Greetings again from the darkness. “Rock ‘n Roll is dead.” It’s a proclamation that many have attempted to push for the past 50 plus years. We know that during these past decades, many other music genres have had their runs: folk, reggae, pop, punk, disco, country, techno, hip-hop. But director Jonathan McHugh shows us that head-banging is still alive … and more importantly, he explains why.

For those unfamiliar, this serves as an overview of heavy metal music. McHugh allows those involved to speak their minds. This includes musicians, DJs, promoters, security workers, and especially fans. I won’t list all of the interviewees, but they are legitimate and include bands such as Korn, Metallica, Slipknot, Halestorm, Rob Zombie, Guns ‘n Roses, Live, Machine Gun Kelly, Greta Van Fleet, and Alice in Chains. The insight from the musicians is quite interesting and thoughtful, though it’s the fan segments that really hit home.

The euphoria of crowd surfing (even in a wheelchair), the energy (and rules) of a mosh pit, and the cringe-worthiness of a “Wall of Death” (compared to the BRAVEHEART battle scene) all feed into what’s best described as a community of superfans. These folks use the festivals as an escape, and the solidarity of these outsiders is quite something to behold. Their words convey their appreciation for the communal experience of the big shows, and just how important the festivals are as a release of stress from everyday life.

Traditionally, heavy metal has been male dominated and even labeled as “satanic” music, but the film does a nice job of showcasing some of the female artists who are now popular and their impact on drawing more female fans to the events. Gender and race are discussed, and examples provided on how the divisions no longer exist – the festivals draw a cross-section of society from professionals (a dentist and nurse are featured) to working class to those who have been reformed. The music created a rare bond between an ex-convict and his prison guard.

Of course, it’s not all one big love fest. There is much discussion of alcohol, drugs, and addiction. The musicians admit that fans are always trying to give free drugs to rock stars, or buy them a drink. It’s yet another way to connect, only it can be destructive.  The 2017 deaths of Chris Cornell of Soundgarden and Chester Bennington of Linkin Park are noted. Their deaths occurred only 2 months apart and had a dramatic impact within the community – especially following the 2015 death of Scott Weiland (Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver). Director McHugh is a frequent movie Producer and cinematic Music Supervisor presents many facets of heavy metal, and does so in a way to show the importance of the community to its superfans. Love live rock, indeed.

Virtual Cinemas on March 12, 2021


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