May 30, 2006

Movie Review: Metal: A Headbanger's Journey

Before getting into the film, I thought I'd give you a little background on my own journey to discovery of the metal realm. I have to admit that I was considerably late getting into music. It was the latter years of the 1980's and my first attraction was the pop metal that was popular at the time, bands like Poison, Warrant, Def Leppard, Europe, Motley Crue, and the like. My childhood best friend, and currently the drummer for Hatebreed, introduced me to the heavier side of metal. He had me listening to Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, Anthrax, WASP, Testament, among others.

I was attracted to the aggression and power that metal brought to the table. I made my way through the grunge and alternative scenes of the 1990s, but I always came back to some variety of metal. I cannot claim to have any in depth knowledge of the genre, but I do know that is where my music tastes are the strongest. I could go on talking about the videly varied bands that I like, but that isn't why you're reading this, you want to know about this documentary and if it is worth your time.

This documentary was birthed by anthropologist, and lifelong metalhead, Sam Dunn. He has decided to explore the roots of the metal culture. He takes a look the culture of the fans, the origin of the genre, and the numerous subgenres that it has spawned over the years. It is not the most in depth documentary you will find on the subject, nor is it the most professional that you will see. Despite those potential shortcomings there is one thing that it does exceedingly well, and that is entertain and give you some good information about the metal world. This is good for longtime fans and the curious alike.

I admit to being slightly trepidatious as I approached viewing this film. I have been burned on band oriented documentaries in the past, they tended to be unauthorized and contained no music by the band and had no interviews with the subjects, rather they relied heavily on talking heads of "friends" and other worthless talking heads. I am happy to report that my fears were unfounded, this film is filled with interviews with important members of the metal world, as well as with live performance footage of some of the included bands.

Dunn does an admirable job at trying to encompass so much of what is metal inside a 90 minute film. Some things are glossed over, others not explained as much as they should have, but what it does do is give an inside look at the fans and the wide variety of styles targeted at a broad audience. At the same time, it gives the ostracized metalhead validation, not that we need it, but this shows just how much metal has permeated the music world on a global scale.

There is a discussion of why people are attracted to metal, through interviews with fans and the viewing of the fans doing their thing at the shows. There are interviews with a stellar array of metal luminaries, including: Tom Araya (Slayer), Alice Cooper, Bruce Dickinson (Iron Maiden), Ronnie James Dio (Dio), Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath), Kerry Ling (Slayer), Corey Taylor (Slipknot), Geddy Lee (Rush), Rob Zombie, Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave), Dee Snider (Twisted Sister), and others.

It is interesting to watch these interviews. Each of these artists have a unique look at metal, some of them better than others, some more well spoken than others, but they all add to the mind crushing tapestry that is the heavier end of the musical spectrum. Possibly the most interesting footage was with Dee Snider, he recalls when he testified in front of a Congressional panel that included future Vice-President Al Gore. It was during the censorship outcry in the 1980s. It was great watching this guy show up with a huge mane of hair, cut-off denim jacket and t-shirt, and the intention of competely flipping the script on them. He showed them one thing and proved another.

I may have spoken too soon, as far as the most interesting interviews goes, there is the one with members of Mayhem. They are a part of the Norwegian Black Metal scene, and a notorious part at that. The interview started with Dunn asking about the declining relevance of Black Metal, the answer consisted of a litany of nonsensical f-bombs. Bizarre would be an understatement.

In the end, this is an entertaining, and at least partially educational, film that is ambitious in scope, if not in execution. It is definitely worth your time, if you are a metal fan or just interested in the metal genre. You will see the popular side as well as the seedy underbelly. Along the way you will see Metal and many of its brethren, that may not all be Metal, but all belong to the extended family tree. Trace its roots from Classical and the Blues, to its deadly spawn such as Power Metal, Black Metal, Thrash Metal, Death Metal, Grindcore, Hardcore, Glam, Pop, and a whole many more.

That brings me to one last topic that I would like to touch on. I have read some interesting, and oftentimes heated, discussions of genre breakdowns and what makes metal metal. I don't have a background in music theory, but I have a sense of where to categorize various band. What is interesting is how rigid some of these fans can be to the point of angrily shoving aside anything that doesn't fit their narrow model. It was quite interesting, and telling, to she how elitist fans can be. Some bands mentioned and interviewed in this film didn't fit the mold of some viewers and they took exception to their perceived gross misrepresentation of the genre. It's crazy how some people react to something that is largely subjective.

Bottomline. This is a very good film. One that is definitely seeking out for those with interest in the subject. I was very pleased with the amount of interviews with important music figures and the live footage. I give a lot of credit to Sam Dunn and his devotion to metal. I am also a little envious of the people he got to talk to and the events he attended, such as the Wacken Festival in Germany.

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