[Author’s note: This post is intended to introduce the first so-called “Feature” to be posted to MetalAteMyBaby.com. In reality, the feature itself will be published in three separate posts over the coming weeks. This initial post is more akin to a foreword of sorts—a clarifying of ground rules, if you will, so that the three-part feature is presented in proper context with as little ambiguity as possible.]
A number of my extreme metal brethren also share another passion of mine: baseball—specifically, the use of extraordinarily accurate metrics based on play-by-play data that provide now even the casual fan with the ability to intelligently argue who the best players are in the game today (or, should they fancy it, to argue over history’s greatest baseball players as well). Performance-measuring analytics, or “sabermetrics” as they’re often called (sometimes derisively, sometimes not), have become so accurate that, truthfully, there is little room for debate when evaluating baseball’s top performers.
Thirty years ago, enough gray area still existed—despite what were, at the time, revolutionary leaps forward in player valuation—that playful debates weighing the merit of Player A’s strengths with the glove versus Player B’s prowess with the lumber in his hands were an enjoyable part of the National Pastime. With an understanding of the expected run outcome of all 24 possible base-out combinations (for example, a runner on second base with nobody out), the ability to adjust for the crucial nature of the play about to unfold (known as the Leverage Index), and the ease with which biases in home field advantage may be neutralized, there’s just not much to argue about in 2016.
In 1985, however, Bill James published the first of three editions of his Historical Baseball Abstract, the first two of which introduced the concepts of “Peak Value” and “Career Value.” Simply put, James thought it impossible to rate a player such as Sandy Koufax, whose career was short but whose peak was brilliant, against a player such as Cy Young, who never had a single season as dominant as Koufax but who pitched for decades and amassed 511 career wins. Thus, James’ conceptualizations of “Peak” and “Career” values were born.
What does the 30-year-old, then-revolutionary approach of a Kansas schoolteacher have to do with extreme metal? The astute among you, I’m guessing, have already made the leap. There are bands that release one or two absolutely stellar records, then seemingly vanish off of the face of the Earth; conversely, there are artists who never reach such levels of greatness but churn out listenable metal for decades, pleasing fans across the world in the process. Now, which breed of artist is more impressive—the band with the flaming star peak or the band with the tortoise’s pace but consistent quality? And, furthermore, if we were to separate bands into one category or the other, which bands would we find to have had the greatest peak stretch ever, and which would we find to have defined longevity better than Webster’s?
That’s the aim of this three-part feature-length story. Part one will codify the ground rules: for example, how many albums may constitute a peak, and how few could be construed as to represent a career? Part two will identify the greatest peak metal performers ever, using your votes and the review averages of several reputable music aggregator websites; the same will be done to determine the bands with the greatest career values. Finally, the third and final installment will pit the bands from each classification against each other, tournament-style, with the ultimate objective to determine, within the annals of extreme metal , who graced us with the most epic peak, and who treated us to the longest run of sustained excellence.