Saturday, February 25, 2006

Death And The Thesis

Metal: A Headbanger's Journey
2005, Canada
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.

Really? It took you 30 days to figure out McDonald's is bad for you, and you had to test your theory on yourself? Now do gun control.

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.

Great. Now I need to sell some CDs.

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.

Actually, Abbath Doom Occulta here does it for the chicks. And by chicks I mean Viking boys.

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.

Look! It's Conan The Queertarian! A bunch of times!

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.

Yes. That is his brain.

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.


Anonymous Drek said...

I know any cred I have is going to go out the window with this but my absolute favourite is Rob Zombie. Say what you will, but he is the one responsible for developing my musical tastes at all. Having only subsisted on my father's Sabbath records as a child, when I was 13 and accidently heard Dragula on the radio, suddenly it opened up a whole new world of metal and modern music to me.

Oh yeah, and to lose even more cred, I have always wanted to go see a Rammstein concert.

2:14 a.m.  
Anonymous Drek said...

I'm also glad this review went up, I really want to see this movie but the only theatre that plays it is like a 45 minute drive from where I live. It's sometimes hard to tell if something is good from your reviews due to the fact that you seem to skip the review part and just a blow a load of pedophile jokes. You did however mention in there "But the film is good" which, lets face it, around here is fucking rare.

2:28 a.m.  
Anonymous broadzilla said...

Or you could save yourself a lot of trouble and just read Hell Bent for Leather, drek.

Ash, I really figured you for a Slayer fan. Metal is not my all-time favourite genre, but if I have to select from the 'gay' pool (and I'm allowed to because I'm a girl), then I'd plump for Entombed as my most consistently listened to, but I have been known to flit from Paradise Lost to early Fear Factory (with some dodgy stops on the way), depending on whether my mood is more dour northern coal miner or fat alienated steelworker.

But today I like Shadow Reichenstein, so I must be feeling like an undead Texan in WWII regalia.

6:59 a.m.  
Blogger Prince Prospero said...

Black Metal bands are posers, boring, and repetitive, like listening to Einstürzende Neubauten at 78 rpm. To form a solid and lasting dismal view of humanity’s future, just listen to the Carpenters and KC and the Sunshine Band; you’ll open your wrists Roman style in the blink of an eye.

7:55 a.m.  
Blogger Jerk Of All Trades 2.0 said...

Oh man, this is like asking me what broads I'd like to bang.

King Diamond
Mercyful Fate
Iced Earth
Arch Enemy
Fear Factory (WITH Dino)
Black Sabbath
Early Judas Priest
Grim Reaper (I know..I know)
Death Angel
Meshuggah (How can you NOT like a band with a song called "Future Breed Machine"?)

I HATE Black Dahlia Murder, and yet I can't stop playing the new album.
Ditto Force of Evil

I'm the only guy on earth who owns a Goddess Of Desire album.

I'm forgetting a ton of stuff I'm sure. I might have to add to this later.

8:04 a.m.  
Blogger Ash Karreau said...

Drek - Zombie is OK. White Zombie records helped get me from Black Sabbath to good music when I was young, as well. Rammstein, however, does not count in your favor.

However, I will take issue with one comment you made, and that is that it's hard to tell if I like a movie or not. I've heard than many times before, but I don't think that it's true. It IS true that I make fun of a movie regardless of whether I think it's good or not. If a review is read carefully, like Brokeback Mountain or Constant Gardener, even though there's a lot of lame jokes, I think there's enough positive buried in there to make my opinion clear. You are very right, however, in the statement that I do not like a lot of the movies I see, but it's not my fault they only make shit movies.

Broadzilla - Today you like Shadow Reichtenstein? I hope tomorrow you get better. I am a Slayer fan. In fact, they would easily in my top five bands, metal or no. I have everything they've ever put out. Entombed is alright, as is Paradise Lost. Two out of three ain't bad, or it wouldn't br if the third weren't so abominably shitty.

Prospero - All music is boring and repetetive. That's how a genre is defined. Black metal is, however, boring, repetitive music made by posers who are rapists and murderers. Which is at least distinctive.

Jerk - Yes, no, yes, yes, no, no, yes, yes, no, no, yes, no, yes, NO, no, no, no, no, no, no.

Black Dahlia Murder is good, but essentially it's just Dissection songs with less minor key tonality.

9:25 a.m.  
Blogger Prince Prospero said...

The only difference is which form of repetitive, boring, poser music hits the individual's particular Pavlonian lever.

"The problem of leasure...
What to do, for pleasure."

When are you going to do a review of Donnie Darko? That should be interesting... :)

11:10 a.m.  
Anonymous (Behind the) Pine Curtain said...

This review alone is reason why I read your blog almost everyday.

Where else can I fill my need for timely cinematic criticism and self-loathing? It's either here or back to masturbating to Einsatzgruppen documentaries.

12:39 p.m.  
Anonymous Drek said...

Hey Ash, I like how the review is buried in there as its not just "Four stars, Sam Dunn's editing is excellent". I also enjoy that alot of movies do not get by your scathing opinion. It makes your opinion of something good actually mean something rather than whatever this weeks 4 star movie is.

3:52 p.m.  
Anonymous RTG said...

I've been meaning to leave a note saying how much I enjoy this blog for some time, and this is certainly the post to leave it under.

Personal favorates include: Dissection, Vital Remains, Motorhead, and Iron Maiden. I can't fairly call myself a metalhead, but I've been around them enough to develope a rudementary taste for it.

Keep up the good work.

4:55 p.m.  
Blogger Ash Karreau said...

Prospero - I'd review Donnie Darko, but then I'd have to watch it again.

Pine Curtain - Thanks a lot. It's comments like that that make me keep writing, even when it's cutting into my own masturbating-to-Einsatzgruppen-documentaries time.

Drek - Thanks. The thing I hate about nost reviews is that they oversimplify criticism to the point where it's just a star review, or worse, a thumb up or down, essentially just a sound-bite for a movie poster. Forcing someone to read an entire review to glean an opinion from general tone and the holistic experience of the review just seems more interesting, and more suitable for pedophile jokes. And even the best movies have ridiculous things about them, so there's that, too.

rtg - Thanks for the kind words. And don't be too hard on yourself. Having an appreciation of Dissection and knowing more that Motorhead did more than Ace of Spades automatically confers metalhead status, even if only an honorary one.

6:48 p.m.  
Anonymous Drek said...

I don't know why I didn't think of this before but, Gwar. Thoughts anyone? Probably one of the best concerts I have ever been to.

1:10 a.m.  
Blogger Ash Karreau said...

I sort of like Gwar, in a punk rock kind of way, but I prefer their spin off band, Ex-Cops.

9:15 a.m.  
Anonymous G. Burdi said...

Total gay.

5:38 p.m.  
Blogger Ash Karreau said...

Well, I never was a big RaHoWa fan, George. I'm more of an Angry Aryans man myself. Sorry. If anyone cares, my top five metal bands will always include Danzig (Misfits and Samhain included), Slayer, Mayhem, Type O Negative, and Deicide. Currently, however, I'm listening to a lot of Abigor and Gorgoroth, with a little God Dethroned to mix things up a bit.

1:09 a.m.  
Anonymous Angus' Snappy Pseudonym said...

I really dig Storm's "Nordavind" album (it's got a 4 minute 'Mountain Wind' track), Einherjer and Satyricon's "Nemesis Divina" album. Nails are not spikes.

Oh, and anything Danzig has ever touched or fondled.

10:29 a.m.  
Blogger Ash Karreau said...

Odin Owns Ye All!

11:16 a.m.  
Blogger Sam Kahn said...

Are all those stories true?

Also, I just heard the band Dragonforce. Not bad.

6:24 a.m.  
Blogger Ash Karreau said...

Yes, they're all true, and there's a hundred more, equally awful. And you're wrong, Dragonforce is bad. They look like the Darkness and sound like a Dungeon Master handbook.

9:13 a.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, all those stories aren't true. Most are, but not all. Don't believe everything you read on the internet.
/From Scandinavia

9:21 a.m.  

HEAVY METAL IS AN ABOMINATION, AND IT MUST BE DESTROYED, (along with the british film industry).

4:23 a.m.  

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