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Where to start with this one? Here we have a mammoth eleven part, eight and a quarter hour documentary series on the evolution of metal, which first aired in the UK on Sky Arts last year but has now arrived in a nicely packaged 3-DVD set. There have been previous attempts to capture the essence and significance of the genre to both musician and fan (and casual non-metal oriented viewer) such as Penelope Spheeris' late-80s acclaimed feature length documentary film, 'The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years', but 'Metal Evolution' has been billed as the "biggest and most comprehensive series ever made on the history of heavy metal and hard rock". Having sat through the 8+ hours of this profoundly entertaining series, I cannot refute such a statement but I'll get back to the "comprehensive" claim shortly. Produced by Banger Films, you know you're in for quality film-making as they're the same company responsible for, amongst other pieces, 'Metal: A Headbanger's Journey', 'Iron Maiden: Flight 666', 'Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage' and 'En Vivo!'. And quality it is.

Sam Dunn presents, interviews and narrates throughout, a Canadian musician, director and anthropologist who co-owns Banger Films, and his passion for metal is undeniable which shines through in his discernible enthusiasm and dedication in creating this superlative study on the genre. His anthropological background shows in the man's approach as he quizzes a whole range interviewees from a more subjective angle than merely garnering objective opinion about metal's evolution. The whole feeling of his study is both empirical and authentic in nature in that he travels between countries to all manner of pivotal locations for his interviews. I guess I say empirical too because Dunn fully submerges himself in his study so checks out major European festivals from the perspective of a fan as well as collating insightful, straight-talking and captivating opinions beyond mere facts from the scene's hegemonists and, occasionally, musicians from what could be construed as more underground bands, as well as respected authors, journalists, DJs, record label executives and even a neuroscientist to investigate the effect listening to metal has on our grey matter. And considering the wide array of big-name metal musicians Banger Films secured for the series, it's interesting to learn of the occasional refusal such as when Dunn travels all the way to the Metalcamp festival in Slovenia for a pre-arranged chat with Manowar only for Joey DeMaio to suddenly decide he doesn't want to do an interview (maybe that's why Radiorock DJ Jone Nikula's amusing observation has been edited into this segment: "it's homo-erotic...couldn't they afford a shirt?!"). Each episode is also well-balance in terms of the opinions expressed as for every person singing the praises of a subgenre, there'll be another dissing it (but, hey, interview thrash guys about glam metal and what do you expect?!). It is a little surprising, though, to hear so many of the NWOBHM bands unequivocally stating they despised everything about punk (Diamond Head's Brian Tatler is one of the few that sees its merits).

Each of the eleven episodes is themed around a different subgenre or perspective and, in just forty five minutes, Dunn manages to cover much ground. Not only that but he links together the various episodes in terms of how one scene spawned another and the mutually influential effects one subgenre might've had on another (such as when Slayer controversially verged into nu-metal territory on 'Diabolus in Musica'). As such, this doesn't feel like eleven disjointed episodes, rather one lengthy study on metal. As already mentioned, hegemony is the key word here so it's predominantly bands that have been fundamental to each scene's foundations, progression and sustainability that are featured and, like I said, we're dealing with just forty five minutes at a time so omissions are inevitable. However, even though it's nice to see a grunge-themed episode (despite just about every band from said genre disassociating themselves from metal, even to this day) and Dunn justifies its inclusion (and yes, it is important in metal's evolution), the lack of a death metal episode, or even a general extreme metal one that encompasses death, black, grind etc is very surprising. The Gothenburg melo-death scene is featured for a few minutes with At The Gates and Arch Enemy near the climax of the thrash episode as an example of the subgenre's re-emergence in Scandinavia following its decline in the States post-Black Album but it's all too brief. There's also no doom, stoner, metalcore, post-metal, goth metal, folk metal etc. Considering the global popularity of said scenes, the "comprehensive" claim of Banger Films' series, while true in one sense, feels a little unfulfilled. Sure, Dunn cross-references other subgenres throughout with fleeting mentions but he fails to fully acknowledge the true diversity and totality of metal's fragmented nature. This is just a minor criticism though as, ultimately, 'Metal Evolution' is spectacularly entertaining and I sincerely hope a second series is commissioned so the peeps at Banger Films have the opportunity to delve into all the areas of metal that are lacking in this first. Essential viewing for metal connoisseurs and those with a casual interest in the scene.
Eagle Rock Entertainment
3 x DVD
Review by Mark Holmes
8 hrs, 15 mins
19th Nov 2012
1) Pre-History of Metal
2) Early Metal US
3) Early Metal UK
4) New Wave of British Heavy Metal
5) Glam Metal
6) Thrash Metal
7) Grunge
8) Nu Metal
9) Shock Rock
10) Power Metal
11) Progressive Metal
"Essential viewing for metal connoisseurs and those with a casual interest in the scene."