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Movie Review: Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey

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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 widely 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 completely 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.

Recommended.

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About Draven99

  • http://jessakay.blogspot.com Jessa

    I’ve heard a lot of good things and a lot of so-so things about this documentary. As a metal head myself, I can’t wait until it’s released in Australia in September. This review makes me want to skip the wait and just buy the dvd. Thanks for the review!

  • Guppusmaximus

    Nice Review… Though I would question the relevance of speaking with Geddy Lee,Tom Morello and Rob Zombie about Metal. I wouldn’t even mention the dude from Slipknot. Maybe it’s for who they listened to back in the day but, you alone, already have Mr. Dickinson for that critical info. Ofcourse, it’s a task in itself to actually get these guys to appear,so, I give Sam Dunn credit.(In my opinion) For this film, I would’ve fought to have:

    Michael Akerfeldt(Opeth)
    James Labrie(Dream Theater)
    Bruce Dickinson(Iron Maiden)
    Ron Jarzombek(WatchTower)
    Kelly Schaefer(Atheist)
    John Bush(Armored Saint)
    Ronnie James Dio
    Tom Araya(Slayer)
    Rob Halford (Judas Priest)
    Chuck Shuldiner(R.I.P.)-Gene Hoglan(Dark Angel,Death)

  • gonzo marx

    Guppusmaximus sez…
    *Though I would question the relevance of speaking with Geddy Lee,Tom Morello and Rob Zombie about Metal.*

    well now, as someone who spend 20 years playing bass in heavy/hardcore bands…let me quote Dimebag and Vinny Paul form Pantera when asked about their influences… “Motorhead and Rush”

    MIght i suggest for your listening pleasure you pick up “Caress of Steel” and “2112” by Rush, the first Rage against the Machine album, and the White Zombie albums…from there it is relatively easy to see how these people have been part of/influenced/and informed much of what many might call “metal”

    a lot of it has to do with trying to define the genre of “metal”…we can all agree on Black Sabbath…but can anyone really try and claim bands like Van Halen, Warrant, Winger, Ratt and more as real “metal” and not just pop hair bands (tho there ARE some excellent musicians in many of those bands)… my own thought is that some i’ve mentioned lack the vision, passion and “power” to be called anything other than “pop” …some do make it into the “rock” category

    just some thoughts…

    Excelsior?

  • http://jessakay.blogspot.com Jessa

    I’m just glad that Ronnie James Dio was interviewed. You gotta love that old sack of bones.

  • Guppusmaximus

    Gonzo sez:
    “let me quote Dimebag and Vinny Paul form Pantera when asked about their influences… “Motorhead and Rush”..”

    As someone who has played drums for 20+ years in everything from Blues Rock to Metal, I disagree with your references as the single-handedly most influential band to the Heavy Metal scene(Iron Maiden) didn’t care for Black Sabbath or Judas Priest nevermind Rush. I have listened to Rush and the other’s that you have mentioned and you would have to include Yes and Queen. Rush is a brilliant band but Rage is a sorry example of influence and White Zombie was more rock than anything.

    Might I suggest this list of material to show you my p.o.v.:

    Iron Maiden – Iron Maiden(1980)
    Manowar -Battle Hymns(1982)
    Armored Saint – March of the Saint(1984)
    Metallica – Master of Puppets(1985)
    Watchtower – Energetic Disassembly(1986)
    Sacred Reich – Ignorance(1987)
    Death – Leprosy(1988)
    Fates Warning – Perfect Symetry(1989)
    Ironchrist – Getting the Most out of your Extinction(1990)
    Dream Theater – Images and Words(1992)

    These works did far more for the genre than anything that R.A.T.M. or White Zombie released ever did.

  • Guppusmaximus

    *oops* let’s not forget:

    S.O.D. – Speak English or DIE!(1985)

    Holy Contrast Batman! In comparison to Metallica’s release…

  • gonzo marx

    lol..well now, i can completely understand where yer coming from…and to return the favor…

    Ace of Spades – Motorhead
    2112 – Rush
    Vulgar Display of Power – Pantera
    Paranoid – Black Sabbath
    Number of the Beast – Iron Maiden
    Among the Living – Anthrax
    Monster- Steppenwolf

    no real argument with you, just stating my thoughts on how the case can be made for just about any metal bassist thinking of Geddy as a major Influence, just as Entwistle would be…

    each draws the “water” of their metal from a different “well”…

    but it’s all good in the Pit

    nuff said

    Excelsior?

  • Guppusmaximus

    Sure, Gonzo, My argument isn’t that musicians can’t be influenced from all over the spectrum. I understand that completely and I appreciate the insight.But, my argument is that even though Tom Morello and Rob Zombie may be decent musicians, I don’t feel that they have released any work that could be considered pioneering in the Metal community or for that matter, called metal. So, I would be concerned that their influences wouldn’t necessarily educate the public on the bands that paved the way for us.The list I presented wasn’t necessarily a “favorite bands” list. I’m always thinking of bands that should be credited for pioneering metal.

    As for Pantera, I think the album you mentioned was an excellent album but what did it really do for metal in that timeframe when the bands Defiance,Atheist and Pestilence released material that was light years ahead.

    Defiance – Void Terra Firma (1990)
    Atheist – Unquestionable Presence(1991)
    Pestilence – Testimony of The Acients(1991)

    I think “Vulgar Display…” was more of a crossover album. But, then you would have to consider Anthrax,D.R.I.&C.O.C. Believe me, Anthrax shaped me when I was young and their music was freakin killer but I always try to ask the same question,”Was it pioneering?” Sure, if you look at the commercial scene and so wasn’t Pantera. I think that’s where most people draw their perception of Metal History from but that’s not where it ends.

    Too many insane bands get overlooked and with films like this they usually just touch the surface. Again, this is a commercial sense of Metal History and that’s just the beginning.

  • gonzo marx

    as for Pantera…to me, and many on the Jersey shore scene, Helmet, Pantera and TooL redefined a lot of the genre when those of us doing underground/hardcore despaired that bands like the Bullet Boys, Warrant and Def Leppard were being called “metal”

    maybe it’s just cuz i am old enough to remember getting into fights when i woudl say that Sabbath was metal and Led Zeppelin was not (it’s blues)

    hence why i laid out the list i did…Scott Ian often states there woudl have been no Anthrax or thrash stles without Lemmy and Motorhead…many of the more technically astute players credit listening to those early Rush albums…

    and White Zombie was an extension of Alice Cooper, but a carnival rather than a horror/vaudville show

    like i said, it’s all good, and everyone tastes things differently

    thanks fer the Thoughts

    Excelsior!

  • Guppusmaximus

    Oh, I agree with you totally, Gonzo… The Glam bands ruined it for everyone and it still taints Metal History to this day especially on this site. I’ve seen people write that Motley Crue is Metal…*Smirk*.

    Me personally, I feel that Black Sabbath was a metal influence. I was just saying that the biggest pioneering act for metal(Iron Maiden) didn’t mention them as an influence in their autobiography,”Run to the Hills”. I can wholeheartedly agree that Led Zeppelin was Heavy Blues and had more of an impact on the Glam Rock bands than it did on the real metal acts of our day.
    As for thrash, the bands I listened to never shown much of an influence from Motorhead and Defiance actually covered a Maiden tune “Killers”. Alot of people look past the early Maiden albums with DiAnno and don’t give them the credit they deserve. I find Killers to be much more of an influence to thrash than Motorhead but that’s my opinion.
    I agree with the fact that everyone has their own tastes but shortly I am going to write another article on this subject because it’s been a while and I find that alot of people haven’t heard of the bands that I mention and their value to Metal History on an underground level.

    Thanks for the conversation!

    Up the Irons!!