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Film review: METALLICA: THROUGH THE NEVER, from Built For Speed

The 1980’s saw the flourishing of four extreme and highly influential musical subcultures: American Hardcore punk which was faster and more corrosive than its British cousin; Goth which we can blame for emo; hip hop which added Bronx street culture a new form of social and political commentary to popular music; and speed metal which replaced the blues riffing and Tolkien references of 1970’s hard rock with amphetamine-fuelled tempos, punk aggression and comically macho, quasi-horror song titles like “Whiplash” and “Phantom Lord”.  Few artists from the early days of these disparate scenes achieved lasting commercial success but speed metal pioneers Metallica managed to translate an underground following into vast popularity and despite specialising in a very extreme form of music, have become part of the classic rock pantheon.

To prove their ongoing vitality, the band has released a concert film with the Spinal Tappish name of Metallica: Through the Never.  Shot at two Canadian arenas, the film presents a truncated concert composed of tracks from across their career.  The gig footage is interspersed with a strange and violent story about a young roadie (Dane DeHaan) heading into the city on an errand and becoming enmeshed in a nightmarish riot.  These fictional scenes, which look like half-assed imitations of the riot sequences from The Dark Knight Rises, are an unnecessary distraction from the gig.

As with any concert film, enjoyment depends enormously on whether or not a viewer likes the band’s music.  To put this review into context, it’s important that I declare that I’m a passing fan of Metallica, I like about three tracks per album but I have an aversion to the relentless, pummelling double kick drums, cacophony of droning chords, belligerent Energiser Bunny off-beats and grunting growling vocals that infuse many of their songs.  Amid this often mind-numbing barrage Metallica have some genuinely great tracks, mostly the ones where they play on the beat such as “All Nightmare Long” from the Death Magnetic album. Those who love the band will salivate over the tight, powerful and energetic performance of Metallica favourites such as “Master of Puppets”, “Creeping Death”, “Battery” and the wonderfully brutal “Cyanide” that appear in this film. Those who recoil at Metallica’s music, though, will find this film tedious.

With the band members all around 50, they no longer have the iconic hair-monster look of a metal band, in fact drummer Lars Ulrich is starting to resemble Bob Newhart while singer James Hetfield, with his peroxided hair and goatee, looks remarkably like Will Ferrel’s temperamental fashion mogul Mugatu from the film Zoolander. Guitarist Kirk Hammett is still the stoic introspective technician while Bass player Robert Trujillo is an amusingly bizarre sight as he capers around the stage with a weird bandy-legged gate that must play havoc with his knees.

As we saw in the documentary Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, Metallica are an odd combination of personalities particularly the warring alpha males Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield.  Given the band’s entertainingly volatile dynamic it’s unfortunate that we don’t hear from them outside of the gig itself.  Some brief interviews with the band would have been preferable to the roadie story.

Oddly, this cinematic depiction of such a volcanically aggressive band feels emotionally cold. Nimrod Antal’s slick, precise direction jars with the sweaty intensity of the band’s performance and with the ferocious enthusiasm of the concert audiences squished into the multiple mosh-pits.  Also, the band seem disappointingly detached from one another as they stand at different corners of their vast, clinical, high-tech stage.

Metallica: Through the Never is for fans only and will not convert non-metal heads to the band.  Fortunately for Metallica they have plenty of fans eager to imbibe everything the band offers.

Nick’s rating: Three stars.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Nimród Antal.

Release date: 10th Oct 2013

Running time:  94 mins.

 

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