Metal Evolution-Series Overview (DVD)
Released: 2012, Alliance Films
We are very pleased to present our feature on the documentary series METAL EVOLUTION. Three writers, Brat (Australia), Erich (USA) and JP (Canada) watched the entire series on DVD and wrote an episode by episode review. Each writer gave each episode an individual score to give you a broader perspective of this series. The overall score is the average (rounded up or down) of the writers.
Back in 2006 Canadian anthropologist turned filmmaker Sam Dunn and his silent partner Scott McFadden, produced the groundbreaking documentary METAL: A HEADBANGERS JOURNEY. The film went onto receive global critical acclaim not only from the Metal community but from the music industry in general. The pair created Banger Films and filmed a sequel in 2007 called GLOBAL METAL and the expanding company followed quickly with award-winning documentaries about Iron Maiden in 2009 and Rush in 2010. Building on many successes Banger Films did not lose their Metallic focus.
There is an old saying that once a person becomes successful they leave for greater things and 'never look back'. That is certainly not the case in this situation. Looking back at the companies original project, METAL: A HEADBANGERS JOURNEY, one of the more discussed and/or controversial components of that film was the Metal 'family tree'. This noble (and well done) attempt to create a visual representation of the genre-lineage of Heavy Metal, created the contextual framework for the entire film. The family tree was later reproduced in print on the film soundtrack for people to enjoy. Sam's version was not without critics and did generate discussion for what was included as much as what was excluded. Accordingly, Banger Films realized that, based on the original family tree alone, 40 years of Metal history could not be adequately covered in one film. The idea of a documentary series was born.
Partnering with Alliance and the VH1 network in America, Banger Films produced the series METAL EVOLUTION which consists of 11 episodes running about 45 minutes each. As the title suggests the series covers the evolution of Heavy Metal music as the host Sam Dunn traveled the world and conducted 300 interviews in many cities, in several countries on three continents. Behind the scenes the Toronto based Banger Films hired Martin Popoff, one of the worlds foremost experts on Heavy Metal, as his lead researcher. Over a year of work went into this series.
The series debuted on TV on November 11, 2011 and was carried in Canada on Much More Music. After a bit of a rough start (the series was initially released in March 2012 IN America via an order-on-demand on DVD-R with some technical, quality control issues) the series was properly released on DVD in June 2012.
The series was released on three discs in a fine looking metal (naturally) box designed to look like a speaker. There was no booklet and it would have been a nice touch to have a poster of the revised Metal Family tree. The picture quality is fine, as is the sound.
The episodes are as follows and we have reviewed and provided (I hope!) extensive analysis of each episode for your enjoyment. To avoid reading a massive almost unreadable review, we have broken each episode out so you can read the review of your favorite episodes or enjoy them all at your leisure.
1. Pre-History Of Metal
2. Early Metal US
3. Early Metal UK
4. New Wave Of British Heavy Metal
5. Glam Metal
6. Thrash Metal
8. Nu Metal
9. Shock Rock
10. Power Metal
11. Progressive Metal
After I struggled through the first episode with a lot of rehashed footage from Sam Dunn's other metalmentories, Metal Evolution taught me a few things.
The contribution of Dunn’s evolution is evident in my ability to trace my metal journey; however, I was disappointed that some holes were left in the evolutionary map: the evolution of shock rockers Venom to today’s death and black metal bands; how shock rock also emerged in glam metal by way of sexual overtones and stage antics; and the less glam bands of the glam metal era which made a greater contribution to metal’s evolution than some covered in the episode.
After episode 11 I also wondered what happened to the episode on black and/or death metal. Did Dunn run out of money? Did he consider those genres as contemporary, therefore not part of the evolutionary journey? And if so, why include contemporary power metal? Was a Metal Evolution Volume 2 DVD in production?
I had one anticlimax when Dunn summarised that ‘metal will continue to evolve’. Well, derr!
Overall, a great journey and/or a great crash course resource in heavy metal if you have a weekend to spare.
Given that Dunn probably had to cater to company executives by highlighting the most popular and best selling bands in most genres, he manages to compile an important milestone in metal. This is the most comprehensive documentary yet made on a genre that the mainstream loves to hate, and gives metal fans a badly needed documentary for tracing the roots of many of metal’s most popular subgenres. Despite some obvious omissions, Metal Evolution is basically mandatory viewing for anyone remotely interested in the history and evolution of this diverse style of music.
I did not see the series as it aired. I didn't have the channel that broadcast the series on my cable package, so I have been looking forward to seeing this with great anticipation since I learned about it back in October of 2010. My anticipation grew as my friends and colleagues watched the series as it aired and told me about it. I pre-ordered the series on DVD in March of 2012 and waited (impatiently for 2.5 months) as they ironed out the technical problems. The set arrived a couple days after my birthday and I knew that this series was a perfect candidate for an episode-by-episode review, especially for all our readers from around the globe who have heard of METAL EVOLUTION but did not have it broadcast in their nations.
In the broadest terms the documentary is presented in vaguely chronological manner. It is well-shot with tons of interviews and loads of music. It meets all the basic minimum requirements of a well-produced TV series. The tone of the documentary seems to be a bit casual with brief connecting shots of Sam meeting various people before sitting down for the 'formal' interview component. There are lots of shots of Sam traveling, buses, airports, hotels and it gives the viewer a sense of sheer scope of this undertaking. As a host he is knowledgeable and unpretentious which adds to the authenticity. More often that not he shows up looking tired (probably hung-over or at a minimum, exhausted from traveling) wearing a black T-shirt with a band logo. He is 'just' a Metal guy talking to other Metal people about a subject we know and love. More often than not the interview components are casual, conversational and not an 'academic' interviewing a 'Rock Star'. He is a fan and comes through with his Metal street cred intact, not that any of that crap matters, but point being, he asks a few questions, no overt agenda, nothing extremely controversial and he let's the person being interviewed doing the talking. These guys (the Rock Stars) love being on camera and they provide an ample amount of quotable quotes.
I’m quite sure keen-eyed fans will notice that many of the clips in this series were taken from footage from his other movies METAL: A HEADBANGERS JOURNEY, GLOBAL METAL and FLIGHT 666. I imagine there was so much footage from those films they have been incorporated into this series and I even saw a few clips that were the same as in those others movies. It makes for a nice sense of continuity among Banger Productions body of work.
In terms of the calibre and type of people being interviewed for the series I felt at times that Dunn goes 'back to the well' with many big names such as Scott Ian who is 'Mr. Metal Documentary' it seems, he shows up in tons of these things. It would have been nice to see a wider array of lesser know artists, newer artists to get a more modern perspective. It great to see the mainstays of Halford, Dickinson, Cooper etc show up and these are knowledgeable intelligent people but it's almost as if Dunn calls up his old buddies from his previous films instead of digging a little deeper. Bruce Dickinson, Rob Halford and Scott Ian appeared in almost every single episode!
Maybe Dunn did ask some lesser known artists and they declined. He alluded to being declined by Tool, Manowar, and others. Alternately with over 300 interviews completed I'll bet there was an enormous amount of raw material from other people that never made the cut because maybe Cooper, Dickinson, Halford etc were the most entertaining and interesting. Those are editorial decisions that get made that we will never be privy too. Besides you have to include those veteran guys to add credibility as well.
Another factor is that the bigger names have more face value in terms of selling the product to the people. If that seems a bit cynical, it is a business and at the end of the day when a fan is going to purchase this DVD, what has better marquee value, interviews with 'Bruce Dickinson the lead singer of Iron Maiden' or the singer of a band most people has ever heard of? There was probably some pressure from the Executive producers and money guys. I'm sure it wasn't quite that overt but fact remains that when you have budgets and deadlines compromises get made. Alternately, maybe Scott and Sam decided in many cases it wasn’t worth it to chase these people half-way around the world for what might amount to 1-2 minutes of usable footage.
Ultimately the combination of those four restraints (acknowledged or otherwise) commercial constraints/business factors, accessibility to the artist, name recognition for average fan and editorial privilege meant the only logical decision is to weigh the series of the big name performers of popular mainstream Metal bands. This is NOT necessarily a bad thing. It was not the goal of the series to look under every rock in the deep, dark Metal underground and stick a camera in the face of whatever band member comes skittering out onto the lighted main stage of an international, televised documentary series.
Recognizing the fact that Banger Films had to include all the big name Metal guys to maintain any credibility, my primary criticism would be to ask why include non-Metal guys at the expense of digging deeper and having, newer, younger Metal people being interviewed? There are some people that could have, should have been left out. Why was Nelson George interviewed? Who cares what some guy who wrote a book about hip-hop has to say about Metal? Another example is Tom Morello of RATM. Check I mean, he seems like a nice guy, funny and articulate but why is he even in this series? He's not even a Metal guy. They added little of value that could have been easily articulated from a lesser-known Metal artist. This would serve to provide the entire series a little younger, vibrant, more contemporary (or 'fresh' if you prefer) feel instead of trotting out the old warhorses and splicing in some unnecessary clips with non-metal dudes. Replacing the interviews and footage of non-Metal guys with a selection of underground Metal artists would have also benefited the scene by giving those lesser known up and coming artists valuable exposure.
Even though the series was about evolution I felt there was a bit of a lack of a contemporary feel to the series. Even the most modern bands featured in the various episodes (Mastodon, Dragonforce) are already ten years old, however, that may be an unjust criticism on my part because only time will tell if a band is influential. It would have been nice to say, yes, there are brand new Power Metal bands, Thrash bands, Prog bands (etc) that have formed in the past few years, and that are doing new and interesting things, but as Sam said, in the Power Metal episode, (paraphrased)"...one or two bands can’t sustain an entire genre.”
One strength of the series is that Dunn did not just interview musicians. He talks to authors, journalists, producers, photographers, scientists and academics to provide a broader perspective about Metal. It was nice to be able to put a face to people like Rod Smallwood, Geoff Barton, Neal Kay, Brian Slagel, Monte Connor, and Terry Date and other people who are legendary in the Metal industry.
The first four episodes had a real cohesion, covering the origins of the genre and the major movements. One disadvantage of compartmentalizing episodes by nation meant a bit of a lack of international focus. Almost everything was focused or Britain or America and somehow Japan, Germany, and Canada kind of got shunted aside, so we don’t get to hear about other international pioneering bands from the 70’s and early 80’s, such as Accept, Scorpions, AC/DC, Krokus, Rush, Exciter, Anvil, Pretty Maids, and Loudness. Some of these artists get the full due in later episodes.
The remainder of the series steps away from broad movements and a nation-specific focus and spotlights specific genres. Naturally, depending on your preference for each of those genres, will determine how much you enjoy those episodes. These next seven genre-based episodes had a far more international scope and scale. I’d suggest that ‘Shock Rock’ (Episode 9) is not really a musical genre per se but it was a tidy way to encapsulate the visual side of the vast genre.
One of the problems with a genre specific episode is that the scale is still too big. If you look at the Prog Episode, the Thrash Episode or the Power Metal episode it is almost impossible to capture over a quarter century of music and hundreds bands from across the globe into a 42 minute episode. In other cases like the NWOBHM Episode it works because the episode focuses on a roughly five-year span. Editing must have been painful and it has to be edited or the whole 42 minute episode could be a list of genre-specific bands scrolling on the screen! However, Sam and his team did a magnificent job encapsulating an entire genre into a small time-frame, focusing on some major bands and giving a nod to many lesser known contributors.
The series is largely free of technical errors and although I don’t agree with some of Sam’s points those can’t be classified as ‘mistakes’. The series was well researched and the technical data is accurate. There are few mistakes here and there but they are so minor that only a seasoned industry observer and/or die-hard fan would notice them.
While very comprehensive the series was not complete. Early critics immediately noticed the lack of extreme genres in the series. Some people have heavily criticized Metal Evolution because it did not include episodes on Doom Metal, Death Metal, Black Metal or even Grindcore. I would not include myself as one of those critics. While it is disappointing that those heavy genres were not included I know it is not because Banger Films were unaware of their existence or significance, as evidenced by Dunn’s excellent work on Black Metal in METAL: A HEADBANGERS JOURNEY, especially the extended bonus feature on Black Metal on the DVD version of the film. I think there were political and financial considerations where the films backers would not endorse (ie. pay) for those episodes. It’s disappointing and Sam himself has commented on the exclusion of those genres on a number of occasions in the media. We know he wanted to include those genres and we know that the team is fundraising and trying to complete at least one episode on the more extreme sub-genres.
In addition to discussing what was omitted, I’d like to touch on what was included, specifically the Grunge and Nu Metal episodes. Although this might seem harsh I felt Dunn really did the Metal community a disservice by including these non-Metal genres in the series. He had an opportunity to help end what little debate is left and take a strong stance against those non-Metal styles being defined as ‘Metal’, but instead chose an inclusionary style. While, I admire in some small way his journalistic integrity and academic/anthropological credibility, it was a shame to see these artists and bands get so much exposure and credence with their own episodes. Ideally those two episodes, could have been dropped in favour of a Doom Metal, a Death Metal and/or a Black Metal episode.
If Sam was insistent on included those musical genres because of some tenuous evolutionary connection to Metal, he could have combined those two episodes into one and left it as a bonus feature on the DVD or something. Instead of jetting off to Seattle to speak with Grunge people and waste his time talking to douche bags like the guy from Linkin Park, that time, energy and resources could have been funneled into more Metal episodes. Banger Films may have had pressure from the series backers and/or VH1 to include those styles in a vain effort to get additional exposure for the series but even a novice industry observer knows that Grunge and Nu Metal fans are not the core audience nor the demographic that the series was designed for. Accordingly, those episodes served little purpose or value except to annoy Metal fans with some imagined connection to Metal, which the vast majority of musicians, fans, journalists and industry people agree, doesn’t exist.
That is the problem with a documentary like this is that a guy like me sitting on my couch, drinking beer and watching the DVD, I have only the smallest concept of the scope or scale of this project and it is easy for a fan to sit and criticize. That’s not the purpose of my comments. This documentary opens Pandora’s box to all sorts of commentary from the Metal community, not just criticism but what METAL EVOLUTION could have been without all the aforementioned constraints of time, energy, money etc. Ultimately, I feel that Scott, Sam and Martin and the entire team at Banger Films did a fantastic job and for a cynic or critic to live with the regret and bitterly complain about what was left out (or included) is pretty counter-productive. I’ve read some pretty harsh and mean-spirited criticism of this series on the net. Ignore those fools. The series is fantastic.