Movie Review: DEATH BY METAL

Leave a comment

death by metal
MVD Visual

  • Here comes DEATH’s probing and pulsing rock doc, DEATH BY METAL, pulling back the palm fronds of DEATH’s origins in Altamonte Springs, Florida, and latching a narrative hook into the headstrong Chuck Schuldiner juggernaut for fifteen gratifying if sometimes frustrating years. As the baby steps become giant leaps, the stable of supporting players grows and continually shines in its own devious light. Excitement grows as Schuldiner, his band, and the world around him evolve, and the music grows ever-more outrageous and bombastic. DEATH’s threat morphs from simple zombie attack to multi-headed mega-monster hellbent on absorbing entire planets. Then suddenly, Chuck is just gone, and the lights go out. The formula for movies about bands dictates that victory is seized from the jaws of mortality in the final act. This is where things get weird. Chuck Schuldiner perished during the moment of heavy metal’s weakest ebb, and possibly the quietest moment of his own career. The drawling guitar demon in the kitty cat shirt will not rise again to tour county fairs, swap one-liners on late-night TV, and jam with Judas Priest at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But this documentary itself joins reissues, partial reunion tours, and an international reawakening as part of a decade-long ascent for DEATH to its proper place of high dominion. As you read these words and watch this film, Chuck Schuldiner and DEATH return to glory, and the legend itself becomes an eternal encore.

If you’re a metal-head (and if you’re reading this, chances are good you are one), then you have probably at least of heard of the band Death, and its enigmatic leader Chuck Schuldiner. I first discovered the band by way of Circus Magazine: I came across a full-page ad for their then-about to be released album Leprosy in a 1988 issue of the mag. I was intrigued by the cover art, to say the least, in the same way that I was intrigued by the cover art of the horror movie videotapes at the local Applause Video store; meaning, I dug the way it looked, but chances are I wasn’t going to be owning it any time soon. I was 13, maybe going on 14, and was fully entrenched in the more accessible forms of hair metal and hard rock at the time. I was a handful of years off from getting into the harder, darker and faster stuff. I do recall seeing a poster of the album hanging on the door of a fellow psyche ward inmate later that year, though. Point is, even before I actually got into Death, I was aware of their presence and importance in the extreme metal history.

So here we have, then, the documentary of Schuldiner’s life and career with one of the most legendary bands to have come out of the metal scene, named after Death’s demo, Death By Metal.Directed by Canadian filmmaker Felipe Belalcazar, Death By Metal is a rather in-depth look at the history of Schuldiner, the formation of the band that would eventually become Death, from the early years through various setbacks, the evolution of the band’s sound over the decade, personnel changes and seven album releases, his work in the band Control Denied, and his untimely passing at the age of 34 from brain cancer in 2001. Featuring archival footage with interviews not only with Schuldiner and the band, but also with his family, various death metal bands that were inspired by Death, former band members, and others in the business that had dealt with him. What this documentary doesn’t do is sugarcoat things when it comes to presenting Chuck’s personal and career issues. There are stories here that include the good times and the bad, and some of the stories are fascinating enough to warrant their own full-length documentary.

Overall, Death By Metal was a very satisfying documentary, giving some insight behind the mind and actions of one of the legendary godfathers of the early Death Metal scenes. Chuck’s story is a tragic one, but also should inspire anyone who has a love for the music. I watched this on Amazon Prime, so it was just the documentary I watched. However, on the physical DVD copy, there’s also a personal interview with Chuck’s mother, a featurette that gives a brief history of the Tampa death metal scene, interviews with Obituary, Autopsy and others, and a full concert at the Eagles Ballroom in Milwaukee, WI, recorded on November 30th, 1991. I would definitely check out the actual DVD if you can, but the bare bones streaming of Death By Metal isn’t a slouch, either. Recommended.

Movie Review: WALK HARD The Dewey Cox Story

Leave a comment

Walk Hard The Dewy Cox Story movie poster

“This is crazy, Dewey. Ain’t nobody gonna wanna listen to music like this. You’re standing there, playing as fast as you can, singing like some sort of punk!”

  • One of the most iconic figures in rock history, Dewey Cox had it all: the women (over 400 served), the friends (Elvis, The Beatles), and the rock n’ roll lifestyle (a close and personal relationship with every pill and powder known to man). But most of all, he had the music that transformed a dimwitted country boy into the greatest American rock star who never lived.

Something seems to have happened to the satirical comedy movie genre. Some time in the turn of the 21st Century, somehow the comedy movies that were spoofing other areas of pop culture were getting lazy, going more the zany route than actually well-crafted tongue-in-cheek spoof. Take, for instance, the classic Airplane!, and compare that to the likes of Epic Movie. Yeah, see the difference? Now, I’m not saying that every spoof comedy movie made in the 80s and 90s was comedy gold; but even the worst ones from that era (*cough* Spy Hard *cough*) had more meat to them than a lot of these dime-a-dozen blockbuster spoof movies nowadays.

Excuse me a minute, while I yell at the squirrels to get of muh lawn, dagnabit.

Anyway, all old man bellyachin’ aside (I just said “bellyachin'”…yep, I’m officially old now), I will say that not every spoof comedy movie made after 1999 is crap. Take, for instance, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. This is a movie that was made some time after the Johnny Cash biopic Walk The Line, that stared Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon as Johnny Cash and June Carter, respectively. But, rather than just spoof Johnny Cash’s early life, Walk Hard also includes some hilarious shots at the history of rock n’ roll, blues and country music pop culture in America all together.

We begin the story with a young Dewey Cox (John C. Reilly!) accidentally cutting his brother Nate in half in 1946. The trauma takes his sense of smell, but then he discovers that he has an affinity for the blues. Later, he preforms a song at his school talent show, which results in his father kicking him out of the house for playing “that Devil music”. So he leaves with his 12-year-old girlfriend (I should maybe point out that Dewey’s 14 at this time, although that may not lower the squick factor much), marry and have a baby. While working as a singer in a nightclub, he catches the ear of a record exec, who has him record a couple of tunes: a rockabilly rendition of “That’s Amore” (it doesn’t do well), and what would become his signature song, “Walk Hard”. The later song becomes an instant hit–literally, like in 35 minutes of its recording–and next thing you know, Dewey finds himself a rock n’ roll idol, and next thing you know he’s caught up in the lifestyle, trying drugs and sleeping around on his wife. Then his mother dies while dancing to one of Dewey’s records, which causes him to start using cocaine, and this is about the time when he meets choir-girl Darlene Madison (Jenna Fischer!), who he records several hit records with while falling madly in love with. So they get married…only, remember he’s still married to his first wife? Yeah, that doesn’t end well, and then he’s jailed for drug possession. After his stint in prison, Darlene returns to him, they move to Berkeley during the counterculture movement, takes LSD with the Beatles, then becomes obsessed with recording his masterpiece. The band leaves him due to his growing erratic and abusive behavior, and Darlene then leaves him for Glen Campbell (ouch). After some more rehab and a visit from the ghost of his brother, Dewey now hosts a variety show in the 70s, manages to reconnect with his estranged father in the most bizarre way possible, he gets a visit from one of his many illegitimate children, which causes him to want to reconnect with family again, regains his sense of smell, and then reconnects with and remarries Darlene. Again. Suddenly he’s popular with the young kids again due to rapper Lil’ Nutzzak sampling “Walk Hard” for his song. He gets a lifetime achievement award, reunites with his band, and finally composes his masterpiece song. And then he died three minutes after that. The end.

Overall, as a pop music history junkie, who loves watching documentaries about music and bands whether or not I like them*, Walk Hard was a great send-up of rock n’ roll biopics and documentaries all together. John C. Reilly once again proves his comedy chops as the lead. Taken as a comedy itself, it’s pretty over-the-top but still rather funny. I would say that Walk Hard is up there with comedies like the immortal UHF and Spaceballs. Recommended.

[*my favorite one being the VH1 Behind The Music episode of Oasis…not because I like their music (I don’t), or found the history all that interesting, but for the fact that, even though the brothers spoke English, they still had to have English subtitles to be understood]


Leave a comment


Filmed mostly at the Cornerstone Festival in Bushnell, IL, this documentary takes an unbiased and relatively neutral look at the Christian rock phenomenon, culling thoughts and opinions on the subject from band members, fans, and industry types on both sides, and features performance clips by various bands playing at the festival…

I’ve been a collector of, and consequent self-proclaimed pseudo-journalist of, Christian rock and metal in all its forms since 1992. For nearly 15 years, I’ve probably come across a plethora of arguments for and against this genre, as well as varying degrees of thought concerning this nigh-controversial subject- some profound, some not-so profound, and some just downright silly.

While the recent bout of documentaries are little more than thinly-veiled propaganda pieces slanted to the biased viewpoint of the filmmaker, Why Should The Devil Have All The Good Music? is relatively neutral in scope. On this documentary, the filmmakers went into Cornerstone to get a fairly good inside view on the subject of Christian music. The viewpoints of the artists and festival goers are rather diverse concerning Christianity and the music, ranging from the Nothing But Worshipful Lyrics stance, to the We’re Christians In A Band philosophy, and all points in-between. From the Preach From The Stage ideology to the Let The Music And Art Do The Talking sides…all valid and interesting insights are given.

As a balance, the film also captures the opinions from nonchristians in the music industry- magazine publishers, bands (mostly from Pansy Division, interesting bunch they are), and music producers- expounding on their take on Christian music. Though critical, for the most part it’s refreshingly non-hostile, and quite insightful as to why Christian music isn’t as readily embraced in the mainstream, a point which is also covered by the Christian artists.

What I liked about this documentary is the fact that there was no preconceived agenda involved. There’s no narration (unless you’re watching the director’s commentary), it just plops down the camera and let the interviewees talk. If there was an underlying agenda, I didn’t see one. Then again, I’ve been accused of being blind to the obvious New Age and Satanic conspiracies surrounding the various Bible translations, so I could just be slow on the take. But I doubt it…

On the downside, for me anyway, I came off having heard all these thoughts before. They didn’t provide any new insight on Christian music that I haven’t come across earlier in my involvement. Had this been viewed my first couple of years immersed in the Christian music culture, when my own concepts were still naive and narrow, Why Should The Devil Have All The Good Music? would have been a shock to my sensibilities. But I’m old now, and everything on this film is old hat, which doesn’t bode well for re-watch value. But, it is a good insight on the subject, and if you’re pretty open minded to other’s viewpoints, both Christian and otherwise, and can look past the two vulgarities uttered at a couple of places (in other words, not a good choice for youth group night), then Why Should The Devil Have All The Good Music? should make for a doable one night rental.

Movie Review: VH1 BEHIND THE MUSIC: Megadeth

Leave a comment

Movie Review: VH1 BEHIND THE MUSIC: MegadethSanctuary

This extended Behind the Music details the tumultuous life and career of hard rock pioneer Dave Mustaine and his band, Megadeth. Kicked out of Metallica, the band he co-founded, in 1982, the guitarist/vocalist got his revenge by forming Megadeth. His mission statement for his new group: “…to be the fastest, utmost furious heavy metal band ever.” But if anybody embodied the philosophy “live hard, play hard” it was Mustaine, who battled heroin addiction for nearly 10 years. Five lineups, 16 trips to rehab, one near-death experience, and more than 20 million albums later, Megadeth have more than made their mark in metal. Also included: “too hot for MTV/VH1” version of the video for “Moto Psycho.”

I’m an admitted pop culture music history and trivia junkie. Have been ever since I picked up my first copy of Circus magazine back in 1988, and the infectious sounds of hard rock and heavy metal began to permeate the very fiber of my gelatinous being. Even the bands and artists I don’t like, I enjoy delving into their back story, getting a glimpse of what drove them, why they became what they are, etc. etc.

So, obviously, VH1’s series Behind The Music was an obvious obsession of mine. Problem was, I never had cable or satellite to watch the cable show. I did catch a few, via friends cable. But even then, I missed out on some of my favorite groups featured. Megadeth was one of them.

With this DVD of the show released, I finally got to watch the trials and tribulations of one Dave Mustaine and his merry band of metal miscreants (sorry…I’ve been reading too much Stan Lee-penned comics recently). His childhood growing up with an alcoholic and abusive father, running away at a young age and starting up with drugs, drinking and metal music, joining up with some band that called itself Metallica, getting kicked out of said band and starting up Megadeth…pretty much stuff I already knew after years of being a fan of the ‘Deth.

And that’s probably the big reason why this DVD falls short for me, 45 extra minutes added or not. Just about every episode of Behind The Music focused way too much on the scandal rather than the inspiration, and that’s really what I’m more interested in. There’s only so much going back to his relapses into drug use that I can take before the “overkill” flag starts popping up in my head. Regardless of my limited (but still impressive) knowledge of the band, there were some things I found interesting…like the misfire that was the original cover for Killing Is My Business…And Business Is Good! (not the band’s fault; I remember buying my first copy and thinking how lame that cover was…glad that was cleared up), how Alice Cooper cautioned the band early in their career about their over excessive party habits, and later becoming a mentor for the recovering Mustaine, and how former Metallica mate Lars “I Sued Our Fans For File Sharing” Ulrich actually held Peace Sells But Who’s Buying? as a brilliant metal album.

The extras, if you want to call ’em that, include the video for “Moto Psycho”, which apparently (if you read the above synopsis I ganked from was too hot for either video channel. I don’t see how, as it’s pretty tame compared to their previous videos. Also included are interview segments from those featured in the show that were cut for whatever reason, a discography, and…other stuff I didn’t feel the need to go through.

For the fans of Megadeth, there’s really not too much here that will shock your socks off. We already know this. And since I’ve never seen the original 1-hour broadcast (give or take a few commercial breaks), I don’t know what was added. This is pretty beefy, and I liked the perspectives of those who were associated with the band at one point in time or another. Saving that, this DVD is really more of a rental that a must-own-at-all-costs.

Movie Review: METAL: A Headbanger’s Journey

Leave a comment

Metal- A Headbangers JourneyBanger Productions, Inc.

*walks up to podium, clears throat, and takes deep breath*

Hello. My name is Uncle NecRo, and I am a metal head.

*CROWD: “Hi, Uncle NecRo!”*

Sure, it’s tough nowadays to admit to being a tried-and-true metal head. So many sub-genres, mixed styles and flavors within the catch-all heading that, not surprisingly at all, there’s little in terms of unity between them all. And for someone who’s exploring the metal genres for the first time, it can get rather confusing. You got your classic metal from the 1970s, your 80s hair metal, thrash metal, death metal, black metal, metal hybrids, nu metal, power metal, prog metal, so on and so on. Metal music has come such a long way since its inception, and has mutated so much, that the fledgling metal head almost doesn’t know where to begin when it comes to the Metal Family Tree.

Fortunately, 30-something anthropologist and lifelong die hard metalhead Sam Dunn does an outstanding job exploring the many facets of metal, going through the histories, themes and controversies that go with them. Throughout this 90-plus-minute documentary, Dunn travels the world, interviewing band members, fans others associated with metal. My favorite moments: A trip to the Wacken Open Air festival; a rather unintentionally humorous interviews with the Norweigen black metal bands; an interview with Twisted Sister icon Dee Snider involving the PMRC trials in the 80s; and the great Definitive Metal Family Tree that grounds the documentary and gives the viewer something to go on. And of course, there’s the very cool soundtrack that features some of the best in the genres.

Some of the cooler supplemental stuff on the DVD: A commentary by the director and camera guy, geeking out on metal; an extended collection of interview clips with Moterhead’s Lemmy (funny guy); and a short film dealing exclusively with black metal. Though definitely not exhaustive, Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey is a great supplement for any self-described metal historian. Highly recommended…

Movie Review: METALLICA: Some Kind Of Monster

Leave a comment

METALLICA - Some Kind Of MonsterRadical Media

“I want four of them. Do it again.”

For nearly two and a half hours, come witness the ups and downs, the trials and tribulations of metaldom’s favorite top-selling sellout bands- the now-ironically named Metallica- as they loose their long-time bassist, begin recording tracks for what would eventually become St. Anger, squabbles and whining amongst each other, the hiring of a psychiatrist, their nationwide search for a new bassist, James’ drug rehab, Lars’ whining, and eventual release of their Grammy-nominated (yet extremely sucking) St. Anger…try to keep the yawns down to a minimum…

As you can probably tell by my synopsis, I don’t have a very high view of the band Metallica. Mind you, there used to be a time where I would figuratively worship daily at the AA Battery-powered altar of the mighty Metallica. I got into them around the time when …And Justice For All came out (still give that a spin every now and again), and felt that their first four albums (Ride The Lighting topping the list) were required listening for the true metalhead. I was one of the first in line to buy their self-titled “black” album, and played it to death within the first month (although I found it rather annoying that all the preps in my high school were sporting Metallica shirts…tucked in). When they played Omaha in ’92, it was like the Pope’s arrival. I even enjoyed Load and Reload to a certain extent. Point is, I was a fan. A pretty big fan. So, what exactly soured me on the band?

Napster. More to the point, Lars’ suing Napster for allowing Metallica songs to be downloaded. For the record, in 1999 when this crap happened, I never did any of that P2P file sharing, let alone knew what a “napster” was. Hell, I didn’t even have a frickin’ computer, and my roommate’s comp had a lame dial-up modem that took forever to download stuff. In other words, I’m not cheesed because Metallica killed my ability to download their songs. I got pissed off because all these years, the boys in the band kept saying that their fans are the greatest, they love their fans, and then they go and sue their fans for loving the band and wanting to hear ’em. It became immediately apparent that money was more of an issue…but that’s another thing entirely, and so I digress…

I rented Some Kind Of Monster because I’m still somewhat interested in Metallica, if not musically. I mean, let’s face it…St. Anger sucked wookie butt. And while Some Kind Of Monster isn’t one of those documentaries that goes through an exhaustive history of the band (there are several books and of course the all-too-abbreviated Behind The Music episode on VH1), it does offere a pretty detailed look into the period where they were working on St. Anger.

On the upside, Some Kind Of Monster shows the drama that surrounded the band at the time, which begins with longtime bassist Jason Newstead’s departure. Nothing is really glossed over, as both the good and bad times were presented without any kind of varnish. The scenes showing the creative process going into the lyrics and the songs were good, showing that at least they weren’t trying to slap something together in haste just to get a product out (as the horrid production on the disc belies). I also liked how they included James Hetfield’s stint wrestling with his alcoholism, effectively quitting the band for an extended time. He could have asked to have that glossed over, or stricken entirely, but he let them include the shots there. And I also found the process of searching for a new bassist to be rather amusing (apparently, former Marilyn Manson cohort Twiggy was among the contenders).

Mostly, though, most of the time this documentary comes off as a bit pretentious. True, it does tend to be hard to be objective when it comes to fans making a film about their favorite band. But, juxtaposed between the recording sessions (which, while interesting, got old after a while…there’s only so much discussion on what time structure to use before I start screaming “JUST PLAY SOMETHING, DAMMIT!!!” and flinging things at the television) were the group therapy sessions with squarest guys you can get for a rock n’ roll psychiatrist. Really, I’ve read about the band’s sessions with this guy in various magazines, but I never experienced what eventually annoyed them so much about him until I watched this video. Truly fascinating stuff, there.

Other points of contention: I was already aware of what kind of arrogant prick Lars Ulrich is, but after watching this my opinion of the drummer / self-appointed spokesperson dropped several points in my book. From his constant arguments with his band mates (which, by his own admission, he at times deliberately disagrees with just for the sake of disagreeing…like I said, arrogant prick), his heartless dissing on former band mates Jason Newsted and Dave Mustaine (there’s a section where Ulrich and Mustaine confront each other as part of the band’s therapy…a scene that I felt was all too short, and kind of stiffed Dave as a result…even the extended version in the extras seemed a bit too short as well), to a needless scene where he’s selling his artwork and making a cool $5 mil in the process…he just comes off in a very bad light in this video. Really, the only person that didn’t come off as a jackass was Kirk Hammet, the lead guitarist. He’s laid back, not really letting all the drama affect him too much. Very classy…

In the end, I felt I watched a 90-minute documentary that was crammed into two-and-a-half hours. Mind you, when I watched this Metallica had already lost a lot of their appeal for me, and I don’t hate the band. I’m saying that much could have been cut out and we would have still gotten the full extent of what was intended. Had this been made in ’91, I would have deemed it the greatest documentary ever. Instead, we have an overly-long video that stands as a representation of the band’s condition nowadays- bloated, overlong and long-winded…

Movie Review: ANVIL: The Story Of Anvil

Leave a comment

anvil the story of anvilVH1 Films

“Everything on the tour went drastically wrong. But at least there was a tour for it to go wrong on.”

At 14, two Toronto schoolmates – Steve “Lips” Kudlow and Rob Reiner – made a pact to rock together forever. They meant it. Their band, Anvil, hailed as the “demi-gods of Canadian metal, ” influenced a musical generation that includes Metallica, Slayer, and Anthrax, despite never hitting the big time. Following a calamitous European tour, Lips and Robb, now in their fifties, set off to record their 13th album in one last attempt to fulfill their boyhood dreams.

Any respectable METAL-head of any age should have at least heard of Anvil once. They are, really, the lovable underdogs of METAL, influencing many of the big names in the genre – including Metallica, Anthrax and Slayer, as well as the editor for Metal Hammer Magazine – but always seemed to be stuck in relative obscurity, despite gaining some notoriety when they released Metal On Metal in 1982. Personally, I became aware of Anvil when a clip of their song “666” was featured on the “dangers of rock n’ roll” documentary Hells Bells I watched in 1991. It’s fascinating how much great metal I was introduced to because of that film. Probably not the intention…but I digress.

After a brief flash from the past – the 1984 Super Rock Festival in Japan – we find the two founding members of Anvil now in their 50s, working menial jobs to make ends meet, while still struggling on with the band. We get a very unflinching look at their lives, the (for lack of a better word) crap they have to deal with as a band, and their long-suffering yet supportive family members. This film does get to the very grit and rawness of being in a band, especially one that the world had seemingly forgotten. The disastrous European tour is especially flinch-educing, and to see the guys try to keep a positive outlook on things makes it all the more tragic. You can’t help but root for the guys, really…they are truly doing things their way instead of being corporate shills. METAL, baby.

But, for the most part, the one thing that kept swimming around my head as I was watching this, was “Spinal Tap”. Completely unintentional, I realize, but to watch this and not begin to see the real-life parallels Lips and Robb were going through was just uncanny.

But first, I must point this out: The place where I rented this DVD from had it in the Comedy section. Yes, that’s right – by accident, I came across this while looking for another movie they didn’t have in stock (that being Airheads, by the way). I thought, was this a joke? Did the prevalently hipster / scenester staff of the place put it there, in a fit of ironic irony? I mean, yes, the cover itself seems over-the-top comedy (look at it and tell me it doesn’t). But, this is a documentary. Surely they knew that, right? Well, glancing at the category tag on the back, it seems that, yes, this DVD was, in fact, listed in their system as a “comedy”. Words cannot describe my disgust at this.

But watching this, there were many times I had to remind myself, this is actually happening to these guys. Playing to a whopping 174 people in an arena that seated 10,000. A tour promoter that barely could speak English. Missing a train that was filled up with attendees of a festival they played at. Getting lost on the way to a show. At one point, they’re actually playing the wedding reception for their guitarist to a bunch of less-than-amused friends and family members. To top it off, there’s also a visit to Stonehenge. Stonehenge, people. Don’t tell me the irony isn’t lost on you, there.

It amazes me how these guys have stuck through all of this for the over 20 years since Metal On Metal was released. One thing comes through here, though; the passion for making music is still burning bright, and they do it their way, going so far as self-financing their thirteenth album. And as a post script, since Anvil! The Story Of Anvil was released in 2008, they’ve gained a resurgence of sorts, going on tour with AC/DC (it’s reported that Angus Young booked them for the tour after watching the movie personally) and Saxon, and appearing on various national television shows (including VH1’s That Metal Show and The Tonight Show With Conan O’Brian).

As far as the movie itself goes, I would call it essential watching, especially for those of us pop culture junkies and METAL fiends. It’s unflinching. It’s raw. It’s real and completely METAL.

Older Entries