Riff Kills Man proves that Martin Popoff knows his shit when it comes to metal


By Steve Newton

Heavy-metal and hard-rock fans are a fanatical bunch. They thrive on raunchy guitar solos, thundering drums, and howling vocals. They live for feedback. They despise earplugs. And when it comes to their favourite kind of music, they always know who rules.

So does Toronto-based writer Martin Popoff, author of the new book Riff Kills Man: 25 Years of Recorded Hard Rock & Heavy Metal. Inspired by former Rolling Stone critic Robert Christgau’s ’70s and ’80s record guides, the Castlegar, B.C.-born Popoff spent the last three years writing nearly 2,000 reviews of the loudest recordings ever made.

Popoff rates each selection on a scale of 1 to 10 and minces few words in his overview, which covers everything from Lee Aaron (“One of the most pathetic circus acts in Canadian recording history [second only to Prism]”) to ZZ Top (which garners full marks for its ’70s discs Tres Hombres and Tejas).

“The book certainly leaves no stone unturned when it comes to the ’70s,” says Popoff, “but it’s also suitable for anyone who’s a student of rock in general.”

As far as Vancouver bands go, Popoff gives 10s to NoMeansNo for 1989’s Wrong, Sons of Freedom for its self-titled ’88 debut, and Kick Axe for its ’84 debut, Vices. Other Vancouver acts receiving high marks are Annihilator (an 8 for 1990’s Never Neverland), Slow (9 for 1985’s Against the Glass), and 54-40 (a “non-metal” band that doesn’t get reviewed but hogs the best-Canadian-album top 10 with three placings).

On the downside, locally, hard-rock/punk heroes D.O.A. only manage a measly 5 (for 1985’s Let’s Wreck the Party), and Canuck-rock legend B.T.O.’s best mark is 6. Still, Popoff’s country-wide view from Toronto proves a lot less cynical and biased than that displayed annually by those Hogtown-fixated goons at the Junos.

Riff Kills Man is currently available at Granville Books, A&B Sound (Seymour), Zulu, Steeltown, and Track Records.

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