American Valhalla - dvd review

Unflinching cinematic record of rock’s process in the raw

Cover art for American Valhalla

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Co-directed by photographer Andreas Neumann and Queens Of The Stone Age frontman Josh Homme, the sumptuously realised American Valhalla chronicles the collaboration of guitarist/MD/composer Homme with alt.rock vocal legend and lyricist Iggy Pop, from instigation, through desert-bound songwriting process, recording nascency and ultimate live celebration. As remaining band members, QOTSA guitarist Dean Fertita and Arctic Monkeys drummer Matt Helders, complete the recording line-up at Homme’s Rancho De La Luna studio in the Mojave desert, Anthony Bourdain conducts a series of intimate and revealing interviews with all protagonists to reveal the inner workings, trials and triumphs associated with the creative process.

Every painstaking step is examined: the formation of relationships, the tentative courtship of the creatives; selfdoubt, staring down the aging process, mercilessly slashing back lyrics to their fundamental meat. Reality bites at every turn. American Valhalla is remorseless in its pursuit of the unrefined truth and it looks absolutely fantastic, with breathtaking panoramic desert backdrops set in pin-sharp, stark contrast with Iggy’s time-ravaged torso and quite extraordinary eyes; windows into a brink-dwelling driven soul that’s courted the maelstrom from Stooges to 70 years of age.

The sessions’ resultant Post Pop Depression album marked the artistic intersection in a Venn diagram of three sets: Iggy, QOTSA and David Bowie, for the key element of the Queens’ core sound that most references Pop history has far firmer roots in The Idiot/Lust For Life Berlin collaborations than Stooges’ Detroit brutality. So the timing of Bowie’s death (Iggy learned of his friend’s passing just an hour before taking a 4am flight to a rehearsal of material the pair recorded together in ’76 and ’77, for the very first time with Josh and the PPD touring band) seems almost unbelievably poignant.

As the studio-bonded quartet take to the road with Troy Van Leeuwen and Matt Sweeney, the unbridled passion of live Pop takes centre-stage, and the love that sparks between performer and audience has never seemed more acute.

If you bore witness to this ensemble’s extraordinary performance at the Royal Albert Hall in 2016 (available as Post Pop Depression: Live) you’ll certainly want to witness the inspirational journey that preceded what’s arguably the most compelling live show of the third millennium so far.

Ian Fortnam

Classic Rock’s Reviews Editor for the last 20 years, Ian stapled his first fanzine in 1977. Since misspending his youth by way of ‘research’ his work has also appeared in such publications as Metal Hammer, Prog, NME, Uncut, Kerrang!, VOX, The Face, The Guardian, Total Guitar, Guitarist, Electronic Sound, Record Collector and across the internet. Permanently buried under mountains of recorded media, ears ringing from a lifetime of gigs, he enjoys nothing more than recreationally throttling a guitar and following a baptism of punk fire has played in bands for 45 years, releasing recordings via Esoteric Antenna and Cleopatra Records.