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Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey

By Jeff Kerby, Contributor
Wednesday, April 26, 2006 @ 9:16 PM


Universal Music/Warner Home Vi

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Why is there such a polarization of opinion when it comes to metal?

I mean, when a person speaks of jazz or bluegrass, the conversation doesn’t usually end with one listener belittling an entire genre quite the way a discussion about heavy metal usually does.

“Why don’t you outgrow that shit?”

“Those bands all suck. I can’t believe there are still heshers out there who listen to that.”

“Wow, it must have been rough to have your life peak about twenty years ago, huh? You know, they have made other music since then.”

That is, of course, when you punch them right square in the horned rimmed glasses.

The fact is, metal used to be ostracized at least in part because it was dangerous. It scared people, yet it was the also life force that alienated youth tended to gravitate towards in order to excise demons or to simply not feel so alone. Then, of course, the inevitable occurred and hard rock got repackaged and marketed to the masses and the ensuing backlash wasn’t pretty. Metal icons formerly adored were desperately trying to either grow goatees and adorn flannel in an unironic way or haphazardly make runs to Nashville with a broken heart and acoustic gee-tar in hand. Whereas before, the major reason for distancing oneself from the “devil’s music” was fear, it later became fashionable to simply belittle it for what a “joke” it was. Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey represents Sam Dunn and Scot Mcfadyen’s cinematic attempt to answer the question of why people continue to have such definite opinions when it comes to this form of music and all of it’s subgenres—basically, why does this music mean everything to some and absolutely nothing to others?

Biographical information states that Sam Dunn is an anthropologist and has studied a variety of cultures on distant lands, and just like any academic who has ever taken or facilitated a seminar on a given subject, the first point of order generally concerns defining the topic being discussed in it’s most specific form so as to avoid ambiguity with the audience later in the presentation. Here, the definition of metal means a trip back to the roots of the music in a search for who should truly be credited with starting the genre. The usual suspects are all discussed here from Led Zeppelin to Jimi Hendrix before finally settling on the fact that Black Sabbath should truly be considered the progenitors of metal. Surprisingly enough, Dunn actually interviews Tony Iommi who sheds a little light on what the group was originally trying to accomplish with their sound when they formed so long ago. As an interesting side note, that wonderful Maiden-hating-money-grubbing-pig, Sharon Osbourne is said to have tried to block any access to the guitarist by the filmmakers whatsoever. Topic for next metal documentary: “Why does Ozzy’s wife have to be such a bitch?” After 90 minutes of footage of the ayatollah of metal cavorting around tossing lunchmeat and eggs at her enemies combined with video of her numerous cosmetic procedures the ultimate conclusion would have to be: “If your skin was pulled as tight as Joan Rivers being sucked through the ass end of a blowfish, and you’d be a little pissy too.”

A large part of this documentary addressing the culture of rockers takes part at the massive German metal extravaganza known as Wacken, since, as Dunn points out, this film is intended to be more about the people who follow metal than anyone else. Images of 40,000 metal maniacs abound through this segment as well as footage of the entire festival from t-shirt stands to sun baked drunks. Although the documentary chose this event to film at ostensibly because of the forty thousand metalheads in attendance, there are two different groups that Dunn says he couldn’t resist meeting. The first is Mayhem—Dunn can be shown on the documentary interviewing band members Necrobutcher and Blasphemer outside on the grounds. It only takes about ten seconds though to realize that at least one of them is obviously drunk and not really into engaging in trivial discussion.

Necro: We are true to ourselves. We never bargain with our stuff--we just release it. If people don’t like it, then fuck them. That’s why we’re here because Germany sucks for us. We are here to make a statement--‘we rule and we are the best band out there.’ If people don’t recognize it, then fuck them. (Burrp!) We never negotiate or come to terms. Fuck you!

Dunn: Some say that black metal is starting to lose touch--

Necro: Who are they? Who the fuck are you talking to? Fuck them.

Dunn: Do you have any comments to that?

Necro: Yeah, I have a comment for that--fuck you.

Although not quite as funny or disturbing as the Chris Holmes scene in Penelope Spheeris’ docu-masterpiece The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years, it is still damn good. Upon the clip’s conclusion, an obviously nonplussed narrator exclaims, “Beer and interviews are not a good combination.”

Mayhem’s lack of decorum was more than made up though by Dio’s intelligent, genteel nature. The ensuing interview pretty much covers the norm as Sabbath’s former vocalist discusses the origination of the metal sign and what makes fans of the genre different.

The whole hysteria surrounding the 80’s PMRC witch hunt is also covered here and is really the only part of this film that seems as though it could have been touched on with a little less Dee-tail. One aspect of this portion of the festivities that I did appreciate though centered on the old footage of Tipper Gore. Screw what her political posturing may have been back in the day, the only posturing that really matters it what Mrs. Gore would have looked liked all feather-haired, buck naked and spread eagle on the edge of a hot tub while someone blasted “Darling Nikki” from a nearby boom box while she soaped herself. Yeah, that would be nice although I haven’t seen what ol’ Tipper looks like lately—my bet would be that she has to look better than Tawny Kitaen these days though. Sadly enough, instead of naked, soap covered Puritans, most of this segment centers primarily around Dee Snider and his belief that he pretty much single handedly went in and kicked ass on the Senate…yeah, he had some good quotes, but mostly what I remember is that part where he looked all pissed off and threw his hair back while looking mostly like a ten dollar hooker who had just been given a five. Attention to the golden age of metal doesn’t stop there either though as the film also makes a stop in L.A. to discuss all the hysteria surrounding hair metal on the Sunset Strip. Here, Vince Neil gives his perspective on the halcyon days of the genre as does KNAC.COM founder Rob Jones who contributes his views as well. For those who didn’t know, Jones is the photographer who snapped the cover shot for Poison’s Look What the Cat Dragged In, as such, when he states that there were guys who “wanted to fuck the chicks in Poison” ya gotta believe him. Hell, you might have even been one of them. On a more serious note Rob also discussed the role of groupies on the road and how hard it was not only for the musicians he was with but for himself as well being a tour manager to come back home and enter into a regular relationship with a girl. Seems dealing with women strictly in that context tends to skew one’s perception a little bit.

There is also a rather long segue into Norwegian black metal and infamous church burnings of the early 90’s. The documentary actually manages to cover these events without sensationalizing them as Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey presents individuals from both sides of the conflict. It would be sort of obvious to state that this genre has produced some of the most dip-shittiest bands in rock--you know the type—the kind that consist primarily of eighty-five pound ghastly white men dressed primarily in black leather studs trying to convince everyone just how “EVVVVLLLLL” they are. Although I understand the belief that many of these musicians have that the church is somehow suppressing their country and making it less free, the fact is that people who are obsessed with Satanism/black metal tend to be just as brainwashed and intellectually stunted as any right wing nut job out there. Maybe instead of torching buildings they should simply consider pounding a Big Mac, taking a walk outside and clearing the old head a little bit. On second thought, maybe they shouldn’t stroll for too long at first since having skin lighter than Michael Jackson soaked in Clorox is bound to make one super susceptible to ultraviolet rays. If Norwegian death metal is something a person is truly into, then that’s fine, I guess, but expect there to be a certain problems with authorities when arson becomes part of the equation.

The total range of Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey is enormous. From the initial discussion about the origins of metal on through engaging interviews with metal greats such as Lemmy and Dickinson, the coverage of the Norwegian church burnings all the way through Dunn’s final epiphany at Wacken, it’s apparent that this film was completely earnest in its endeavor to make a statement. It has. During one important portion of the documentary, Maiden’s vocalist says this about metal: “It really gets in the mind of the eternal 15 year old. If you ever lose that 15 year old kid inside of you, then it won’t make sense at all.” It seems pretty obvious that the reason some people stay fixated on a form of music they have loved since adolescence even though by doing so they are subjecting themselves to potential scorn has to be because it fills some sort of need they have which goes beyond mere enjoyment. If one looks at the situation without bias, they may conclude that this emotional requirement is every bit as tangible and real as those which are dealt with by any church—it’s a fact that for many metal music actually provides the spiritual base and sense of communal belonging that the rocker simply may be incapable of experiencing in a Christian Church or a Jewish temple or even The Congregation of Those Who Believe They Are To Be Abducted By Aliens. Twenty years ago, I once laughed at this guy who waved a cassette of Judas Priest’s Screaming For Vengeance in front of a couple of chicks at the state fair and said, “metal is my religion.” I always thought it was just a ruse to impress some feathered hair rocker girls, but some part of me still wants to believe that the guy I remember is hanging out somewhere lighting a fatty and cranking “Riding On The Wind” and feeling that same sense of satisfaction that he did when he was sixteen. When Dunn says that metal is something you either feel or you don’t, he’s got it right. Whether someone believes in a crucifix, the Koran or a can of Raid Bug Spray, it is important that the spiritual connection is maintained despite what society, your parents or even Tipper Gore have to say about it.

*****


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