In 2005 Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen made a little documentary called Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey. Lovingly dubbed Metal 101 by some, their movie told the story of Metal music’s roots; it’s emergence from working class cities in America and Europe. From Metal’s roots they traced all of the sub-genres and off shoots, interviewing many bands and musicians in the process. It was bliss for the metalheads and eye-opening for anyone else. It made its international debut at the Toronto International Film Festival and things blew up from there. The film was picked up in 30 countries and the letters and e-mails came flooding in from fans all over the world. Soon Sam and Scot realized that Metal was bigger than just American and Europe. Metal had gone Global!
The history lesson is over; it is time for a Metal field trip! It is time to see how big Metal’s ‘boot’ print on the world really is.
The intrepid duo, with Sam as our tour guide, set off on a tour of the world searching out lands where Metal is making its guttural voice heard. Brazil, Japan, China, Indonesia, Israel, India and Dubai are all stops on the tour, each one offering their own flavor into the Metal mix. In Brazil we hear of the emergence of the Metal scene from the ashes of the fall of the dictatorship in 1985. Feel the rush as you watch footage of the crowd at Rock in Rio swell to ‘Rock you like a Hurricane’ by the Scorpians. No tour of Brazil would be complete unless Sam talked to Max Cavalera from Sepultura.
Oh Japan, how I love you, and what an amazing country you are. The stopover in Japan revealed many things. One, there is still a strong devotion to Deep Purple amongst middle-aged business men. Wacky. Two, I don’t think that a style of Japanese metal called Visual Kei is going to strike fans of Japanese culture as odd at all. But for the most part seeing footage of the Visual Kei bands like X Japan and current offspring Sex Machineguns is going to turn some heads. Oh, and two words for you. Death Panda.
Hurray for Mumbai, India and hurray for those who feel that it is their calling to make Metal in contradiction to the juggernaut that is Bollywood. Likely the most anti-traditional scene on the tour, Sam meets with Metalheads, fans who like their music hard and seek to live life outside of the bounds of traditional Indian culture. Their stay in India includes a Metal concert held at a hotel that commonly hosts weddings. And, by a stroke of luck, the same night the concert is on a traditional Indian wedding is happening at the opposite end of the compound. It’s not hard to pick out the drunken uncle.
Next up, China. The scene in China is still fairly young, itself being a closed country up until 1993. Sam meets with Kaiser Kuo, member of the first Chinese Metal band Tang Dynasty. Kuo outlines how Metal first got into China considering no band from outside of China has ever played there. But the tour also includes the Midi School, a school for modern musicians, raising up future Metalheads. China has had a lot of growing up to do in a very short period of time. The country had to make up for 50 years of Metal history in a short period.
In one of the more politically charged stops on the tour, Indonesia, the film portrays a country of desperation, with a massive gap between high and low class, alarming poverty levels, a country emerging from an oppressive dictatorship. Indonesia is one of most populous countries in the world with the largest Muslim population. Throw Metal into the mix and the results have been ‘explosive’, as Lars Ulrich of Metallica testifies to when the band played there back in 1993. What has emerged out of Indonesia is a scene that speaks out against injustice, sporting very socially and politically charged lyrics, something usually associated with punk rock scene in the Western world.
Two stops in the Middle East, First in Israel, where Orphaned Land, a progressive Metal band from Petah Tikva, Israel, observes their surroundings and uses cultural and current topics in their lyrics. Surprisingly Universalist for a band based out of Israel Orphaned Land has been known to sing of commonalities between the three Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Islam, and Christianity). Sam also meets with other bands from the area and again we see how the surroundings and geopolitical situation in the Middle East has shaped their outlook, to be further represented in their lyrics, and how others see them, mostly it seems as Satanists.
Sam then goes to Dubai, where he meets with band members and Metalheads from other countries they could not get into; Iran, Saudi Arabia, Lebenon and Egypt. We learn that despite these closed cultures that the advent of the internet has allowed people in those countries to seek out Metal music. And in an interesting twist when Sam asks Lars about Metal fans finding Metal music on the web it is perceived with a cut in the film that Lars isn’t too comfortable answering that question, though it would seem that the band has since changed its views on web downloading since their famed Napster days. There is also an interesting tie-in with a band from the Middle East and a band from the first documentary Sam and Scot filmed.
Apart from the great stops and the entertaining mix of humor and cultural insight Sam and Scot shoot a nice looking film too. Mixing archival footage, interviews and some amazing camera work from their director of photography Martin Hawkes Global Metal is nice to look at. Even a film about Metal music can stop to observe the natural beauty of the world outside of America and Europe. And clocking in just over 90 minutes it has a nice pace to it an enough is conveyed during each stop to see how Western influences and their own culture is making the familiar into something new, noticeably with bands like Tang Dynasty and Orphaned Land.
And here is the gist about Global Metal. Metal music is doing something more than just entertaining its listeners. Metal music is providing a voice and an avenue for expression. One thing is clear. No matter which country you live in, what culture you’re a part of, there is something innately human about us all; our desire to express ourselves. It could be something as simple as busting out of a conservative culture like Japan and a concert gives you those moments where, as one fan put it, ‘My feelings burst wide open’. It could be a reason to celebrate, like in Brazil. Metal music didn’t save that nation but it provided an outlet of expression of release for some in that country after 1985. Or, it will be something much deeper, like in Indonesia where bands are speaking out against social injustice. We were created to be expressive and for these filmmakers, band members and fans of Metal music, this is their outlet.
Bruce Dickenson from Iron Maiden puts it best near the end of the film. Kids are kids. Cause no matter what culture you’ve come from at least a certain portion of kids in whatever cultural society wanna just get up and just go “Aaagh”, like that, and… and… we kind of provide that soundtrack.
Sam says in his final words, Metal connects with people regardless of their cultural, political or religious backgrounds… [they are] creating a new outlet they can’t find in their traditional cultures, a voice to express their discontent with the chaos and uncertainty that surrounds them in their rapidly changing societies… Metal is freedom.
Opens Toronto & Vancouver on June 20; Calgary & Montreal on June 27