Carruthers, Dick (Director)
Heavy Metal: Louder Than Life (DVD)
Released: 2006, Freemantle Media
In the middle of the last decade there were three large-scale documentary movies made about Heavy Metal. They came out at almost exactly the same time; one Canadian, one British and one American.
METAL-A HEADBANGERS JOURNEY was made in Canada and released on DVD on June 1, 2006 and went onto worldwide acclaim.
There was a second American documentary released in 2006 is called HEAVY-THE STORY OF METAL. It was produced by VH1 and broadcast on television on May 22, 2006 but to date (early 2014) has never been released in theaters or on DVD.
The third film was HEAVY METAL-LOUDER THAN LIFE, a British documentary that came out on DVD, by coincidence on the same day as the American broadcast, May 22nd, 2006.
Three nations. Three Metal documentaries. All released within a week of each other. It was good week! The British and American films were perhaps unfortunately overshadowed by the success of the Canadian film but we are here to look at the DVD version of the British documentary.
HEAVY METAL was producer by Jim Parsons of MTV and Headbangers Ball fame and directed by Dick Carruthers who has a pretty massive filmography. The pair have worked together quite a lot but most of it is non-Metal stuff, with an occasional foray into Hard Rock, having worked with Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith on various projects. It makes me question what the motivation or qualifications these gentlemen would have to tackle a documentary about something they are not really familiar with. The two–disc set has a plain cover and no booklet but it does have many interactive features, which are very enjoyable.
Even though the DVD is advertised as four hours, that is not exactly accurate. The feature film itself runs just under two hours. All the bonus features add considerable running length to the DVD. One feature I did like is that various icons (Easter eggs) would pop up and you can skip to an extended interview, an album testimonial, or a mini-bio of the person talking onscreen. The people being interviewed are the usual suspects who appear in these things all time, Scott Ian, Geezer Butler, Dio, Dee Snider, Dave Mustaine, Rob Halford and so on. There is the unfortunate inclusion of some non-Metal people like The Donnas, Kittie and Korn who don’t really have anything intelligent to add to the discussion. There is a good cross-section of industry people interviewed, Record company people, (Monte Connor), Producers (Kevin Shirley), Publishers/radio people (Ian Christe) and more. The whole film is loaded with interviews and clips from some of the biggest names in Metal. People talk about themes, the evolution of Metal, The sound of Metal, attitudes and it is all rather non-linear and not very cohesive, it’s one big discussion of larger scale concepts, with very little framework.
Disc Two has a number of bonus features. ‘Metal Skool’ is a 10-minute casual spotlight on the band before they rebranded themselves, Steel Panther. It is the usual mix of live footage and the guys fooling around. Next is an extended interview with Dee Snider called, ‘Dee Snider On Metal’. Just wind him up and watch him go for 32 minutes. Next is a fairly useless 10-minute interview with a unidentified person (his face is blurred out) discussing Metal and satanism. Lastly, the final bonus feature is ‘The Metal timelines’, which is pretty explanatory. The is an animated timeline that scrolls across the screen for over half an hour, hitting many highlights, but largely focusing on mainstream releases and bits of trivia. It starts in 1969 with the release of Led Zeppelin and ends in 2005 with the release of Opeth’s GHOST REVERIES. It is painfully incomplete, but has lots of trivia about Pantera and Guns ’n’ Roses.
The documentary is heavily biased towards England and English bands, which is to be expected as it was directed and produced by a couple of British guys. As older guys who work (or worked) for major non-Metal media organizations, they seem to be fairly out of touch and behind the times. There are also huge gaps missing from the narrative and history of Metal. Another flaw is that the film is very liberal in it’s definition of Metal. By taking an inclusive stance they included quite a bit of non-Metal stuff and trendy stuff, Nu-Metal, Grunge and so on. Lastly the movie completely ignores Death Metal, Black Metal, Progressive Metal, Power Metal, Guitar Heroes, Grindcore, Doom Metal, in fact they really didn’t discuss much except the big name mainstream Metal bands.
Overall, LOUDER THAN LIFE is a pretty average documentary. It looks good, sounds good, has some big, marquee people and is loaded with little bonuses that make it a very attractive package. The downside is that the focus is so narrow, leaving out almost every major genre of Metal and far too much emphasis on Nu-Metal (which was hot at the time) but that ties back into my comment earlier that the reviewers were in of out of touch with what was happening in Metal beyond the brightest lights of Pantera and Slipknot. They really have little or no clue about the underground (artists, bands, scenes, zines, etc) which is where 90% of all Metal exists. It is a good introduction to Metal, for non-Metal fans, and a decent film for Metal fans but if you are looking for something in-depth LOUDER THAN LIFE is quite weak. This was what I expected from an MTV styled film, lots of flash but very little substance.