Due to an enduring sense that metal can only truly be explained or analysed by people who understand and love it, there has been a distinct lack of credible documentaries dedicated to the subject of heavy music over the years. The arrival of Metal Evolution, filmmaker and anthropologists Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen’s comprehensive dissection of metal’s history and constantly mutating culture, in the autumn of 2011 was greeted with some relief as a result.
Having proved himself to be both a genuine fan and capable of worthwhile insight with 2005’s Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey and Iron Maiden’s glorious Flight 666 movie, Sam is the ideal host for these 11 self-contained episodes that each take a metallic subgenre and illuminate their whys and wherefores via interviews with countless notable figures from the rock and metal worlds and the director’s own unpretentious musings.
One of Metal Evolution’s key strengths is that Sam based his initial premise for each episode on accepted wisdom, rather than pointlessly jabbing away at revered orthodoxies. Thus, Black Sabbath are rightfully credited with being the first true heavy metal band, with respectful nods also given to classical music, the blues, The Kinks, Blue Cheer and several others along the way. Similarly, the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal is given far more kudos for its subsequent influence on Metallica and their peers than its lowly commercial status at the time would suggest: something, perhaps, that would be missed if similar documentaries were attempted by someone less knowledgeable about the subject.
For our money, the episodes on thrash and nu metal are the most enlightening. The former is particularly fascinating thanks to interviews with the likes of Lars Ulrich, Kerry King, Gary Holt and Chuck Billy that reveal how people from the same scene view events entirely differently from one another. It is also interesting to witness Sam’s self-confessed dislike for nu metal being put to the test, as he slowly realises that even though the risible Linkin Park have absolutely fuck all to do with the metal scene in general, the bands that paved the way for them made an undeniable contribution and, if nothing else, helped to expand metal’s vocabulary.
You may wish to skip the episodes on grunge (unless you’re a fan of droning smackheads) and power metal (unless you like overripe sonic Camembert) and it seems a shame that Sam bothered with either while episodes about death metal and black metal are absent (due to their hosts, VH1 Classic) but these are minor gripes.
For avid students of the metal story, Metal Evolution may not be the most revelatory viewing experience, but its ambition, scope and celebratory spirit make it a consistently riveting 500 minutes of ear-threatening, eye-boggling telly.