Keeping in theme with last week's post of the Top Ten Heavy Metal Movies, we decided to offer up a slight variation, with a list of top ten documentaries about heavy metal: in terms of the music, its origins and history, key figures, global cultural impact, and the lifestyle of fans. We now present, our list of the 10 Best Heavy Metal Documentaries.
10.Until The Light Takes Us (2008)
This film was released in selected theaters in 2009, and was about the musical, cultural and religious (or anti-religious) roots of Scandinavian black metal music from the early '90s in Norway. Directed by Aaron Aites and Audrey Ewell, The movie analyzes the mass hysteria over the church burnings in Norway in the early '90s, and violent string of murders and other acts of violence committed in the early 90s. Fenriz from Darkthrone, Varg Vikernes from Burzum give the most candid interviews for the film, which also features members of Immortal, Mayhem, and Ulver. Also highlighted, is 'Frost,' the drummer from 1349 and Satyricon, who breathes fire and uses his own blood from self-mutilation session to create art. Perhaps the interview about the ghastly details of the murder and the cold tone of Vikernes will disturb some, but for those interested in the study of black metal as a topic to examine and for fans of the black metal's musical genealogy and historical origins, this is a very interesting film.
9. Get Thrashed (2006)
For a true thrash metal lover, this film is the best chronology of the subgenre, sometimes referred to as speed metal, which combined the speed and aggression of punk with the brutality, technicality and musicianship of early heavy metal in the early to mid '80s. The movie does a great job for head bangers classifying the origins and early regional scenes and origins of thrash metal: including the Bay Area scene led by Metallica, Exodus, Death Angel and Violence, the LA thrash punk scene led by Suicidal Tendencies and Slayer, and the NY thrash scene led by Anthrax. This movie contains interviews with members of Megadeth, Slipknot, from Phil Anselmo, Corey Taylor from Slipknot, as well as members of Kreator, Megadeth, Hatebreed, In Flames, Megadeth, Lamb of God and tons more. This film is a great homage to the influence and long-lasting legacy of thrash metal.
See also: The Top 10 Power Metal Bands
8.The Heavy Metal Gangs of Wadeye (2009)
When reporters from VBS, the online TV/documentary film company associated with Vice Magazine, heard about a remote town in Australia, where gangs of young men ran the Aboriginal towns, native black heavy metal fans, they had to send a film crew. The result is the Heavy Metal Gangs of Wadeye, a fascinating, anthropological and unconventional look at how heavy metal from the late '80s and '90s has transcended beyond the shores of America and Europe to this remote village, on the Northern coast of Australia called Wadeye. Vice Magazine got wind of this town, through various sensationalized media reports.
In the town, the walls, homes, and even streets are marked up with graffiti paying homage to bands such as Slayer, Anthrax, Metallica, Fear Factory, Iron Maiden, Pantera, and Judas Priest. The reporters and camera crew end up attending a 'disco' or ritualistic, heavy metal dance party, where each tribe, played metal songs and danced in a non-violent mosh pit. The violence, according to one of the elder tribal leaders, had decreased almost entirely, when the government banned all alcohol; now all that's left to do is smoke ganja and listen to heavy metal music. This is a fascinating examination of heavy metal music, through an entirely different cultural lens.
7.Heavy Metal In Baghdad (2007)
More than just another rockumentary, this film offers viewers a glimpse into the lives of the recently war torn Iraq. Again, involving Vice Magazine, this is the story of the first known heavy metal band to emerge from Iraq in 2001, Acrassicauda. The band actually formed and performed small concerts during the regime of Saddam Hussein, but with the recent US attacks and even more instability and daily threats of violence the band no longer resides in Iraq. They've been given refugee status in the US because of death threats from a strict Islamic clerics who thought the band was involved with Satanism, thus heresy aginst the Muslim faith. The film is a very chilling, up close look at the culture of a war torn society and how heavy metal music truly breaks through racial, ethnic, cultural, religious and even language barriers and reaches out to people of a certain breed and mindset all across the world. This is an award winning and critically renowned,and carries a message of perseverance and passion to survive against all odds.
See also: Top 10 Stoner Metal Bands
6.Anvil: The Story of Anvil (2008)
When you think of the heavy metal and hard rock's biggest bands, you think Guns N Roses, Metallica, and Motorhead. But what if there was a relatively unknown heavy metal band that influenced all of these huge hitters. Meet Anvil, a heavy metal band formed in Canada in the late '70s, that never went onto to sell millions of records, tour the world or share their music with international fans, until a few years ago that is. The Story of Anvil deals with the extreme lows and ultra highs of being in the band, including disappointments, dreams made true and an intimate portrait of a band only now earning the success they deserved from back in the day. Since the film, the band has seen a huge wave of success by appearing on national television, and playing concerts around the world, including giant stadium tours across Europe and North America, and opening slots for bands such as AC/DC, Saxon and Motorhead.
5. Iron Maiden: Flight 666 (2009)
Iron Maiden is one of the biggest heavy metal bands on the planet, and for two months in 2008, a film crew followed the band, and entire road crew for two months on the first leg of the Somewhere Back in Time World Tour, taking viewers on a jet lagged, chaotic moving snapshot of everything, and everyone that goes into making a world tour with one of heavy metal's biggest bands possible. The panic, pandemonium and anxiety pour out onto the screen, as much as the band's energy and sweat from many live performances are featured in the film. Every aspect of the band is given some screen time, and viewers get a glimpse of the official Iron Maiden jet, flown by singer Bruce Dickinson who has a pilot's license. This movie offers fans initiate portraits of the band and all of its road crew at various locations around the world, and leaves fans with the vibe of a fast paced non-stop world tour. The band performs everywhere from Australia and Asia to South America and the U.S. and everywhere in between.
See also: The Top 10 Grindcore Bands
4.The Decline of Western Civilization II: The Metal Years (1988)
Capturing the epitome of the late '80s metal scene in LA, this film is focused on the time span between 1986 and 1988 when bands like Whitesnake, WASP, Motley Crue, Lizzy Borden and others ruled the Sunset Strip's Glam Metal, or 'Haig Metal' scene. Primarily exploring the Glam scene, the band dives into issues such as money, stardom, sex with groupies, drug use, and more, with such artists as Alice Cooper, Aerosmith, KISS, Ozzy Osborne and many more. The film also features interviews with Lemmy, Dave Mustaine, and members of Tuff, Vixen, Poison, Faster Pussycat, Odin and others. The movie has been remembered to this day for the scene in which Chris Holmes, the intoxicated guitar player from WASPs guzzles an entire bottle of Vodka while in a pool.
Filmed in 2008, for the band's tour to promote the album, Motorizer, LEMMY dissects the man, myth and legend that is Lemmy. If you heard the amounts of booze, cigarettes and alcohol (among other mind altering substances) this man has ingested over the past fifty plus years, you'd wonder why he isn't dead. Not only is Lemmy one of metal's most revered bass players, songwriters and front man, but he is also an ambassador of rock-n-roll music, bridging the gap between metal, punk, thrash and rock music. Growing faster with age, the film goes into intense detail of Lemmy's personal life, including his tiny Hollywood apartment that could be a rock museum, his sex life of an alleged 2,000 women he has slept with, his use of drugs, his relationship with his son Paul and his time in the psychedelic rock band Hawkwind and younger days as a roadie, scoring Acid for Jimi Hendrix, this film is amazing. Lemmy is shown giving viewers a very intimate portrait of his collection of military artifacts from World War II, drinking Jack and Cokes at the Rainbow, in the studio and out and about in Hollywood and on tour.
The film also features interviews with Slash, Dave Navarro, Dave Grohl, Marky Rammone, Joan Jett, Nikki Sixx, Ozzy, Ice T, Henry Rollins, Lars Ulrich and many more. Lemmy is paid tribute to, but also allowed to speak his mind freely, insisting he doesn't want younger kids to glamorize his drinking and drug use. “I don't want kids to start doing drugs because of me, but I don't want them to stop doing drugs because of me either,” Lemmy said.
See also: The Top 10 Metal Drummers
2.Global Metal (2007)
Made by anthropologist and headbanger Sam Dunn, who also directed our first pick in this list, Global Metal is an exciting travel piece that goes around our planet to analyze what unites head bangers despite geographic location, religion, and ethic background and language. From Japan, where bands such as Sigh, X Japan and Marty Friedman are interviewed, to South America and Brazil where to this day metal band Sepultura are recognized for putting the country on the map, this film travels to Indonesia, China, Israel, India, and even the United Arab Emirates to talk with local metal musicians who share their music and thoughts about the cultural diffusion of heavy metal music among various culture. For anyone out there who thought heavy metal was just an American fad, this film proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that heavy metal music is a cultural movement and powerful force around the world with millions of fans stretching across the seven continents.
1.Metal: A Headbangers Journey (2005)
This is the debut film by Sam Dunn (see above), and focused on his journey to study the anthropology and cultural implications of heavy metal music and the origin of the many subgenres of metal that have since spawned. The film includes one of the last extensive interviews with the late great Ronnie James Dio and goes into the early history of heavy metal with bands such as Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden. Also interviewed for the film are members of Lamb of God, Motley Crue, Rush, Cannibal Corpse, Slayer, and Slipknot, as well as Dee Snider, Bruce Dickinson, Doro Pesch, Lemmy, Rob Zombie and more.
Some of the film's highlights include a section on Norwegian black metal with very bizarre and even creepy interviews with Mayhem's Necrobutcher and Gahl from Gorgoroth. The film features live performances, and videos by Venom, Rush, Accept, Diamond Head, Motorhead, Emperor, Black Sabbath with Dio, Children of Bodom, and Cannibal Corpse.
Alex Distefano is an established freelance writer and music blogger from the Los Angeles area. With over a dozen years under his belt as a published Journalist, he covers the worlds of heavy metal music, punk rock, current events, cannabis culture, comedy, radio, food, tattoos, the paranormal, and ‘conspiracy theories.’ He graduated from California State University Long Beach in 2012 with a Bachelor’s Degree in both Journalism and Ancient History. Aside from his professional writing endeavors, Distefano works as an Educator, and delivery/rideshare driver.