Encyclopaedia Metallum: 71,000+ bands. We talk to site developer, Hellblazer

While the internet can be a source of dis-information, useless gossip, cheap porn, slanderous allegations and bogus death notices, it can also be a valuable source of information, of connecting and of community (as well as cheap porn). The folk at the Encyclopaedia Metallum Metal Archives are definitely part of the latter. Well, we meant of the community at least: we didn't actually inquire about cheap porn!

More than just a stack of names, with over 71,000 bands listed and detailed and over 50,000 reviews posted, the Metal Archives site is an invaluable source of information, a great place to test and spread your knowledge, and an easy  way of connecting with other mad headbangers from all over the globe.  The man behind the scenes (or at least one of them), Hellblazer, found time between his real job as a programmer and his ongoing maintenance of the site, to give Metal As Fuck a little of the site’s history and his future plans.

While the site first went online in July 2002, Hellblazer had been toying with the idea for awhile.  “It seemed like a great idea to have a central reference for information about all metal bands, something that I thought was lacking from the Internet at the time," he said. But he soon found out why such a site hadn’t been attempted.

“I underestimated the effort that would take though. My first attempt at the site was actually by writing static HTML pages by hand for each band but, not being particularly industrious, I quickly gave up on that project after maybe six bands.” 

Not one to give up though he put his head down and came up with a much simpler idea. 

“I saw the best way to accomplish this would be to create a system in which visitors of the site could add the data themselves, and thus the site would profit and grow from the combined knowledge and efforts of all visiting metal heads. And that’s how the present incarnation of the site was born.”

With others adding to the site, it soon took off. “After that, well, it grew insanely quickly and became fairly popular, and continues to grow steadily today.”

As Encyclopaedia Metallum grows bigger and bigger, I wondered how Hellblazer and his associate Morrigan maintained the site and kept an eye on things. It turns out that they rely very heavily on an increasing team of moderators. At the beginning, it was just Hellblazer and Morrigan, but they quickly had to expand the team to manage the site's exploding popularity. And with the reviews growing, the forum’s popularity and an ever increasing amount of information coming forth, those moderators have come in handy.

“The moderator team is the only way to make this manageable. There is no way we could take care of the site without our dedicated moderators. They actually deal with pretty much all of the day-to-day going ons of the site nowadays.”

As for Hellblazer himself, these days he mostly concentrates "on keeping the site up and running, development and maintenance, as well as trying to keep up with the sizable flow of e-mails we get… and the occasional interview.” 

As for the rapid growth of the site, it seems the boys were a bit taken aback by the amount of metal bands out there. Hellblazer had absolutely no idea that there were so many metal bands in the world.

"At the start, I thought that we would get maybe 10 000 bands listed, tops. Now we’re up to more than seven times that and the submissions just keep flowing in, it’s insane," he told me, but clarified that "The bigger and more complete it is, the more useful it is. It requires more work too, sure, but as I said this is offset by our growing team of moderators.”

But with that growth and popularity Hellblazer has also seen a rise in costs.  While back in the early days the guys covered all of the hosting costs themselves because they made a decision not to have banners on the site, and they stuck to it. Of course, it was never going to be that easy but they have managed at least to keep the popups and banners at bay.

“When our hosting package was pushed to its limits and was severely hindering the site’s performance, we needed to move to dedicated hosting, which greatly increased the costs. We then decided to implement our current affiliation program, which displays links to web stores on band and album pages.” 

He doesn’t see this as a bad thing, though.

“It’s unobtrusive enough for our users, even useful to some, and serves to amply cover all site-related costs. Though we still have occasional issues and down times, the site is much more stable now than it has been in the past so I would say it was worth it.”

I mentioned to Hellblazer that unlike something like Wikipedia where you can never be sure that what you read is actually true, the metal archives at Encyclopaedia Metallum have a reputation for being a truthful, strong and reliable source of knowledge.

He laughed. “Do we have such a reputation?” 

But he pointed out that, once again, the accuracy comes down to the metal community involved in the site.

“Any superior accuracy we might have is due to our diligent community of contributors.  It’s not really that much different than Wikipedia’s system, though we do have stricter control at some levels, such as bands needing to be approved by moderators, and new users not being able to change the data that’s already there right away.”

As for the future of Encyclopaedia Metallum, the long awaited Version 2 is still in the works. The guys are still working on a complete rewrite of the code of the site, and are going to be implementing "new and improved features that will constitute a solid base for future development.”

And being an old man (I first heard Black Sabbath on 8-track after all!) I had to finish by asking about a possible paper version of the archives.

“Well, this has been brought up before," Hellblazer said, (so it’s not just me!). "It’s not entirely out of the question, but it seems a bit like a step backward. There is of course no way that all the information could fit in a book, or even multiple volumes, and the data would already be just a little bit out-of-date right on the day of release, and would only get worse with time. Still, it seems to interest some people. Maybe we can figure out something workable in the future, but there are no solid plans for the moment.” 

So until then I guess I’ll have to stick to the modern world but then with sites the quality and depth of Encyclopaedia Metallum around I guess I can manage.