Heavy Metal: BBC Film Explores the Music, Personalities & Great Clothing That Hit the Stage in the 1980s

In 1982, John Michael Osbourne was play­ing a show at the Vet­er­ans Memo­r­i­al Audi­to­ri­um, in Des Moines, Iowa. Dur­ing the set, a fan tossed a bat onstage. Hav­ing drunk­en­ly bit­ten off a dove’s head some months ear­li­er, Osbourne obeyed his instincts and decap­i­tat­ed the bat in sim­i­lar fash­ion. With a sin­gle bite, Osbourne, known as Ozzy to his legion fans, had become the most noto­ri­ous exam­ple of metal’s dan­ger­ous, ungod­ly ways.

Those wary of metal’s loud sounds and loud­er hair will like­ly be sur­prised by what they find in the BBC doc­u­men­tary, Heavy Met­al (1989), above. Inter­spersed amidst head­bang­ing per­for­mances by Metal­li­ca, Motor­head, and Slay­er, Heavy Met­al includes sev­er­al enter­tain­ing inter­views, includ­ing an arrest­ing­ly sedate Osbourne togeth­er with Geezer But­ler, Black Sabbath’s bassist and lyri­cist, who dis­cuss launch­ing their careers in a blues band. How does Osbourne jus­ti­fy the grim, con­fronting nature of Black Sabbath’s lyrics?

“It’s heavy met­al, so you’ve got to put a heavy lyric to it. I sup­pose writ­ing about the dark­er forces and about the dark­er sides of, what­ev­er, fits the music. You would hard­ly write about a love song to that… kind of heav­i­ness.”

In con­trast with their brash, out­sized per­sonas, most inter­vie­wees are sur­pris­ing­ly demure. Axl Rose’s boasts of Guns N Ros­es’ musi­cal integri­ty aside, Black Sab­bath, Napalm Death, and Iron Maid­en all prove dis­ap­point­ing ambas­sadors of satan-wor­ship, pro­vid­ing lucid com­men­tary on the state of met­al, the dif­fer­ences between its Amer­i­can and Eng­lish vari­eties, and cod­pieces. Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dick­in­son, whose non-musi­cal pur­suits include beer brew­ing, pilot­ing com­mer­cial air­craft, pen­ning nov­els, and Olympic-lev­el fenc­ing, dis­tin­guish­es him­self as the most thought­ful and engag­ing of the bunch.

For an enter­tain­ing look at the state of met­al in 1989, watch the full doc­u­men­tary here. It’s also list­ed in our col­lec­tion of Free Doc­u­men­taries, part of our col­lec­tion of 635 Free Movies Online.

Ilia Blin­d­er­man is a Mon­tre­al-based cul­ture and sci­ence writer. Fol­low him at @iliablinderman.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

Hor­ror Leg­end Christo­pher Lee Presents a Heavy Met­al Ver­sion of The Lit­tle Drum­mer Boy

Orson Welles Records Two Songs with the 1980s Heavy-Met­al Band Manowar


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