Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey

December 19th, 2006 Film, Film Reviews, Xpress

Written and Directed by Sam Dunn

Starring Alice Cooper, Dee Snyder, Ronnie James Dio, Rob Zombie, Bruce Dickinson, Lemmy

Music — has there ever been any institution in human culture that’s of itself perfectly harmless, but which dark agendas throughout history have used in one paradigm war after another?

Watching footage of Tipper Gore and her notorious Parents Music Resource Centre attack heavy metal music and prompting Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snyder to testify eloquently before a congressional committee reminds you of the Nixon-era hand wringers who wouldn’t show Elvis from the waist down.

Whether intentionally or not, Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey perfectly captures this zeitgeist; youth wants to rebel, so the music made for youth is always a few steps beyond what the self-serving Protestant middle class calls decent, thus shocking their elders and encapsulating the rebellion they desire.

Writer/director Dunn is a heavy metal fan and a very devoted and well-informed one, so Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey charts both a personal and a historical look at the origins, culture, sound, subgenres, sexual politics, idioms and socio-philosophical customs of the most aggressive of musical movements.

The film very cleverly stitches together interviews with some of the giants of the field, observations of the director, footage from concerts and festivals and comments from writers and academics to give you something like a grand unified theory of heavy metal.

Among the pearls of knowledge is heavy metal’s close musical relationship to the deep bass orchestras of Wagner and Mozart, also the fact that the trio of notes which forms the basis for the entire musical style was considered the devil’s music in the middle ages — hence the appeal today.

You’ll laugh at some of the truths behind the marketing, nod knowingly at the wry observations of the genre’s practitioners about the sustained attacks they’ve weathered for 30 years. You’ll even shudder at the darkest corners of the metal scene, where many Metallists (from Norway, of all places) practice the Satanism they preach, burning down churches in the 1990s and coolly answering the question about where the music comes from as ‘Satan.’

Well structured, it’s greatly entertaining even if you aren’t a heavy metal fan. You can also brush up on your knowledge of the scene; even though rap and R&B have dominated popular music for the last five years, we live in an era where nothing is new under the sun. You only have to look at the Emo movement among today’s tweens to see that Heavy Metal — like all styles — will enjoy its day in the sun again again.

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