Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Metal: A Headbanger's Journey (2005)

I watched the documentary Metal: A Headbanger's Journey quite a few months ago, and wrote this review. It was left in draft status and got buried, but I just now dug it up.

The movie presents a sociological analysis of many aspects of heavy metal music in a compelling way. It was made in 2005, but it hasn't lost its relevance.

Metal - A Headbanger's JourneyThe film was created by one Sam Dunn, who became a metal fan at the age of 12 (in the 1980's) and went on to study anthropology. Being told from the perspective of a metalhead is essential to the subject matter, because, as he notes in the film, other people don't understand it. But his anthropological background also gives him the ability to approach the topic in a mostly neutral manner as he addresses the history, fans, and culture of heavy metal, as well as several areas of controversy (religion, sex and gender, and censorship).

Interviewees include a number of experts as well as record label reps and an all-star list of metal elite: Tony Iommi, Ronnie James Dio, Lemmy Kilmister, Bruce Dickinson, Alice Cooper, Geddy Lee, Dee Snider, Tom Araya and Kerry King, Rob Zombie, Ihsahn, Gaahl, Corey Taylor and Joey Jordison, Angela Gossow, and many more. Every one of them would impress a viewer with their intelligence and insight, and they provide a good, all-around view of the topics at hand. It's always struck me that shock rockers are the ones who come off as being the most intelligent, as Alice Cooper and Dee Snider are two very well-spoken people.

Metal: A Headbanger's JourneyThe film lives up to the quality of the guest list. The narration is clear, and would allow even the uninitiated to understand what's going on. It also includes a few key insights, notably the conclusion that metal is often maligned because it addresses the things society would rather ignore. The flow of the film works well, as each subject leads into the next. The camera work is excellent for a documentary, and there is also a good deal of vintage footage. And, importantly, it has an excellent soundtrack with everything from Blue Cheer to Cannibal Corpse.

I do have a few complaints. He never once mentions doom metal or sludge metal, even when he purports to provide a complete picture. And although the discussion on religion is quite good--leaving the viewer with the impression most of the anti-religionist sentiment in the music is theatrical rather than serious--he doesn't even mention the fact there are Christian metal bands out there.

The Verdict: This is essential viewing for anyone who is interested in the genre. It is excellently produced and directed, and presented from a passionate but scholarly viewpoint. I give it 4.5 out of 5 stars.


  1. It's funny, most people I've talked to had a relatively negative opinion of M:AHJ, (most seemed miffed that he didn't dwell longer on their favorite niche) but personally I really enjoyed it. I wish I owned a copy.

  2. I actually enjoyed it too. It was not without its faults, but it was an interesting film. I think it is particularly good viewing material for someone who is just getting in to the scene or, in my case, I showed it to my wife so that she could better understand the metal culture.