How to explain and explore the global expansion of heavy metal music?
That sounds like a job for Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen, directors of Metal: A Headbanger's Journey, the film that took the metal world by storm in 2005.
Now, Dunn and McFadyen follow up with Global Metal, an engrossing documentary about the influence of heavy metal on various countries and cultures around the world. We see Indonesian death metal, Chinese black metal, Iranian thrash metal and the other exotic forms of furious music that link the young and the restless around this planet.
The filmmakers travel to Brazil, where timing allowed American metal music to be associated with democracy back in the '80s. To see Whitesnake, Iron Maiden and Ozzy in 1985 was overwhelming to the fans, for whom such music became a sort of soundtrack of freedom. Whitesnake? Guess you had to be there.
In Japan, our intrepid documentarians uncover bands such as X Japan, which combines hysterical metal with ballady stuff, and something called visual kei, a kind of hair and makeup metal. Then there's Death Panda ... again, maybe you have to see it for yourself.
In China, remaindered North American tapes and CDs likely carried metal music like a virus into the country. Chinese black metal takes those basics and adds bits of history and poetry to make the music belong to the people. In every country, metal has been bent and remade to reflect the culture.
In India, metal fans talk about Bollywood music. In China, kids learn metal licks at a music school devoted to rock. Kaiser Kuo of the band Tang Dynasty talks about the underground metal scene in Beijing. In the Middle East, a Muslim says, "I got caught by the religious police for wearing a Slayer t-shirt and having long hair." And so it goes.
The internet seems to have made the biggest difference in the spread of heavy metal music, as kids around the world can all download the same music -- a boon in those countries where certain music CDs will always be banned. Global Metal confirms that music is an international language. Particularly in countries where war and oppression are the norm, metal seems to represent a crucial outlet for emotional expression.
Global Metal is surprising, amusing and fascinating for the most part, and full of unexpected details -- such as the guys in Metallica describing how Japanese fans throw cute toothbrushes at them when they are on stage.
You can, however, have too much of a good thing, and even the most stalwart metal fan might get restless after about an hour. It's instructive to see how each band incorporates its country's struggles into the music, but in the end, it's pretty much all about kids and rebellion and it all starts to blur.
Several iconic metal bands turn up to talk in the movie, and Bruce Dickinson speaks about witnessing a huge crowd in Bangalore singing Iron Maiden songs. "It's like a bloody National Geographic TV special," he says, a bit awed by it all. And it is, too.
(This film is rated 14-A)
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