Review: Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey

Outside of the excellent VH1 series “The Story of Metal” (seriously, it’s a must for any metal fan), this 2006 doco from Canadian anthropology grad and metal-head Sam Dunn is the definitive essay on the much derided subject of heavy metal music. Dunn uses his academic background and genuine interest/passion for the genre to investigate its roots, its variants, in order to ultimately explore why the genre of heavy metal and its legion of fans are so misunderstood and often derided for a lack of intelligence.

We are presented with a ginormous, unruly flow-chart noting the various subgenres and off-shoots, as well as interviews and opinions from several metal luminaries; Late, diminutive metal god Ronnie James Dio, Iron Maiden front man Bruce Dickinson (perhaps the best metal vocalist of all-time), Twisted Sister lead singer Dee Snyder, Motley Crue’s Vince Neil, musician/filmmaker Rob Zombie and others. We even get the occasional scholar to pontificate on the subject. Dunn also covers some of the more recent trends in metal (including garbage like Slipknot) and even ventures to Norway to explore the truly frightening side of Metal: Norwegian Black Metal. Here Dunn talks about incidents of church burnings carried out across Norway that are directly related to heavy metal music. Specifically, he interviews members of a Black Metal band who stare directly and seriously into the camera and discuss how it is their Satanic duty to burn down any symbol of Christianity. Frightening stuff, and this is from the one guy who has been released from prison!

Sure, the film needed to include a lot more examples of the music, subgenres, and bands mentioned in the film, but for me the only major flaw is that when discussing why people gravitate towards heavy metal, he leaves out what I consider the major reason, and the one most important to me personally: The music can actually be really good to listen to. It’s not just about aggression, demonic imagery, anti-social behaviour, rebellion, or unrepentantly heavy sounds...the songs can often be really terrific, there are many metal bands who actually know a thing or two about music, lyrics, and melody. Iron Maiden spring to mind, Def Leppard most certainly spring to mind (and don’t get me started on whether they’re metal or not. Even if they themselves don’t believe it, Def Leppard are pop-metal at the very least!). Aside from the film focussing a little more on the darker, less melodic, less mainstream stuff (admittedly less appealing to me), the film is the definitive word on the subject, though by this point I was sick of Snyder relaying the same Tipper Gore story he’s been dishing out for decades and wasn’t that funny to begin with. It’s thoughtful and sometimes very funny; It’s worth watching just to hear metal icon Ronnie James Dio ripping KISS bassist Gene Simmons apart, claiming that Gene has taken out patents on breathing and the use of the term ‘OJ’. Did Simmons sleep with Dio’s wife or run over his kids or something? Seriously, what’s with these two? It’s also occasionally very, very disturbing, with the segment on Norwegian death metal truly frightening. An absolute must for fans of the subject, if you haven’t already seen it. It’s fascinating stuff, if occasionally offering up a familiar sound-bite or two.

Rating: B


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