Among the towering, unholy mountains of titles and genres covered in HEAVY METAL MOVIES: Guitar Barbarians, Mutant Bimbos, and Cult Zombies Amok in the 666 Most Ear- and Eye-Ripping Big Scream Films Ever!, by Mike “McBeardo” McPadden, are literally hundreds of documentaries dedicated to heavy metal’s mad makers, most majestic moments, and furious fans.
Since Heavy Metal Movies first arrived, a cloven hoof-ful of new metal docs have arisen that warrant their own headbanging tribute. Here’s McBeardo on a trio of new nonfiction metal flicks:
BREAKING A MONSTER (2016)
In the early 1970s, a trio of hardscrabble Brooklynite teenagers formed the proto-metal power trio Dust. They issued one of the most kick-ass and influential debut albums in hard rock history, got a gold record, and busted up before they could hit the big time with appropriate hardness. Their dads were angry about their bad grades. Bye-bye, band. It’s a surprising story, and all true.
Nearly a half-century later, history repeats itself, this time loaded with even more surprises. Unlike Dust, who very much looked the part of acid rock and heavy blues-loving longhair types, Unlocking the Truth, Brooklyn’s new adolescent metal-gods-in-the-making, are African-American junior high-schoolers. Initially, they capture public attention in ways way old (busking on the streets) and entirely new (going viral on YouTube). In 2014, Sony Records signs Unlocking the Truth to a $1.8 million deal. At the time, Guitarist/vocalist Malcolm Brickhouse, bassist Alec Atkins, and drummer Jared Dawkins were each 13 years old.
Breaking a Monster tracks the quick rise and then even higher rise of UTT, as these three pubescent pals sharply negotiate what’s left of major label rock star manufacturing machinery. They open for Metallica, endure through clueless corporate attempts to make them of maximum palatability to the masses, and ultimately unlock themselves from the shackles of corporate control to pursue music on their own terms.
Part of the fun of Breaking a Monster is what makes the saga so astonishing: Brickhouse, Atkins, and Dawkins are actual children. They often amusingly act like the seventh graders they are; then they’ll suddenly see through and speak out against the onslaught of adult manure being shoveled their way like battle-hardened veterans. These kids are way the hell more than just alright.
WE ARE X (2016)
See trailer above
On October 11, 2014, the Land of the Rising Sun’s legendary—but largely unsung Stateside—glam-prog-power-metal ensemble X Japan reunited to headline Madison Square Garden. Theirs was a triumph in the making from 1977 onward, when singer/guitarist Toshi and drummer/keyboardist Yohiki, both 11 years old, initially cobbled together the musical mega-force that, by ’82, would be known first as X and, ultimately, X Japan.
We Are X hurls us along that trajectory, from kids bonding over a shared love of Kiss to grown-up kids playing the most famous arena on the planet. The narrative focuses largely on Yoshiki, and wisely so. In performance, he’s a mesmerizing tsunami of percussive overkill. In any context, he’s a charming, utterly fascinating nut.
Throughout We Are X, Yoshiki makes us feel the group’s every victory and every sour note—including a 1997 breakup over Toshi getting mixed up in a cult. Guitarist Hide apparently reacts to the news by taking his own life. Toshi, now cult-free, shines on-screen here.
We Are X has proven to be a surprise arthouse hit. Go see it in a theater with a killer sound system, and surrender to the spectacle and the journey. They are X and you will be grateful to spend the time with them.
WE ARE TWISTED FUCKING SISTER (2016)
For a brief, glamtastic moment circa 1985, Twisted Sister ruled as the world’s highest profile heavy metal band. Front-beast Dee Snider made American history when, in one fell swoop, he victoriously defended freedom of expression on Capitol Hill and permanently added one crucial phrase to the United States Congressional Record—i.e., “Sick Motherfucking Friends of Twisted Fucking Sister.”
We Are Twisted Fucking Sister profiles the band’s long, hard-fought road to those high points, from the group’s initial mid-’70s ascent as a Long Island club act to becoming live headliners that could pack multi-thousand seat theaters. In due time, Twisted Sister got the break—and the hits—that they deserved. And then they broke up.
Dee Snider, charismatic and hilarious as always, largely spearheads the film’s narrative, and he’s perfectly accompanied by his similarly smart and smart-assed bandmates, guitarist (and manager) Jay Jay French and bassist Mark “The Animal” Mendoza.
Both in terms of music and background that would have broken even a slightly lesser band, there is more to Twisted Sister than the two hits your grandmother knows by heart. This movie lays all that out like a loud, boisterous party conversation with a bunch of awesome dudes you’ve just met that instantly come off as your lifelong buddies. RIP to this band of SMFs!
And in the end, the book is still always better than the movies! Read and bleed HEAVY METAL MOVIES: Guitar Barbarians, Mutant Bimbos, and Cult Zombies Amok in the 666 Most Ear- and Eye-Ripping Big Scream Films Ever!, by Mike “McBeardo” McPadden