3 stars (out of four)
"Metal: A Headbanger's Journey" is fan Sam Dunn's unabashed wet kiss to his favorite genre of music, heavy metal, a.k.a. devil's music.
Taking a page from the Karl Rove school of message delivery , writer-director-producer-narrator-anthropologist Dunn repeats over and over again his earnest thesis: Metal music is constantly stereotyped and demonized, man, but it will not be crushed. We are metal fans, hear us roar. Metal fans shall not be moved.
Though it might be a little quaint, it's also terribly charming, and the film is packed with hilarious, often poignant interviews with metal luminaries, from Dee Snider (Twisted Sister) and Alice Cooper to Vince Neil (Motley Crue) and Rob Zombie (White Zombie), who, explaining fan dedication, says, "No one just likes Slayer for a summer."
Unlike the current youth movement Emo, metal was never "a way to understand your loneliness," says music writer and pop-culture sensei Chuck Klosterman, "but it's a way to feel a part of something larger than yourself." So Dunn travels to Germany's Wacken Open Air festival to mosh with 40,000 other metalheads and experience that larger-than-life adrenaline rush that makes otherwise intelligent kids thrash their heads toward permanent brain damage.
Touching on sex, religion and violence, Dunn zooms through the history of metal (the genre is rooted in blues and, more obviously, classical), rattling off a mind-blowing list of musical subgenres, from heavy to punk to British to black to speed to death to hair --to name a few.
There's the necessary pause on 1985, when, facing serious tsking from Tipper Gore and the Parents Music Resource Center, Snider defended his honor in front of Congress wearing a sleeveless jean jacket and eyeliner. He took himself mighty seriously back then--they all did--but what's great about Dunn's movie is that he's caught this whole class of rockers in nostalgia mode, with Snider and Neil today laughing about the homoerotic undertones of leather and lace and Dio's Ronnie James Dio poking fun at Gene Simmons, who, as metal's Al Gore, apparently claims to have invented all things rock.
Dunn also talks to a Satanist, and at first gives little credence to the notion that heavy metal is really pro-devil or in any way dangerous. But then he goes to Norway, where some members of the satanic black metal scene have moved on from singing about death and destruction to actually carrying it out. We're talking church burning and murder.
It's a sharp contrast to the American softies, who, while they try to out-evil each other on the billboard charts, are really just a bunch of soft-spoken, witty, former outsiders--the kind of guys to take home to mom, if only they didn't look like that.
So maybe Dunn's right. Maybe this whole metal scene is misunderstood. Discussing their controversial album, "God Hates Us All," members of the band Slayer admit, "He doesn't really hate us. It's just a great [bleeping] album title."
'Metal: A Headbanger's Journey'
Directed, written and produced by Sam Dunn, Scot McFadyen and Jessica Joy Wise; photographed by Brendan Steacy; edited by Mike Munn; featuring Tony Iommi, Dee Snider, Alice Cooper, Rob Zombie, Vince Neil, Ronnie James Dio and Chuck Klosterman. A Warner Home Video release; opens Friday at the Gene Siskel Film Center. Running time: 1:36. MPAA rating: R (language, violent images, some nudity and sexual content).Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times