(Warner Home Entertainment, 2006, 96 Min, $14)
I just saw this at the Alamo Drafthouse, and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. It is probably the most watchable movie on the topic thus far, as it actually has a budget and properly addresses the many subgenres. It stays focused on the more populist bands (Wacken is a prominent setting) but I find that getting into all the underground minutiae bottoms out these days because whether people are motivated by commerce or popularity, the effect on the music is just as deletrious. Sam Dunn, the filmmaker, is a contemporary of the 1980s metal (30-ish, grew up on thrash and death metal, cites Autopsy as one of his favorite bands) so it is worth supporting and good fun. The interview with Gaahl and then Dio repeatedly ripping on Gene Simmons are worth the price of admission.
(VH1 Productions, 2006, 60 Min)
What is excellent about this documentary is its bonehead simplicity in tracing the history of metal. It focuses on nodal points where single events touched off nascent convergences and caused paradigm shifts. Not all of these are musical events; much of the footage is devoted to showing how changes in history prompted changes in metal. This attitude allows it to peer into the motivation behind metal musicians more than any other documentary extant. The strength of this documentary is its star power in pulling in all of the classic figures in heavy metal for interviews. The big names show up, and get put at ease and asked questions by people whose journalistic intent matches a fascination with rock music as an event. When their answers are put in context, the result is metal history like a scrolling tapestry passing our eyes. The centerpiece of this documentary are the glam years of Hollywood bands from Van Halen to Guns and Roses, and much of it is intended to make them look more sophisticated and intense than their European counterparts who invented the genre. Speed metal gets an offhand mention, and underground metal gets entirely skipped. Its focus is not surprisingly on the kind of metal that makes it to the VH1 video channel and makes pots of money. In its coverage of glam rock, power ballads, bad boy rebels and drug abuse this film is most lucid. Humorously, the glam rockers, twenty years later, look somewhat diseased, while Tommy Lee still looks vile and combat-ready. Even funnier: of all the people interviewed, a remarkably self-confident and unpretentious Sebastian Bach is the most articulate and uncomplicated. Unfortunately, other parts of the film portray metalheads as wounded, out-of-control children who make this horrible, violent music because they’re defective. While these flaws weaken the documentary, and disable it more in post-viewing analysis when the viewer realizes the documentary’s weaknesses stem from a desire to productize one of the last un-zombie’d genres, “Heavy: The Story of Metal” has many positive factors, not least of all the simplest: the people who made it clearly enjoy metal music and wanted to portray it in a positive light, even if their definition of positive was twisted by their pocketbooks.
Running with the Devil: Power, Gender, and Madness in Heavy Metal Music
by Robert Walser
254 pages. Wesleyan. $14
Aimed at the most popular examples of heavy metal, this analysis peers into issues of gender and power as ethnographic vectors of impetus toward participation in the metal genre. The interpretations of reasoning and ideologies behind music, while limited to less than self-articulate examples in many cases, are the strength of this book.
Riders on the Storm: My Life With Jim Morrison and the Doors
by John Densmore
336 pages. Delta. $13
A useful prescience about politics in dark themed bands can be derived from the lessons learned in this recounting of the rise and fall of the Doors and their enigmatic vocalist Jim Morrison. Densmore is under the grip of Catholic morality and while recognizing it is unable to vanquish it, but it colors the book less than his stunning first-person viewpoint on the action.
Black Sabbath: An Oral History
by Mike Start and Dave Marsh
128 pages. Harper Perennial. $
A reasonable account of the early days of metal and its slow descent out of the hippie and biker positive hedonism of the day into a new and darker persona. Extensive material on Sabbath personalities and attitudes regarding the creation and presentation of their music.
Metalheads: Heavy Metal Music and Adolescent Alienation
by Jeffrey Jensen Arnett
208 pages. Westview Press. $34
A sociological study of 100 metalheads including profiles and brief analytical pieces on various aspects of relatively mainstream metal culture. Reasonable and deliberately overindulgently just, this work attempts to find a parent’s view of why children who hate society, religion, and conformity turn to metal.
Rocking the Classics : English Progressive Rock and the Counterculture
by Edward L. Macan
320 pages. Oxford University Press. $33
Delving into the world of progressive rock in a context of cultural development through history, this book explores the motivations and musicology of progressive rock with a broad but well targetted research base.
Heavy Metal: The Music and Its Culture
by Deena Weinstein
368 pages. Da Capo Press. $14
A broadly inclusive view at the public perception of heavy metal and its fans which, although limited to mainstream music, captures the unstable origins of modern metal, this book provides a solid foundation for Weinstein’s comments on metal.
Are You Morbid?
by Tom G. Warrior
360 pages. Sanctuary Publishing. $
Although somewhat scattered in focus due to its intense immersion in the personality of the writer and the human emotions of its band, this book establishes the intent of Celtic Frost and its predecessor, Hellhammer, and explains the philosophies of unified concept and music as a presentation of the ideology and desires of an artist (stranded in a mortal body). While conversational in text and often tedious, this retelling answers many fundamental Hessian questions.
20th Century Rock N Roll: Heavy Metal
by Martin Popoff
192 pages. Collectors Guide Publishing Inc. $
A somewhat distanced view of metal as rock music, this book brushes over many of metal’s strengths en route to a discussion of its commonality with popular music.