[WATCHED October-November 2012] Metal Evolution
VH1 aired this series last year and I was intrigued by it but figured I had no time to watch an 11 hour series on the history of heavy metal. Of course, this being VH1, they have since re-aired the series on an almost continual loop. So, if you’re interested, you can always catch it.
This series was created by Sam Dunn, the documentary filmmaker who made the movie Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey. I had heard good things about the movie, but never saw it. After watching the series, I’m definitely interested in the movie. Dunn is a keener–A Canadian heavy metal fan who is really into his subject. He knows his stuff and he knows what he likes (heavy metal) and what he doesn’t like (glam metal, nu metal).
The sheer number of people he interviews is impressive (as are the number of locations he travels to). Part of me says “wow, I can’t believe he was able to interview X,” and then I remember, “X is really old and is nowhere near the level of fame that he once had.” Given that, the few hold-outs seem surprising–did they not want to have anything to do with VH1? Are they embarrassed at how uncool they are now? Just watch the show guys, you can’t be as low as some.
The only mild criticism I have is that the show relies a lot on the same talking heads over and over. Scott Ian from Anthrax, whom I love, is in every episode. Indeed, he may be a paid VH1 spokesman at this point. There are a few other dudes who show up a little more than they warrant, but hey, you use what you got, right?
What is impressive is the volume of music he includes with the show. I assume that he couldn’t get the rights to any studio recordings because every clip is live. This is good for fans in that we get to see some cool unfamiliar live footage, but some of it is current live footage which often doesn’t compare to the heyday. Having said that, there’s a lot of live footage from the early 80s–of bands that I never saw live anywhere. And that’s pretty awesome.
With an 11-part documentary there’s the possibility of exhaustion and overkill, but Dunn is an excellent craftsman he jumps around from old to new, talks about how the history impacts the current and, because of his own interests, he makes it personal rather than just informative.
Episode 1 is ”Pre Metal,” and it’s all about rock n’ roll. This is definitely my least favorite episode (which is unfortunate since it’s first), because this is not my scene. But it was interesting to see the history laid out in this way.
Episode 2 and Episode 3 are “Early Metal Part 1: US Division” and ”Early Metal Part 2: UK Division” and here we get into bands that are still if not playing, then at least have still-living members: Iggy and the Stooges, the MC5, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath. These episodes were certainly interesting for historical context and to hear the living guys talk about what they were up to now and how the music impacted them.
Episode 4 is “New Wave of British Heavy Metal”. For me (and for Dunn) this is where our love of metal started–Iron Maiden, Saxon and Raven were the big three for me. I liked some Motorhead, but never all that much. But this is all around the time for me when I was a freshman in high school and I had my denim three hole folder and I drew heavy metal band names all over it–even bands I’d never heard, because like Dunn, I was a keener too.
Episode 5 is ”Glam.” I hated Glam, and I was glad to hear that Dunn makes me feel okay for being so segregationist. But yes, glam was nothing about metal. Interestingly, I find glam to be a lot more transgressive now than I did at the time, and I have some respect for it, but I still hate the music. There’s some very funny interviews in this episode with the former superstars talking about playing county fairs to only older people because no young kids are into it.
Episode 6 is “Thrash.” When glam was big I was one of the ones who took refuge in Thrash. This episode could have been 3 hours as far as I’m concerned. Metallica (Dave Mustaine has maintained the same haircut for thirty years), Metallica, Anthrax (the ubiquitous Scott Ian), and Slayer (the surprisingly funny Kerry King–now that metallers are old and bald, they all grow long beards). It’s amazing that these guys can still play as fast and aren’t deaf.
Episode 7 is “Grunge” The episode is interesting because it questions whether grunge is actually metal–the answer seems to be no, although metal influenced it obviously. Some metallers hated grunge because it displaced metal as the popular genre, although many of us just moved into it because metal was getting lame
Episode 8 is “Nu Metal.” I’m vaguely familiar with this term, and I liked the originators of this sound–Faith No More, Anthrax, Sepultura, who introduced grooves and turntables to metal. I thought that was interesting and expansive, but as with most things it led to absurdity. I enjoyed the torchbearers of the genre -Korn, Deftones, Rage Against the Machine, but as with many things once we got to Limp Bizkit, that was the death knell of the movement.
Episode 9 is “Shock Rock.” I liked that he goes all the way back t the Crazy World of Arthur Brown (I had no idea that the guy was still alive or that he did more than 1 song–that guy seems like he may really be crazy instead of theatrically crazy like Marilyn Manson. I loved shock metal in high school, especially the “satantic” bands like Venom and Mercyful Fate. The interview with one of the guys from Venom–whom I have never heard interviewed anywhere was just awesome.
Episode 10 is “Power Metal.” Dunn is unfamiliar with the genre, as was I (which means we’re old). This episode focuses on Europe and the Wacken Open Air festival in which metal bands incorporate symphonic sounds and big choruses into their music (very European). I have known many bands in this genre although never heard it called Power Metal before. But Helloween and Yngwie Malmsteen set the prototype for more current bands–bands who are technically accomplished and whom I would have loved in high school because they are quite proggy.
Episode 11 is “Prog Metal This seems like an odd episode to end with, although it does allow Geddy Lee from Rush (a good Canadian metal band whom Dunn loves) to have the last word. This episode looks at early Genesis, Yes and King Crimson, moves through Rush t bands like Queensrÿche, Tool, Dream Theater and Mastodon, all the way to crazy pushing-the-edges-of-prog bands like Dillinger Escape Plan.
This whole series was great. You can catch all or parts of every episode on the Metal Evolution web page. Or you can wait a couple days for VH1 to air it again. I’m not sure where Dunn can go next in his quest for heavy metal, but I’ll definitely follow him.