Video: Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey Official Trailer
Angered by the view that some see metal as “unsophisticated music for unsophisticated people” director Sam Dunn investigates his favourite type of music in Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey. Sam Dunn is a Canadian anthropologist who once hosted a metal show on radio called Overkill and was previously in his own metal band. Originally released in 2005, I decided to view the documentary again since I’ve recently watched the excellent Metal Evolution series produced by Dunn and also because it aired on TV the night I found out about Jeff from Slayer passing away.
The music documentary is broken up into 12 parts each focusing on a different aspect or preconception about metal in a bid to uncover why the genre is immensely hated and as a result marginalised from society. Dunn begins by looking into the origins of metal and attempting to answer the pertinent question – who was the first metal band? This leads to the Led Zeppelin v Black Sabbath conundrum, and deciding which of the two bands had forged the most distinct heavy sound that typifies heavy metal. I’m not going to spoil who wins!
Dunn explores the element of the metal sound further in discussions with industry figures and writers, identifying the ‘call of the beast’ common in all metal – sounds of heavy guitar, amps, bass, distortion, drums, high or heavy vocals. He begins his quest in London chatting to Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden about the sub-genre of metal ‘New Wave of Early Heavy Metal’ which first began in the UK.
The documentary also investigates the musical roots of metal in classical, operatic and blues music. Comparisons are made to the composer Richard Wagner’s dark and brooding music and the use of the bottom end of an orchestra to produce a heavy bass sound. The technical proficiency of musicians who play metal is explored with a cool little piece from Mr. Eddie Van Halen!
Dunn chats to a number of metal bands about their upbringing and how their home environment affected the music they produced. We hear about the desolate metal and steel factories closing up shop and jobs disappearing during the early days of metal, and how Lemmy of Motorhead would find a lit up phone box at night a beacon for mischief (what do kids do nowadays, hang around a mobile battery charger?). Mark Morton and Randy Blythe of Lamb of God refer to gunshots ringing out all over the neighbourhood, and Joey Jordison and Corey Taylor of Slipknot identify the small town blues of Des Moines, Iowa as a precursor to their perversion.
The die-hard metal fans are given a voice in the documentary to explain how they identify with metal. We see the loners and teens who use metal to get through the good and bad days. The hardcore metal fan who is constantly asked when he’ll outgrow metal. Rob Zombie sums it up best when he states “I’ve never meet the guy who was into Slayer that one summer” but because they usually have the word ‘Slayer’ carved into their arm!
The culture of metal and its distinct uniform of black, leather and studs is discussed. Dunn takes us with him on his journey to the mecca of metal the Wacken Open Air Festival in Germany and it’s 40,000 strong fans. Look out for the heavy metal fuseball table (where can I get me one of those?). He talks about the sense of community that the subculture produces in an effort just to continue to exist.
The real fun bit of the documentary for all metalheads should be the dissection of metal genres in Dunn’s metal genealogy. Featuring: Early Metal, Original Hard Rock, Shock Rock, Early Punk, Power Metal, New Age of British Heavy Metal, Progressive Metal, Glam Metal, Pop Metal, Stoner Metal, Original Hardcore, Thrash Metal, First Wave of Black Metal, Norwegian Black Metal, Grindcore, Death Metal, Swedish Death Metal, Metalcore, Grunge, Goth Metal, Industrial Metal, Hard Alternative, Nu Metal, New Wave of American Metal.
I love how nerdy it is! I also love seeing my favourite bands pigeonholed into a genre that makes up the greater collective of metal! If you find this part of the documentary just as arousing you must seek out Dunn’s 11 part Metal Evolution TV Series to get a decent fix!
The documentary explains the censorship craze in 1984 led by the Parents Music Resource Centre and fronted by Tipper Gore… yes, Al Gore’s wife (they’ve since separated – maybe he finally got into metal?). The group devised a list of music they deemed offensive as ‘The Filthy Fifteen‘ which included some innocuous metal like Twisted Sister and Motley Crue! The highlight of the film is seeing Dee Snider of Twisted Sister recount his best efforts to humiliate Mrs Gore and her filthy lyrical interpretations of his music!
Gender and sexuality in metal are analysed in detail and the film outs pretty boys Motley Crue as reading Vogue and Cosmo for style tips! Religion and satanism also get their fair share of air time in the film. From Tommy Iommi wearing his crosses in Sabbath, to Ronnie James Dio imitating his elderly grandmother’s warding off evil gesture on stage (aka metal horns), and Norwegian black metallers burning down churches (perhaps so that Alice Cooper can laugh at their antics in future metal magazines!).
Kerry King of Slayer openly vents about taking pot shots at religion as he views it as the biggest brainwashing exercise that is somehow accepted in the US and the rest of the world. For a few seconds you can see footage of Jeff shredding out in Slayer in the good old days!
Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey concludes on the note of death and violence in metal. The dark imagery used in metal, Alice Cooper banned from the UK in the 70s due to his controversial stage executions, and Cannibal Corpse album artwork banned in Germany and New Zealand (or altered in Australia).
Overall the documentary is a thorough exploration of the history and culture of metal interspersed with footage of metal across the generations that I can guarantee will warm your little metal heart!
Previously on Sampling Station: