Music DVD Reviews: Review of Metal: A Headbanger's Journey

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Buy your copy from Metal: A Headbanger's JourneystarstarstarstarstarLabel: Warner Brothers
Released: 2006

I would imagine that when Sam Dunn, Scot McFayden and Jessica Joy Wise, the writers and directors of “Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey,” set out to make their film, they probably ran into some cynicism from the metal community. That cynicism was born out of the last documentary about the genre, Penelope Spheeris’ Decline of Western Civilization II: The Metal Years, which portrayed the artists and the community as mindless and soulless fools. This film, and the on-screen narrator, Sam Dunn, are incredibly sincere in their affection for the art.

The premise is simple: Dunn, a lifelong metalhead and anthropologist, wants to know why metal has such strong devotion from its fans and yet attracts controversy. After offering a very cool genealogy chart on metal, Dunn sets off to explore his topic by interviewing stars (Lemmy of Motorhead, Alice Cooper, Ronnie James Dio, Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden), academics (a musicologist from UCLA and a De Paul University professor), and fans. He also travels to the Wacken Festival (a metal festival) in Germany; to Norway to explore the Black Metal scene; and the church-burning incidents of the ‘90s orchestrated by a Black Metal artist.

There are some fascinating moments in the film. When Kerry King and Tom Araya of Slayer are asked about religion, King rants that religion is the ultimate con job and biggest set of bullshit ever, while Araya says that his music is art. As a Catholic, he doesn’t share the same slant that his guitarist does. When Dunn presses and asks about singing “God Hates Us All” from the song “Disciple,” Araya relates that, “He doesn’t hate us all, but it is a great fucking lyric.”

The Black Metal stuff from Norway is kind of scary. Most of the American and English artists more or less cop to the fact that the lyrics are just stories, and the satanic element is there just for the vibe and the hype. The Norwegians, however, are fucking scary, period. I wonder if they see a reflection when they look in the mirror. Mayhem, one of the original bands, has quite a storied history. One member blew his brains out, and supposedly the other members wear fragments of his skull as jewelry. The bass player was arrested, but not convicted, for some of the church burnings which occurred in the country in the ‘90s, and he was eventually sent to prison for stabbing another member of the band to death. Black Metal only consists of about nine minutes of the film, but as a practicing and recovering Catholic, it scared the shit out of me.

The extras are excellent. The genealogy chart is included on the bonus disc, which should flame debate on who should be included and who should be excluded. Blue Oyster Cult appears in one of the subcategories, while Queen is absent – a complete and total injustice. There is a ten minute monologue from Lemmy in which he rambles about everything, including tying up a shady promoter and covering him in Norwegian cheese. This stuff is priceless. The commentary for the film should also be watched, and you get a second flavor of the film and the senses of humor that the filmmakers have. Without that commentary, the film is really straightforward. But, in the commentary, you get hints at how Alice Cooper might be a nice guy (but he does have quite the healthy ego) and how Dee Snider is an absolutely tremendous interview and loves to talk.

For metalheads, this movie is a testament to the art they love and enjoy; to the uninitiated, it is one heck of a primer. I wish there was more, and I hope the filmmakers eventually do a documentary about every genre listed on the chart.

~R. David Smola