Judge Mike Rubino wants to know what evolutionary hiccup produced Smashmouth.
"The definitive history of heavy metal and hard rock."
To casual observers and suburban parents, the world of heavy metal is a dark, satanic land filled with dragons, greased-up chest hair, blood, and really loud synthesizers. While that's true, fans of the genre know that beneath all that is an incredible amount of musicianship and history. Filmmaker and metalhead Sam Dunn (Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage) acts as a rock anthropologist in Metal Evolution, an 11-part documentary from VH1 Classic.
Facts of the Case
In Sam Dunn's first documentary, Metal: A Headbanger's Journey, he outlines a family tree of heavy metal history. He broke down the genre's biggest influences, movements, and offshoots into a thoroughly massive flowchart. Over the course of 11 episodes, Dunn explores the chart, working through areas of Pre-Metal, New Wave British Heavy Metal, Glam Rock, Nu-Metal, and Prog. Along the way he interviews over 300 musicians including members of Rush, Iron Maiden, Metallica, Guns & Roses, Rainbow, Black Sabbath, and more.
It's hard to believe that Metal Evolution sprang forth, fully formed, from the obscure god of extended cable packages: VH1 Classic. And yet, metal and music fans alike are graced with an outstanding and thoroughly entertaining 11-part documentary. Director Sam Dunn, whose Rush documentary is in my Valhalla of music films, has gone above and beyond the call of duty, declaring a daunting thesis and seeing it through to the end: he wants to define what heavy metal is, and then trace its evolution over the past 50 years.
The guiding force behind Dunn's series is his established family tree of rock. It serves as the basic layout for the 11 episodes as he travels around the world interviewing some of the biggest names in rock. The world of music has never existed in a vacuum, and artists are constantly influencing each other and evolving. Seeing it all laid out visually is a huge step in that all making sense. Metal Evolution connects the influences of early rock, like the Beatles and Elvis, as well as early use of distortion and Marshall amps. Later on, as heavy metal grows in popularity, the show focuses on offshoots and reactionaries like punk and disco. Regardless of what rabbit hole Dunn goes down in terms of music genre, he always returns to the tree. It's one of the most focused documentary series I've seen—on any subject.
As a host, Dunn acts as a journalist and anthropologist, appearing on camera as if this were an investigative report. He's a metalhead, first and foremost, but not some wide-eyed fanboy, and the discussions he has with musicians are smart and earnest. Interviews with rock heavyweights like Bruce Dickinson (Iron Maiden), Ted Nugent, Ronnie James Dio (before his death), and Alice Cooper show that these guys are a lot smarter than society gives them credit for. Even the has-been Glam rockers, many of whom are working day jobs now, offer some perspective on their contribution to the genre. Despite Metal Evolution's 300-plus interviews, there are still some surprising gaps: bands like Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, and a few others are curiously missing or chose not to participate. I guess you can't win 'em all.
The series' other strength is in its extensive library of archival footage. Dunn carries over all of the slick production values from his feature films, keeping the episodes from becoming just a string of seated interviews. There's plenty of concert footage and music videos on display; from Iron Maiden's gigantic Eddie puppet to the Woodstock '99 riots, Metal Evolution shows you every aggressive, over-the-top horn on hard rock's thorny head. The show is like a slicked-up YouTube bender with a bunch of Wikipedia entries tossed in for good measure. Thanks to the breadth of topics and footage, there's not a weak episode in the bunch.
Metal Evolution is released as a four-disc DVD-on-Demand set available online. What you get are essentially four DVD-R discs with digital labels on them in a standard clamshell case. I had no problem whatsoever playing the discs, and found the A/V presentation to be more than adequate. It's just as good as watching them on TV. The fourth disc also includes an interview from That Metal Show. The show really deserves a formal DVD/Blu-ray release, but in the meantime, this set gets the job done.
If you ever wanted to know what moves people to suddenly break out into embarrassingly long air guitar spasms or slam their bodies into one another, look no further than Metal Evolution. It's an archaeological dig through fifty years of devil horns and headbanging, lead by one of the smartest heavy metal anthropologists in the biz (or maybe he's the only one). This 11-part series is a must-see for fans of any kind of music harder than Abba.
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• Bonus Interview
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