REVIEW: ‘METAL EVOLUTION’ WRAPS UP WITH UNFINISHED BUSINESS
‘Metal Evolution,’ the documentary series created and hosted by Sam Dunn (‘Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey,’ ‘Flight 666,’ ‘Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage,’ and ‘Global Metal’) and airing on VH1 Classic, wrapped up on 4 February, 2012 after 11 episodes all explaining the history of metal from its classical and blues origins to the power house that it is today. So far, there has been no word from either the show’s producers or VH1 on whether or not there will be a season 2.
Being a documentary fan, and a metalhead, this was pure heaven for me. Sam Dunn did an excellent job on all of his previous films, so I had no doubt that this series would be worth watching each time it aired. All 11 episodes, each highlighting a different genre, focused on metal’s origins and founding bands, as well as the more recent bands carrying these respective torches today. Dunn and his crew scored a slam dunk every time in my opinion, however I feel that a Death Metal or Black Metal episode would surely show up in this mix, and sadly, it never did. While I’m sure this series very easily could have been 50 episodes long and still not cover all bases, I feel that the series was rather solid and thorough, even if I feel there are a few stones that should have been turned over.
In the first episode, ‘Pre Metal,’ Dunn highlights the qualities of heavy metal bands (such as distorted guitars, rough vocals, and intense drumming), and explores the origins of these characteristics, taking him to some rather unusual places. Founding fathers like Lemmy, Bill Ward, and John Lord all give their musical backgrounds focus in terms of Elvis, Little Richard, and Buddy Rich, and just where the idea for the distorted guitar sound comes from via the Kinks and Sam Phillips’ production of “Rocket 88.” With this episode, the foundation is somewhat set and ready to carry the viewer on the long and winding road to today’s metal. The next two episodes both focused on Early Metal in terms of the US scene as well as the UK scene. While it seems easy enough to just highlight forefathers of heavy metal and their accomplishments, Dunn takes it a step further in my opinion by honing in on the unique qualities of each of these bands. For example, Bill Ward explains the swing music element to Black Sabbath, and John Lord talks about his approach to the Hammond Organ, which no doubt gave Deep Purple its unique sound.
Two specific episodes left me somewhat confused though, namely the Glam Metal and Nu Metal episodes. In both, Dunn starts off by saying, point blank, that he didn’t, and still doesn’t, care for these genres, but still highlights them anyway. Given that hair metal and even nu metal might be some people’s starting off points for being metal fans, and that both genres no doubt had their insanely popular times, I can understand them being included in this series. However if sacrificing these two episodes would have meant including a death metal or more underground genre, then by all means, they should have hit the floor of the editing room. Despite the fact that I am in no way, shape, or form a fan of these two genres highlighted, I still maintain that both episodes were extremely well done. If I had to pick a favorite of the two, I would have to say that it was the Nu Metal episode, if for nothing else than it made Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit look like a total jack ass.
Perhaps the one episode that I must certainly say, without a doubt, that should have never left the brainstorming session, it would have to be Grunge. I just don’t get it. Similar to Nu Metal and Glam Metal, Grunge had its time to shine in the spotlight, but Dunn poses the question “Is it metal?” The answer is no, and I didn’t have to watch that episode to come to that conclusion. If you want for me to give it a positive quality, then it might be worth watching just for the explanations of how Grunge put an end to Glam Metal. Still, this episode never should have been created.
Because I’m a cynical purist, I’ll give a few more criticisms before moving on to the positive qualities. First off, Venom were not included in the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) episode, instead showing up in Shock Rock with the likes of Kiss, Alice Cooper, and King Diamond (with Mercyful Fate being tagged as a speed metal band by Dunn himself). So while the stage shows and images of Venom and King Diamond would most certainly fall into the Shock Rock category, most metal fans would never classify them in this genre. Then we come to Power Metal. Again, its an episode that starts off with Dunn’s explanation of not liking it, yet highlighting it anyway, but still, its another one of those episodes that could have been dropped to highlight another genre that would have been more satisfying to watch. That being said, I’m trying to keep in perspective that this series was made for everyone, and there might have been other powers at play as far as what to include.
And finally, punk and hardcore aren’t given as much mention as they deserve. Without early hardcore (Discharge, GBH) some of the speed that exists in metal wouldn’t be around. If you disagree with me, then you can see what I mean by finding older pictures of James Hetfield wearing shirts from both bands, and clearly stating his love for them in interviews, and Discharge’s inclusion in Metallica’s 1998 covers project “Garage Inc.” While I love old school hardcore, and despise what passes as ‘hardcore’ these days, its still certainly a prominent genre that deserves mention in Metal Evolution, certainly moreso than grunge.
What I would say is the true gem of the whole series is the Thrash episode. Of course the major players are highlighted (namely the Big 4) but others like Testament, Exodus, and Death Angel are given a bit of attention, all telling the story of how thrash brewed out of their inspirational bands and frustration with the glam metal of the time. Its nice to get some insight and explanation from musicians that don’t necessarily get as much attention from the press as the major players. Dunn covers all the bases as well; the double bass, the tape trading, the major label attentions, and the downfall. One highlight of the show is the Clash of the Titans tour, which saw Alice in Chains as the opening act, providing the segway into the next installment of the series, Grunge (which I still maintain should have been in the trash can). Its also the Thrash episode that gives the viewer some insight into underground extreme music, as the end a few Swedish bands (At the Gates and In Flames) are interviewed, as well as Lamb of God.
The series wrapped up with an episode on Prog Metal, starting with early Genesis and Yes, leading into Rush, and ending with bands such as Meshuggah and Mastodon. An episode on Prog Metal had me scratching my head in bewilderment at first, but once the episode got rolling, it made sense. Rush takes up a considerable portion of the episode, and rightly so, but the inclusion of Mastodon was well deserved. Mastodon are certainly unique in this day and age of metal, and worked hard at making their place in the musical world. Meshuggah, Tool, Dream Theater, and Dillinger Escape Plan all fit within this Prog Metal boundary and put their two cents in the mix, but missing from this mix is Opeth. Throughout the series, Dunn sports an Opeth shirt, and they certainly do fall into Prog Metal, but are absent sadly.
Despite my cyncial nit-picking of the flaws, this series certainly impressed me and was extremely well done. I try to keep my personal views aside, mostly as I mentioned previously as this series had to be made to appease the overall viewing audience of VH1 Classic, not just us rabid, hungry underground metal fans. All 11 episodes are great in their own ways, even if I think a few should have been axed, and the whole series is definitely worth everyone’s time. This certainly leaves me wondering what Sam Dunn will cook up next, and whether or not there will be a season 2, which I certainly hope shows up at some point.
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