Headbanging Anthropologist Takes Us Through the World of Heavy Metal in 2005 Documentary

Don’t wor­ry; I don’t know any­thing about met­al either. As least, I did­n’t know any­thing about it before I watched Met­al: A Head­banger’s Jour­ney, a 2005  doc­u­men­tary on this vast yet much-derid­ed musi­cal sub­cul­ture that you can watch on YouTube. Sam Dunn, an anthro­pol­o­gist, bassist, and unapolo­getic met­al­head, uses the film to ask many ques­tion about his favorite music: what exact­ly is met­al? How do met­al play­ers get it to sound so evil? Why does one per­son give him­self over com­plete­ly to the met­al lifestyle, while anoth­er bare­ly notices its exis­tence at all? What feel­ing do the most die-hard fans get from met­al, and how do they get addict­ed to it? Why does met­al’s most­ly straight male audi­ence thrill to the sight of met­al’s most­ly straight male per­form­ers strut­ting around in tight leather? How did met­al grow so many sub­gen­res — black met­al, glam met­al, pow­er met­al, death met­al? Does Satan real­ly have any­thing to do with met­al, or does it all come down to a big piece of Hal­loween-ish the­ater? And how come north­ern Euro­peans take met­al so dead­ly seri­ous­ly?

In pur­suit of the answers, Dunn trav­els the world inter­view­ing met­al­ists of every stripe, from Rob Zom­bie to Alice Coop­er to Rush bassist Ged­dy Lee to Twist­ed Sis­ter front­man Dee Snider to Iron Maid­en’s mul­ti­tal­ent­ed Rob Dick­in­son to a pair of masked men from Slip­knot. He even talks twice to the late Ron­nie James Dio, the singer who sup­pos­ed­ly pop­u­lar­ized the now-uni­ver­sal sign of the horns met­al hand ges­ture. Seek­ing con­text for these first-hand accounts, Dunn talks to aca­d­e­m­ic soci­ol­o­gists and musi­col­o­gists as well as the mile-a-minute cul­tur­al essay­ist Chuck Kloster­man. Fol­low­ing his anthro­po­log­i­cal instinct, he also puts in a great deal of time with fel­low met­al­heads of myr­i­ad ages and nation­al­i­ties (though they usu­al­ly come from the same range of grim­ly dull child­hoods). Dun­n’s dis­arm­ing per­son­al­i­ty and undy­ing enthu­si­asm for the mate­r­i­al offer a way into this seem­ing­ly con­tra­dic­to­ry musi­cal cul­ture of vir­tu­os­i­ty and bru­tal­i­ty, whose cre­ators sing in death grows yet speak elo­quent­ly, whose hard­ened out­sider fol­low­ers some­how find in it a fount of com­mu­ni­ty, friend­ship and belong­ing.

via Metafil­ter

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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  • Par­don me, but “Iron Maiden’s mul­ti­tal­ent­ed Rob Dick­in­son” is incor­rect. Rob Dick­in­son was not in Iron Maid­en; Bruce Dick­in­son, his old­er cousin, was. Rob was in a band called Cather­ine Wheel.



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