Superbly crafted docu is strong enough to make believers out of non-metalheads, and inside enough to get the devil’s-horns salute from the most diehard followers. In Toronto, pic got picked up by Warner Bros., so look for cross-promotional tie-ins and much cable spinning after a quick trip to multiplex arenas.
Headbanger-turned-anthropologist/co-helmer Sam Dunn is on-screen tour guide for the surprisingly variegated terrain that is post-’60s heavy metal. Clips from 1986’s seminal “Heavy Metal Parking Lot” set the stage for a level of cult devotion otherwise known only to country singers and professional wrestlers.
Interviews with musicians Rob Zombie, Alice Cooper, Vince Neil, Ronnie James Dio and Iron Maiden’s articulate (and strikingly unweathered) Bruce Dickinson lay out some basic history. More bookish types like Donna Gaines and Chuck Klosterman suggest there’s more intelligence behind those thudding chords than casual listeners might suspect.
Of glam-metal veterans from the 1980s, Dee Snider comes across as the most insightful observer, especially when the former Twisted Sister frontman recalls facing down Tipper Gore and various senators in the infamous PMRC circus of the period. Motorhead’s mush-mouthed Lemmy, Kilmister is also entertaining.
Walking the line between obstreperous and scholarly, Dunn dissects the various schools that evolved after Ozzy Osbourne’s Black Sabbath and others stole the “heavy-metal thunder” (in the famous phrase from “Born to Be Wild”) from Woodstock-era acts like Jimi Hendrix and Cream, emphasizing the dark and the loud, often at the expense of all other subtleties and subtexts. After the thud-rockers of the ’70s came whole herds of hair bands, spandex-stretchers, speed-metal demons, power punkers and — a bete noire even in this crypt-kicking crowd — Norwegian black metal.
Dunn travels to Norway, to examine some creepy church-burnings in the 1990s, and to look at the music’s fixation on death and the devil. Other sections address issues of sex, gender, and class.
There’s a quick reference to the primacy of African music in all rock ‘n’ roll, but “Metal” ignores its fascistic iconography and possibly racist impulses.
One might also wish that Dunn and company has included certain stalwarts on the scene, such as Osbourne himself or members of Metallica. But the movie doesn’t claim to be definitive and does major justice to the fans, who get considerable time to describe how this guitar-clanging music has enriched their lives, and sometimes even saved them.
The soundtrack, as might be expected, kicks ass.