Released: 2015, Independent
Being a bit of Metal-nerd myself, I always think it is pretty cool when academics study, dissect and analyze Heavy Metal. It is even more interesting when the end result of their research is not just a (possibly dry) thesis posted on-line or peer-shared on academic newsgroups but an actual book or documentary. In this case Professor Nelson Varas-Diaz (PhD) from the University of Puerto Rico has created a documentary called THE DISTORTED ISLAND.
With a tag-line of ‘Heavy Metal thrives in the most unexpected places…” THE DISTORTED ISLAND is a feature length documentary about the history of Heavy Metal in the small Carribean nation of Puerto Rico. The package itself is very nice. The double digipak folds out to house the DVD and two audio CD’s with a wide selection of bands from that nation containing 30 songs from 30 bands from across 30 years (1984-2014). Perhaps egotistically I consider myself fairly well versed in smaller, regional Metal scenes and I only had heard of (or have CD’s from) about eight of the 30 bands, so there was tons of music to discover. There is a booklet with credits, some black and white photos and a small essay/introduction to the set. It is nicely packaged and presented.
The film itself has very little in the way of extras. There is no menu, nothing to navigate through, the film just starts. There are no bonus features either. The film is shot in black and white and is sub-titled. Most of the footage consists of people get interviewed; just sitting and talking. It is a classic ‘talking heads’ documentary where everyone is filmed against a black background. In fact, from a technical film-making perspective it is bare-bones as compared to, for example, a Banger Films (Sam Dunn) production. There is some old footage of old gigs and a bit more but visually the film is a bit dry. In addition, some people might even say that a two-hour documentary about the history of Heavy Metal in Puerto Rico could be boring. However that is strictly subjective, personally I found it fascinating.
Subtitled ‘Heavy Metal music and community in Puerto Rico’ the film not only explains the history of the music scene it also explained the community and various scenes and sub-scenes with the small, but largely unified Metal community. The island, being an American protectorate was largely influenced , even created, by a very small number of bands, such as Cardinal Sin, who were heating some imported music like Iron Maiden. Being a small community and very religious society in general, a strong White-Metal scene emerged with many low-key gigs in churches and youth centres. Overtime a strong organization called ‘Metal Mission’ emerged that merged faith, preaching and Metal in a unique way. As time went on minor factions emerged as some bands decided to incorporate Carribean influences (Latino, salsa, etc) and Spanish lyrics into their style creating some thing called, ‘Rock In Spanish’. Bands like Puya grew to get some international attention. Of course there was an inevitable backlash this sort of ‘mainstream’ domestic music scene and a third wave of other bands like Dantesco emerged to return to the roots as it were. The whole analysis was extremely well done and very interesting.
As I alluded to earlier, how much you want and/or need to see this film depends on your interest in local, regional metal scenes. I found it really interesting and well done, I learned a lot and the double CD is invaluable to discover the rich metal heritage of the distorted island. Dr. Varas–Diaz has created something quite unique and is the definitive document about Puerto Rico and Heavy Metal. His work is ongoing and you can participate and visit his Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/thedistortedisland.