Metal: A Headbanger's Journey (2006)

Starring: Alice Cooper, Vince Neil, Bruce Dickinson, Dee Snider, Ronnie James Dio, Rob Zombie, Tony Iommi, Lemmy

Directed by: Sam Dunn

Rating: 1 2 3 4

Heavy  metal horns in Metal: A Headbanger's Journey

It's now almost 20 years since Penelope Spheeris released her no-holds-barred anatomy of the empty headed, big haired, sleazy, easy LA glam metal scene. With a cast that numbered Alice Cooper, Poison, Steve Tyler and Joe Perry, Faster Pussycat and Lemmy fae oot a Mötörhead, it's hardly surprising that The Decline of Western Civilisation Part II: The Metal Years has long been one of my favourite films. Can self-confessed metal anorak Sam Dunn make a film that's even half as entertaining as Spheeris's tragi-comic cocktail of fans and stars, groupies and haters, relentlessly optimistic wannabes ('you know, they wanna be rock stars, but they gotta be kidding') and disillusioned, drunken has-beens?

Oh yes. In his high octane odyssey to discover just why heavy metal music is so well loved by an underground multitude, yet so sidelined and maligned by the mainstream, the appealingly nerdy looking Mr Dunn (a gangly, ginger-haired cross between Morgan Spurlock and Ted Theodore Logan) takes us on a fascinating journey from the roots of heavy metal music in late '60s Britain to its latest, headline grabbing incarnation, Norwegian black metal, via NWOBHM, power metal, glam metal (turns out it's the ultimate expression of masculinity - who knew?), thrash metal and nu metal, with a detour en route to take in Germany's infamous Wacken metalfest.

Sam Dunn, writer and director of Metal: A Headbanger's Journey

Part anthropological study, part personal crusade, the film represents a determined effort on the part of its director to prove that there's more to heavy metal than tight trousers and permed hair - and it's also a fantastic excuse to meet his idols, of course. Why didn't I think of it?

All the usual grizzled oldies are wheeled out to lock horns with the nu metal kids on the block (none of whom, of course, actually look that young any more). Some are articulate and wise (Alice, Bruce Dickinson, Tony Iommi, Rob Zombie and rock hobbit Ronnie James Dio - when he isn't obsessively slagging off Gene Simmons, anyway) others can barely string a coherent sentence together (the Norwegian black metallers - who all sport suitably grim and fear inducing monikers like 'Graaahl' and 'Uuuuurgh' and have a vocabulary to match).

As usual, women are somewhat under-represented, but that's metal for you - as shining examples, we're shown an exceedingly eloquent 13-year-old Slipknot fan, Pamela Des Barres (tackling, of course, the sticky subject of groupies - if you've read The Dirt, you may find her claims that groupies are all strong, independent women with bags of self-esteem to spare somewhat hard to, um, swallow), Girlschool, Doro and the somewhat scary Arch Enemy (think the DNA of James Hetfield spliced with Courtney Love). Dee Snider gives us food for thought (cucumbers, anyway) as he questions why a genre where men in ludicrously tight trousers posture before an audience that's 90 per cent male should be seen as the epitome of testosterone fuelled manliness (think Rob Halford in his leathers.) but, again, that's metal.

Unlike Spheeris, who's only really interested in the sex and drugs part of the equation, Dunn tries to get to the heart of the rock'n'roll itself, to examine its appeal and elevate it above its usual position at the smeggy bottom of the musical pile. Okay, so some of his ideas may seem a little far fetched: were Black Sabbath the Wagner of their day? Is Eddie Van Halen Mozart? It's a theory, plausibly presented by serious beardy musos, so it must be true. But he's certainly right about one thing: heavy metal fans do not take their music lightly. The love of heavy metal is a sustained and sustaining passion that burns at the core of our identities. Metal isn't just music, it's a lifestyle choice, and the international brotherhood (okay, and sisterhood) of metal is, in the words of KISS, a million strong. And through his laid back good humour, earnest examination of the genre and obvious relish for all things hard'n'heavy, in this film, Dunne both explains and encapsulates the message of metal perfectly.

And just what is the message of metal, I hear you cry? Doh - back to the school of rock for you. And: if you don't like it, you can f*ck off - who needs ya?

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