Death And The Thesis
Sam Dunn, Scot McFayden, Jessica Joy Wise
Just for the record, Michael Moore did not invent the documentary. He just invented the stupid documentary. Documentaries have existed since motion pictures were created, it’s just that they used to be about boring things, like how to make candles and the Holocaust. Nowadays, however, the genre has been popularized by Moore and others, and there have been slew of successful theatrically released documentaries about people making documentaries. In a charming fusion of the cinema direct style and post-American Idol narcissism, every single documentary made in the last ten years stars some moron trying to make himself famous by eating a metric ton of hamburgers or yelling at the guy who owns GM. The difference with Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey, however, is that the moron in question is a master’s student in anthropology.
Not that that makes the documentary particularly intelligent. All it really means is that if you squint really hard, you can see the grant application lingering behind every frame. “The Anthropology of Heavy Metal! Starring A Long-Haired Weirdo For That Personal NFB Touch!”. The film’s even broken up into chapters titled like a grad thesis, like “Gender and Sexuality” and “How To Get Telefilm To Pay For My Black Sabbath Tickets”. But the film is good. Damn good. Hell, it’s got Gaahl from Gorgoroth in it, drinking what’s probably blood from a chalice in between prison sentences. How could it not be? Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey lays out many of the key issues that make heavy metal actually interesting, though it never quite manages to make the genre seem anything more than accidentally important, like inventing abstract art by projectile vomiting red wine on a tablecloth. My only issue with the content is that it makes heavy metal fans seem like one united culture of outsiders, like musical jihadists, whereas they are more like Europeans, in that everyone lumps them together but they all hate each other. There are so many ridiculously precise sub-genres of heavy metal, and the only level of discourse available to most fans is how their favorite band could beat up your favorite band. I hate how if you like one type of metal, you’re forbidden from liking another, much less give them respect for what they’re doing. You just have to call everything else gay, and go back to listening to Rob Halford preen. Then there’s the sell out factor, which involves being hopelessly devoted to your favorite underground band, then immediately forsaking them the instant you see another 16 year old wearing their T-shirt.
To help break things down for my loyal reader, I’ve compiled a brief summary of some of the dominant sub-genres in heavy metal.
Black metal is by far my favorite sub-genre, as it’s entirely composed of trained musicians who discovered 9 years into a 10 year Royal Conservatory program that they hate music. So, they do the exact opposite of music, which is black metal. If you’re into verses, choruses, refrains, clearly recorded anything, or in fact music that doesn’t sound like a tin-can full of ball bearings falling down a flight of stairs, then black metal is not for you. This is the most unbelievably uncommercial form of music I have ever heard, created by people who must be doing it for love, because they can’t possibly be doing it for money.
Black metal started in 1981 with the formation of Venom, a British band which took the doom and gloom imagery of Black Sabbath and cut it with cocaine and Motorhead. They sang a lot about Satan while trying to scare parents, and managed to convince a bunch of Scandanavians that they were serious. Then, in 1983, a band called Bathory started up. Essentially a one man project from a guy called Quorthon, the band amped up Venom’s sound by stripping anything remotely listenable away, leaving only overt Satanic imagery and vocals that sound like throat cancer gargling with gravel. The songs still had recognizable structure, but only if you could sift through a fifty pounds of distortion and a bad blast beat.
By the mid-eighties, Bathory had abandoned black metal for Viking metal, which is what you call white-supremacist music if you want to sell more records. But not before inspiring a host of other bands, most notably Mayhem. Mayhem is the best band that doesn’t have Danzig in it, and not because of their music. After recording a couple of demos, they settled on a line-up that included people named Necrobutcher, Euronymous, Hellhammer, and lead singer Dead. Dead was 17 years old and probably had schizophrenia, a condition which was not improved by Euronymous continually telling him that no one liked him and he should kill himself. Dead, always eager to please, complied, slitting his wrists with a butcher knife and then shooting himself in the head with a shotgun, leaving a mangled corpse in an I (Heart) Transylvania T-Shirt and a note that said “Sorry about all the blood”. Upon discovering the corpse, Euronymous, wracked with guilt, promptly ran out to the store, bought a camera, took photographs which would later become an album cover, make necklaces out of Dead’s skull fragments, cooked and ate part of the brain in a stew, and then called the police. Mayhem then got a new bassist, one Count Grishnack from one-man black metal band Burzum. Grishnack was being investigated for burning down several churches in Norway, and promptly stabbed Euronymous to death. And then they released their first album. Since then, Necrobutcher has served a couple of jail terms for weapons offenses, and new singer Maniac put a fan in a coma by hurling a severed sheep’s head at him at a concert. And they’re not even the best black metal story. The guys from Emperor have, between them, burned two churches, committed one act each of knife assault and desecration, and killed a gay guy in the Lillihamer Olympic Park. Two members of Dissection killed an Algerian homosexual by holding him down and firing a stun-gun into his head several times, and were convicted of murder and grave robbing. And that just scratches the surface of the litany of black metal crimes, all committed in the name of an unholy crusade to destroy the Christian church by murdering homosexuals and other Satanists. I’m sure the Pope cries himself to sleep every night. Sometimes they record albums, too.
Death Metal/Speed Metal/Power Metal/Thrash Metal/Doom Metal/Grindcore/Metalcore/Blackened Death/Nu-Metal/Glam Metal/Gothic Metal/Stoner Metal
And there you have it, the history of heavy metal, from one narcissist to another. Favorite metal bands, anyone? You're not allowed to say Metallica.