has to follow close and get something a month before it comes out. Usually, I buy a few things, but it's not usually metal.

Have you been disappointed in anything lately?

For that, I'm at a loss because it's just so competitive now that there are few bad productions and people put a lot more into their CDs now because they have to. I didn't like the last W.A.S.P. and Queensryche albums. I've been pretty disappointed in Maiden recently even though I've written good things about them when they first came out.

Since you listen to so much metal, what direction do you see metal going here in the mid 00's?

Well, the big thing is this New Wave of American Heavy Metal (NWOAHM)--these thrash bands who are very technical, mixing hardcore with some singing. It's fairly extreme and some of them are hitting 100,000 in sales and the tours are doing good. Even though they are smaller places, they pack them in. Black metal never hit the way many thought it would. There are always the big monster bands that always do well.

You've had a chance to be there when metal started. Can you recall the first time you heard a truely metal album?

Wow, well metal kind of starts at different times even in a general sense that people agree on and at different times depending on how old you are and where you think it started because of the different sort of tolerance level of what you see metal as. Even people who think it started with Metallica have a point because it's like, how heavy do you need your metal to be to define it as "heavy metal". To me, metal really started in 1970, but I wasn't there for that. For me, the first metal stuff that I was conscious of hearing was probably something off of KISS 'Hotter Than Hell', Led Zeppelin 4, or Black Sabbath 'Vol. 4' and also Nazareth's 'Razamanaz'. I would have been about 10.

Also, all throughout the '70s, heavy metal was this hazy term with hard rock. It was with NWOBHM where the bands really meant it--we want to be this way, we're proud to be this way in jean jackets with no ballads and every song is fast...just being about metal, you really didn't have that in the '70s. They stopped apologizing for it. There were tons and tons of indy bands putting out stuff on small labels. There was tapes going around and 45s with really heavy bands.

Did Sabbath still have that scary mystique about them back then?

Yeah, they were the scariest until Judas Priest's 'Sad Wings of Destiny' which I had as a new release. That one blew my mind because it was so fast and technical and had all that weird religious imagery. It was timeless and there was no press at all on the band that it seemed like they were aliens dropped in on the metal world. To me, metal started in '70, it really kicked up a notch in '76, it kicked up a notch again for the NWOBHM. They even had some scary bands too like Venom and the first Iron Maiden album.

What do you say to those who question aren't you too old to listen to heavy metal?

You always get those jokes about how you will outgrow it, but to me it's just this thing that keeps you young plus when you have an anchor to the bands you grew up with and they're still going, well there's a scene you can keep following. Some of these guys are older than I am and still making great music. But, there is also the thing where I have some trouble listening to bands half my age. You do sort of outgrow certain things and maybe there are certain types of metal that are so beyond me now cause I'm way too old.

But then again there's still power, great playing, volume, bombastic and literary things going on and even more reasons to still be into it--it can get you up to achieve, exercise or help you get your work done for the day. It's a good shot in the arm, like coffee coming out of your speakers.

How do we get over that misguided image of the metal fan generally seen as angry males who sit in their bedrooms all day with headphones on?

I don't think you get over that image and I don't think it matters anymore, since it isn't the big type of music right now. Most people don't look like they did in the '80s and there's like 25 different kinds of metal out there. It's just artwork and if you want to consume this artwork you do. Of, course you don't want bad things to come about like violence.

I don't think it'll ever live down it's image cause you do have pretty hateful and ugly and ghoulish stuff out there. It's not like metal is changing or apologizing for being what it is. You may not get rid of the image 'til you get rid of the imagry.

All of us owners here at MM have a copy of the older Collector's Guide (usually sitting in our bathroom; some have beer stains and been puked on, but standing up great). Tell us more about how you're supplanting them with a new set.

We took The Collector’s Guide To Heavy Metal ('97) and are splitting it into three decades--70s, 80s and 90s--and the 70s book is out currently with brand new text. I really feel that most of the writing was lousy throughout that '97 book. For The Collector's Guide To Heavy Metal - Volume 1: The Seventies, we basically added a ton of 70's rarities and totally rewrote all those reviews. The new 70s book has about 3Xs the 70s stuff that was in the '97 book and the 80s will be triple as big as so will the 90s.

"I happen to think that if you end up on a major label that you're probably pretty good and you deserve to be there."
You've also done some interesting list books and individual band books:

The cool thing we did is the Top 500 Heavy Metal Singles ('03) and Albums ('04) of all time which was taking a big public poll and me writing all-new reviews for the winners and adding quotes from the artists. I've done about 1000 interviews and I would ask them for a few words on one of their albums and the songs that made it.

The interesting thing about the Album list is that it came out much heavier than the Singles list, I think because extreme metal is more centered around the album than the single, so you had a lot of death metal and thrash...Megadeth, Anthrax and Testament, Opeth, Meshuggah...where the song book was about singles and say, a death song usually doesn't come to mind when you think of your favorite songs. There may even have been a discrepancy between what is considered hard rock and what's heavy metal which could be why Led Zeppelin wasn't so high.

I also had a Blue Oyster Cult book 'Blue Oyster Cult: Secrets Revealed' just come out through Metal Blade Records which was the first they've ever done. It's just selling like crazy; the fastest selling book I've ever done maybe cause they're a really interesting band, lyrically and musically. Had a Rush book 'Contents Under Pressure: 30 Year of Rush At Home & Away' come out on ECW Press that was an authorized book for the band that they will sell on tour.

There was the Goldmine Heavy Metal Price Guide ('00) which is for vinyl records and the Southern Rock Review ('01)...there's detail on them all at my site at www.martinpopoff.com with instructions on how to order.

What do you think about a Heavy Metal Hall of Fame?

Yeah, we've talked about it, me and some guys, and it's a pie-in-the-sky idea, but it's something that could happen and should happen somewhere and chances are there will be a virtual one first. Somebody could run one with strict voting and similarities to how the regular Hall of Fame works. It's a good idea and I think it should happen.

It's said that each writer is working on the Great American, or in your case Canadian, Novel? Are you?

Not really, but I agree with you that I would love to. This doesn't always feel like a goal in itself being a "rock critic dude". I paint as well and I love it, but for me to really reach the pinnacle of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, it's like 50-50. I could be a writer or a painter. I've talked to Jizzy Pearl who writes books himself and I've told him people would like to see you write on rock-n-roll and he says, yeah, but if you want to move away from this stuff, you have to move in more rapid, deliberate, accelerated steps. If I wrote a novel the easy thing for me to do would be for it to have a RnR angle to it.

Let's switch gears a little. ANTHRAX guitarist Scott Ian said that he and the rest of his band firmly believe "Chicago is the heavy metal capital of the United States!" Do you agree or disagree and why?

I can tell you in Canada, the place for metal is Montreal where every band that goes there gets double the size crowds of Toronto which is twice the size. People record their live DVDs there. Quebec has a killer metal scene. Having said that, though, people say Detroit is good, Pine Knob is also...Texas esp. San Antonio has a good rep. Anthrax would probably be as qualified as anybody to answer that. It would be interesting to ask them all. Let's start that--ask every dude what the metal capital is and compare notes.

Have you seen 'Some Kind of Monster' yet?

No, I haven't. I would definately like to see that but it may take me months to watch it once it comes out on DVD since I deal with metal all day I don't like to deal with it at night.

If you could only listen to metal from one country, which would it be?

Right now, I'd say Finland. I love those bands...Amorphis, Children of Bodom is cool...Omnium Gatherum, Rapture...it's a great, trendy scene.

If you could only listen to metal from one decade, which would it be?

I'd say the 70's even though it brands me as an old fogey, but everybodys's favorite is the stuff they grew up with. That was the magical time for me.

Who's your favorite Spinal Tap character?

I think the guy with the dark hair--Nigel.

Really, what's the big deal about Thin Lizzy?

Thin Lizzy is incredible musically, vocally...the chemistry of the band...they have a drummer who is amazing...they invented the twin leads that sounded so good...never called themselves heavy metal, so they had a healthy approach to music with all kinds of different styles on each album...great production, choruses...that's enough right there.

Ever drop acid or anything mind-altering with Lemmy?

Nope, never tried acid or coke, just a little pot and hash/hash oil in my youth. Lemmy--I'm scared of that guy. Never even had a beer with him even though he offers every time I see him.

At this point do you really care about a new Guns'n Roses album?

Probably as much as than I care about 300 other things that come out each year. I am curious, but again I didn't grow up with them. I'm more interested in a new AC\DC or a new Deep Purple or Rush.

Do you have any idea who might be the richest man in metal? Ozzy? Gene Simmons? Robert Plant?

Good question. Definately, not Gene , there's way too much talk there. Robert and Jimmy, Malcolm and Angus, Ozzy,...the top of the list I'd say is Robert and Jimmy. I think they've sold the most records and had the monster tours. Those Iron Maiden guys are probably getting pretty rich also.

Do you ever visit metal sites and read the news and gossip or other peoples reviews?

I do, but not too much. I'm a Metal Sludge (link: metalsludge.tv) regular and our own site Brave Words and Bloody Knuckles (link: bravewords.com) is my favorite for news and the forum is very active. I go to your guys' site (link: maximummetal.com) and I go to MelodicRock.com and Blabbermouth.net and that's about it.

What other reviewers do you respect and where can we read them?

David Perry for our magazine is a young guy who knows a lot of different kinds of music and is a good writer. The guys at Lollipop magazine--Scott Hefflon and Tim Den are awesome also.

Underground or big label--which is better for metal?

I happen to think that if you end up on a major label that you're probably pretty good and you deserve to be there. More of the bands I've listened to over the years have been on major labels and I think the cream does rise to the top. For a metal band these days you'd probably do as well on a medium-sized label though.

How do you feel about females in metal and who's been some of your favorites in metal over the years?

I've never been a big fan; I just don't take it seriously. I do love female singers in non-metal like various soft rock or prog. I guess I like Arch Enemy and Synergy--Kim Goss is pretty cool. Lullacry, from Finland, is cool.

Do you think with the current Admin we're in there is a similar atmosphere to the PMRC days/Reagan years giving rise to thrash again?

I don't think they have their eye on it as much. If they're paying attention it's probably on Rap or video games. Metal--swearing and off-color covers--isn't on the radar as much nowadays.

Are there any relatively unknown bands out there that you would like to throw out a plug to?

There's a really cool band on The End Records called Lillitu...Lyzanxia, that was good. There's tons of stuff; we just shake our heads at stuff that is independent, but so well-done in production and sound. There's so much great competition out there it's amazing.

Who is the real Rock and Roll Messiah, the real Eternal Idol, the real Undisputed Champion of Heavy Metal?

Ronnie James Dio--that guy's first recording was in 1958. He still makes records regularly, he tours regularly. He may actually be, it would be cool to research, the most active rock performer on the planet and he's in heavy metal which is real cool. If you think about it, the only guys that could be close would probably be Blues guys. Rock n Roll really didn't start till around '56, so who's from back then who's still making RnR records regularly? He put out singles all through those years and the guy has been a musical performer on record since '58. He may be the Last Man Standing. He's the King.

PURCHASE LINKS: www.ecwpress.com | www.martinpopoff.com


  • Riff Kills Man! 25 Years Of Recorded Hard Rock & Heavy Metal (1993)
    -1,945 album reviews, 440 p.

  • The Collector’s Guide To Heavy Metal (1997)
    - update of Riff Kills Man!: 3750 album reviews, 540 p., 600,000 words, full-length CD sampler, in fourth printing

  • Goldmine Heavy Metal Record Price Guide (2000)
    - 11,800 entries, 300 photos, 368 p., best of list, essays, full-length CD sampler

  • Heavy Metal: 20th Century Rock And Roll (2000)
    - part of series, themed as The Fifty Most Influential Bands In Heavy Metal, essays, interview segments, discographies, best of lists, 190 p.

  • Southern Rock Review (2001)
    - 410 southern rock record reviews, 150 album cover shots, 200 p., 10 tr. CD sampler, appendices

  • The Top 500 Heavy Metal Songs Of All Time (2003)
    - poll winners, reviews of each, artist quotes for approx. 460 of them, singles shots, artist lists, 486 p.

  • The Collector's Guide To Heavy Metal - Volume 1: The Seventies (2003)
    - 1162 reviews of '70s hard rock albums, most not in original '97 source book (and those that were, expanded/rewritten), 188 album cover shots, seven appendices, 12 tr. rarities sampler, 344 p.

  • The Top 500 Heavy Metal Albums Of All Time (2004)
    - Like the Songs book but better, longer quotes and reviews, longer overall, due to 7” x 10” page size (450 p.). New appendices etc. Winners from a poll, reviews by me, artist quotes for almost all entries.

  • Blue Oyster Cult: Secrets Revealed (2004)
    - A 193 p. bio of the band (focus on albums and songs); original interviews with Buck, Eric, Albert, Joe, and Bobby, plus Greg Scott, Ioannis, Murray Krugman, Sandy Pearlman, Richard Meltzer, John Shirley, Helen Wheels and David Roter.

  • Contents Under Pressure: 30 Year of Rush At Home & Away (2004)
    - a 230 page book with 270 photos (most quite rare) authorized by the band, with fresh interviews, to be sold in bookstores and on tour; full colour throughout, 7" x 10" format.

    Martin PopoffFrank Hill10/15/2004

    The Collector’s Guide To Heavy Metal: Vol. 2 – The Eighties
    Ken Pierce2/4/2006
    The Top 500 Heavy Metal Albums Of All Time
    Frank Hill8/31/2004
    Ye Olde Metal: 1968 to 1972
    Raising Iron9/19/2008
    Ye Olde Metal: 1973 to 1975
    Raising Iron12/22/2008

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