Sam Dunn & Scot McFadyen - Global Metal
Banger Productions

Release year: 2008
Reviewed by Dan
Global Metal is the second instalment of Sam Dunn’s and co-director Scot McFadyen’s anthropologic incursion in the Metal culture. While their widely acclaimed first endeavour, Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey, tried to dissect and analyse the Metal culture along a few major lines – history, musical characteristics, attitudes toward religion, death, sex and society – as seen by Metalhead anthropologist living in a Western culture, Global Metal embarks the viewer on a worldwide trip in an attempt to discover how Metal was shaped in different countries all around the world.

The journey starts quite obviously in Brazil, home of Thrash Metal legends Sepultura and possibly the most important source of Metal music outside Europe and North America. We discover that Metal came to this important South American country along with the advent of democracy in the beginning of the 80’s and that it was very much related to the freedom of speech. After Brazil comes Japan with its extremely interesting duality cultivated by two categories of Metal fans: those who pile up at festivals to see major foreign bands live and those who don’t even know the first category exists and hail local bands like those from the Visual Kei movement (like X-Japan) with their very specific brand of powerful Heavy Metal. India is next. While being the largest democracy on earth, India is also a rather conservative society and the fans and artists interviewed by Sam Dunn emphasised the importance of Metal music as a vehicle for manifesting their discontent for this status-quo. As a side remark, one of the persons interviewed was the first in the documentary to mention the power of the sound as his main attraction for Heavy Metal. The caravan’s stop in China is also a very interesting one since the viewer gets to discover that there actually exists an underground extreme metal scene alive and kicking in that country - Ritual Day - but also that there are Chinese bands like Tang Dinasty who successfully mix into Metal music specific elements of the local culture. Due to living in a traditionalist society where political freedom is almost inexistent, the Chinese Metal fans and artists interviewed spoke more about injustice, political inadequacy, unfairness and freedom of speech. Unlike India and China, Indonesia had major bands playing there during the 90’s - Sepultura and Metallica are mentioned in the documentary - albeit only for a short period of time. Given the immense inequalities and social injustice existent in the country, the bands in Indonesia’s Metal underground scene mostly deal with social and political issues - Sikskabukur, Seringai , Jasad - but sometimes also wander into thematically extreme and controversial territory - Tengkorak. The expression Max Cavalera used when saying that he, as a Brazilian, can easily relate to the Indonesian Metal fans was “third world lyrics”. Towards the end of the journey we reach Israel, a religiously diverse country located in a difficult region of the world where conflict has deep roots and a long history. The Metal there is also two-sided; there is the one that is inspired by the ugliness and violence of the perpetual conflict - Whorecore, Arallu - and there is the one turned towards optimism and religious and cultural harmony - Orphaned Land - which sort of reminds the Indonesian devoted Metal fan wearing a Rammstein t-shirt saying that “Islam is about peace”. The last stop on the trip is Iran, where government censorship self-invested with religious authority can put a Metalhead in jail for reasons as trivial as wearing the wrong kind of t-shirt or wearing long hair. But one Iranian Metal act, namely SDS, managed though to put up a live show in which they played cover songs of major bands like Slayer, Morbid Angel and Emperor but with no spoken lyrics. Ardent fans from all around the Middle-East have a place where they can gather; at the Dubai Metal Festival.

There is much more than can be said about Global Metal, but from here onwards it will be the viewer’s joy to dig up what’s left. Overall Sam Dunn’s and Scot McFadyen’s trip around the world has produced an extremely dense documentary of very good quality. The soundtrack is excellent and the filming exquisite, they both raise to the expectations set by Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey. The storytelling is also captivating, Sam Dunn’s very personal, sincere and humble approach towards whatever he encounters is genuinely inspiring; on the first level the viewer can approach this as a journey of discovering the world through the perspective of the Metal culture, but on a more subtle second level it’s the story of two open minded guys on an interesting and enriching journey. Exactly the same can be said about their previous documentary and the precise thing where they are excelling is in visually, musically and scripturally describing both the subject of their inquiry and how they experience the process step by step. Both the expert and the layman can find much inspiring material in these guys’ carefully crafted work: views of Metal fans, views of both underground and established Metal musicians, views of Metal producers or views of sociologists, musicologists and psychologists who tried to analyse the culture through a systematic and scientific method.

Nevertheless your reviewer was left with a rather unsettling feeling after viewing both Global Metal and Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey and it took him quite some time to exactly figure out what it was and what would be the best words to describe it. And this unsettledness comes from Sam Dunn’s conclusions exposed in the finale of the two documentaries. At this point the reader will be kindly asked to allow your reviewer to quote them entirely despite their length in an already lengthy review.

So here are the ending words of Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey: "But I set out on this journey to answer one question: 'Why has Heavy Metal been consistently stereotyped, dismissed and condemned?'. And what's become clear to me is that Metal confronts what we'd rather ignore. It celebrates what we often deny. It indulges in what we fear most. And that's why Metal will always be a culture of outsiders. Ever since I was 12 years old I've had to defend my love for Heavy Metal against those who said that it's a less valid for of music. My answer now is that you either feel it or you don't. If Metal doesn't give you that overwhelming surge of power that makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck, you might never get it. And you know what? That's OK. Because judging by the over forty thousand Metalheads around me, we're doing just fine without you."

And those from Global Metal: ”I've realized on this journey that although Heavy Metal may be part of the process of globalization, something unique is happening; Metal connects with people regardless of their cultural, political or religious backgrounds, and these people aren't just absorbing Metal from the west, they're transforming it creating a new outlet they can't find in their traditional cultures, a voice to express their discontent with the chaos and uncertainty that surrounds them in their rapidly changing societies; and for Metalheads all across the globe Metal is more than music, more than an identity, Metal is freedom and together we are now a global tribe.”

As much as both of these passages might be inspiring and as much as they may transport the viewer/reader to the cosy stratosphere of the concept of culture of outsiders, the reasoning behind them is rather flawed and comes more from wishful thinking than reality. Your reviewer’s counter-argument to this and also his basic assumption about why some people listen to Metal and choose to be part of the Metal culture is not because they are some kind of outsiders. Outsiders relative to what? Relative to mainstream music? That may be of course the case, but considering the huge diversity of contemporary "popular" music, who is an outsider and who is not one? Or relative to mainstream values supposedly commonly shared by some kind of majority of the society? Even less, your reviewer doesn’t consider Metalheads as a homogenous people who share the same values, quite far from that. When it comes to political, social, philosophical or religious views expressed through Metal music, it’s enough to flip the coin and you’ll find as much diversity as throughout the entire society. But is not that what makes a fervent Metalhead; it is the sound and the pleasure of feeling the sound loud and live. What about the wild idea of considering as anarchists or rebels, or whatever term one can substitute for “outsiders”, Metal fans who have a daily job, pay their taxes, have a family and live their own lives without making much fuss about the "established order"? The lowest common denominator among all of them is the Metal music and none other. It is the amplified guitars, excessively down tuned bass, highly skilled drumming and impossible voice performances which go always "faster, harder, louder"; always searching for a sharper and more punching sound, always breaking barriers in speed and technicality or ceaselessly searching for a heavy sound that expresses ever deeper emotions whatever the speed; or staying true to the roots and building ever more fantastic visuals on the scene. From this perspective Morbid Angel's t-shirt describes the best what Metalheads have in common: "extreme music for extreme people". And extreme music isn't fitted for everybody because it requires a considerable amount of personal investment whether it's time, money, giving up a secure job or facing a close social environment where you don't fit in. That's about it. Metal might look like a culture of social outsiders, considering the term outsiders as "outside the society", but it isn't. It isn’t one’s stand towards society that makes him a Metalhead; yes, there are Metalheads whose personal values don't match with those expressed in the mainstream media or with those of their family or their close environment. But that's a totally different issue, much more related to individual freedom than music per se.

Of course it is not Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen’s work that inspired your reviewer’s last paragraph of ranting about what does and doesn’t make one a Metalhead. It was a mere catalyst for some deeper thoughts that needed to be given a coherent form and there is no finger to be pointed at them. Take their excellent work for what really is, a never tried before rich and thought provoking incursion into the Metal culture.

Awesome Beneath the Remains t-shirt, Sam!
Killing Songs :
Killer soundtrack
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