Harwood, Mark (Dir.) Soaring Highs And Brutal Lows (documentary)

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Reviewed: January, 2021
Released: 2015,  Streaming Amazon Prime
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: JP

SOARING HIGHS AND BRUTAL LOWS the documentary about female singers in Metal has been out for five years now and is STILL not available on DVD.  When it came out I thought to myself, “I can’t stream it (and I don’t want to) so I’ll wait for the DVD and buy it.”  No such luck. As time went on and DVD’s became more obsolete I was faced with a difficult three-way decision. Either I had to buy a Blu-Ray player and buy the Blu-Ray.  Or stream it. Or not watch it.  Well, I wanted to see and review it.  I wasn’t going to buy a Blu-ray player to watch one movie, that’s stupid, so I was essentially forced to choose between never watching it and streaming it. Such is life.

Director Mark Harwood was the mastermind behind this North American film production, filmed mostly in the Netherlands and was sponsored in part by the National Film Board of Canada.  FINALLY, my tax dollars are going to something useful!    The film runs 93 minutes.  SOARING HIGHS AND BRUTAL LOWS focuses on women in Metal, in this case mostly singers.

The ‘Women in Metal’ topic has been done to death in the metal media, academia and blogs,  but this is the first documentary to the best of my knowledge.  It is a bit of a budget production shot in the standard ‘talking head’ style that, while uninspiring to watch, does the job.  The production value and sound is fine but there is no narrator and you can’t hear what the question is being asked of the person being interviewed, so really it is just a giant montage of various women talking about their experiences in Metal.  I was hoping for a bit more in that aspect.   It all sort of blurs together, with no chapter or narrative, all of a sudden the women just start talking about a new topic and you have to struggle to keep up as there is no transition between scenes or topics.

The one thing that I really like is the content.  It is superb.  We almost never get to hear from the operatic, symphonic, female vocalists from bands like Nightwish,  Epica,  Delain, Mayan and all those bands.   There is a heavy Dutch component in the is film, the epi-center of this type of style of Metal.

In addition to some veterans like Jansen and Van Giersbergen we get to hear from some young(er) Canadian talent in the form of Kobra from Kobra and The Lotus and White-Gluz from Arch Enemy.  We are also treated to commentary from Doro.  I noticed in the credits that Leather Leone was in the credits but she didn’t get any screen time.   In terms of other notable omissions it would have been nice to hear from other veterans; Lee Aaron, Anne Boleyn and Sabrina Classen. Perhaps they were approached but were unwilling or unable to participate.    The end result is we get a fairly strong focus on post-1999 females in European Metal… and Doro!

Each person getting interviewed discusses their career, their roles, the challenges, imagery, sexuality, stereotypes and more.  I felt that all of them noted that in their chosen career were unique challenges and the occasional annoying situations they encountered but it was far from a feminist tirade.   Because all of the people being interviewed are singers there was quite a bit of emphasis on singing; techniques, inspirations, styles, interpretations and so on.  Hence the title.   It would be neat to have a Part II where female musicians are interviewed to compare their role and experiences compared to those of front-women/vocalists.

I really enjoyed SOARING HIGHS. These performers are from some of my favourite bands and it was very enjoyable to watch them get a well-deserved moment in the sun.   I just wish more people could see this great documentary but right now access is very limited.


****SPECIAL BONUS REVIEW****

Director Mark Harwood and the good people at Rising Moon Productions have extended the readers of Metal-Rules.com an exclusive offer!!    

 Here is how to get your 50% off.

 1. Go to  womeninmetaldoc.com/

2.  Enter the coupon code “Metal-rules!” at checkout will get the 50% off applied to your order.

Back in October of 2015 the documentary SOARING HIGHS AND BRUTAL LOWS was released to critical acclaim.  I watched it on a streaming service.  It is also available on Blu-Ray with some bonus features.  This review now has an extended section where I reviewed the bonus features not available via the streaming services.


The Blu-Ray comes with bonus features and a bonus commentary.

The film comes with two very special Canadian guests Alissa White-Gluz of Arch Enemy and Justine Ethier of BlackGuard. These performers watch the film and make their comments.  I imagine it would be tough to be put on the spot to do one or these and feel like you need to contribute something of value.   I’m not suggesting they do not, however when you have, for example, the director  recording a commentary he or she would have more to add.  The director, being involved in every aspect of the film will naturally have more to talk about  in terms of technical information, trivia, anecdotes and stories and can add a depth.   When I watched/listened Alissa and Justine talk through the film, it was more like two friends hanging out on the couch chatting, rather than adding very specific information about the movie.   They were relaxed and fun, lots of laughs and jokes. In the end it was casual and fun but I can’t help feeling I’d like to hear what the director, Mark Harwood would have to add.

There were four bonus features , and the trailer.  The total run time of the bonus features is 23 minutes.  Charlotte Wessells talks about hair care and how the media tend to ask female performers about hair but not the men as much.  It has a surprising twist!     The next section called ‘Influences’ and it what you would imaging, artists talking about their influences.    We get to hear from a few people who were not featured in the film as much, Brittney from Unleash The Archers and Kobra from Kobra And The Lotus, both Canadians!    The next two segments are sort of similiar, a few artists telling anecdotes and talking about touring.  Oddly enough Mark Jansen of Epica is featured heavily in these.  I can’t imagine the pain a director must feel in the editing room, what stays and what goes and what gets relegated to bonus features or cut altogether.

The film is certainly worth owning on Blu-Ray and these bonus features make it all the more sweeter.  I recommend you take advantage of the discount offer! Enjoy!


www.nfb.ca/film/soaring_highs_and_brutal_lows/