Of all the genres of music that exist in the world, metal probably receives the least credit. It's controversial, for sure, and aside from rap, it's the only other music that has an unfair, biased connotation to it. People think "metal" and they think of long, hair-sprayed hair, or ridiculous glam performances from the '80s. The truth is, metal is a wide, expansive genre with several different subgenres -- including, but definitely not limited to, Norwegian black metal, nu metal and thrash metal.
Canadian metalheads Scot McFadyen and Sam Dunn are the uncontested historians of metal. Their debut metal feature, Metal: A Headbanger's Journey, was released in 2005 to amazing reception, and since then they've been creating more documentaries. Their latest, Metal Evolution, is an 11-episode collection of historical and expository vignettes, focusing on how metal has grown into its own distinct genre.
Moviefone met up with Dunn and McFadyen to discuss their own personal fascinations with metal, and how, as the music evolves, it'll live on for generations to come.
Why this fascination with metal?
Scot McFadyen: Sam has been a fan forever, and he moved out to Toronto to do his anthropology degree, and I was working in film here. I was doing the soundtrack for Ginger Snaps, and we were putting a lot of metal in it. He wanted to write a book, and I suggested that he make it a doc [Metal: A Headbanger's Journey]. It did really well, and it just took off. We made the heavy metal family tree, and we went from there. People really responded to it, all over the world. They asked for more. And VH1 asked for something like this and we went for it. It started out as eight hours, and grew to 11 hours, and it was just something that needed to be done.
Sam Dunn: We're the go-to heavy metal documentarians. Every generation, people have said that metal is going to disappear. They said it with Sabbath, they said it with Metallica, and they say it now. It's not going away. For us, there's a history to this music. Why is it that it continues to get kicked to the curb and then stand up again? I think we were just fascinated to explore how it's all connected. When people think about hair metal or nu metal, they think it just came out of nowhere, like the big bang theory. All of a sudden, these people with hair-sprayed hair and spandex just showed up. The truth is they were inspired by Van Halen, Aerosmith, Ted Nugent. That's what we really want to show with this series -- that metal has a history. People have no idea about what that history is.
Do you think metal has a different sort of evolution than other forms of music?
SM: It shares a lot with other forms of music. When you trace it, a lot of it goes back to the blues. I think it has its own unique history -- it has a lot more classical influences than most pop music. Also technological, too. You could easily do this in-depth study and evolution of other forms of music, though. What makes metal a little bit easier to explore is it's a subculture. Pop music isn't as easily identifiable. Hip-hop is going to be our next project -- another self-identifying culture with music.
SD: One thing we've learned about metal over the years is that part of the culture is honouring your forefathers. It's like a 17th century European guild, where there's the master and the apprentice. In metal, there's a time-honoured tradition of honouring where you've come from. Despite what the public perception is, when you talk to the musicians, there's an attitude that you have to learn your chops. No one's sitting there and saying, "Hey, I invented this!" -- except for maybe Gene Simmons or Alice Cooper. [Laughs]
Why does metal get such a bad rap?
SM: It's funny, I was just reading Vanity Fair, and it said that metal is the least-liked music, and hip-hop is the most hated. I think it's just unidentifiable to other people's ears. It sounds like noise to them. I think the biggest reason it has so many detractors is because of the '80s - it was a period of excess and ridiculousness that people associate with heavy metal.
SD: Metalheads kind of want to have their cake and eat it too. We don't want the bad rap, but we also want people to leave us alone at the same time. It's a delicate balance. Part of the attraction to metal, especially for young people, is the fact that no one understands it.
That might play a part, then, in what makes metal fans so rabid.
SD: When I was wearing my Morbid Angel backpack when I was 13 years old, it was like wearing my colours. It has this logo that no one else can identify; it was like a pride thing. It's a tricky balance - and good fodder for a few documentaries. [Laughs]
I guess it's also polarizing, just by its nature. Content, lyrics...
SD: Yeah, definitely. The imagery, the sound, the speed, the intensity, the aggression. Singing about death and suffering, sometimes horrific things.
If you guys can pinpoint it, what do you think is the most defining event in metal's history?
SD: I think the most unsung moment in the history of metal music is when Rob Halford [of Judas Priest] said, "We're metal." That may not sound like a big deal, but I think what Halford did, and then what his fans did around him - the community started to self-identify as heavy metal. It was a real shift. What we discovered when we were doing Metal Evolution is that all the big bands of the '70s, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, KISS, Alice Cooper, none of them identified themselves as heavy metal. The critics called them that, but they saw themselves as having one foot in the blues.
What's happening in metal today? What are some of the trends in the genre that you guys are seeing?
SD: Because metal is a still a very live-based music genre, it's always going to have a certain durability. When I drag people who aren't into metal to metal shows, they get it when they see it in a live environment. I think if that keeps happening, there will always be an audience for it. As long as kids want to wear black T-shirts with the bands' logos on the front, that they can buy at a show after seeing their band, I think it's going to be OK. We may never see a metal explosion again because the landscape is different now, but it will always be there, at least on simmer.
Metal Evolution comes out on DVD on Tuesday, June 12.