In 2005, Sam Dunn released Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey which presented a fairly detailed overview of the variety of metal subgenres that have been created throughout the past several decades (granted, Dunn goes into even further detail on his later series called Metal Evolution). After positive reception of the aforementioned documentary, Dunn came to the realization that his exposé of the metal genre was far from complete, considering he had yet to expand his reach beyond North America and Europe.
Throughout Global Metal, we go on a journey to various countries to learn about their local metal scenes, sociopolitical struggles, and musical/cultural identity. Dunn interviews many artists and metal fans within these regions to get a clearer and more personal picture of the reality present. Although a majority of these artists are from from household names in America (even a decade later since the release of the film), there is also an inclusion of more Western mainstream metal acts who discuss their time touring in these regions.
The film begins in Brazil as Carlos Lopes of the Rio De Janeiro based thrash band Dorsal Atlantica tells how the country was shadowed by a dictatorship in the 60’s through mid-80’s. Rafael Bittencourt from prog/power metal group Angra As the regime came to an end in 1985, the rise of metal coincidentally rose. Both Lopes and Bittencourt infers that the fall of the dictatorship and the birth of Brazilian in metal are connected, almost as if metal music was sign of democracy. One of the main events that showcased the explosion of heavy music in Brazil was the Rock in Rio festival, which held over a million attendees and artists such as Iron Maiden, Scorpions, and Ozzy Osbourne amongst other rock and pop acts. And of course, this section of the film covered Sepultura, easily the largest metal group to come from Brazil. Frontman Max Cavalera delves into how they didn’t have much money during the beginning of the band, but regardless they found creative ways to work around financial issues such as glueing AA batteries together resemble bullet belts in their promo picture. Sepultura went on to perform at the next Rock in Rio festival and blow up in fame when fusing their metal with native instruments.
Next on the list was Japan, which Dunn introduced as “stereotyped for its obsession with Western culture” and “known for its hardworking salarymen, conformity, and extreme organization,” concluding that “none of which sounded metal to [him].” Various metal advocates discussed how heavy music made its way to the Asian island, stating that Deep Purple and Kiss where the first bands to truly make an impact. The visual aesthetic of Kiss definitely struck a chord with the country considering Kabuki theater and the development of the visual kei subgenre. Former Megadeth and now solo guitarist extraordinaire Marty Friedman praises the subgenre and overall culture difference in that Japanese are less deterred by taboo topics. Another notable aspect discussed is how the Japanese metal community is more courteous, with the scenario of the crowd being asked to sit and clap instead of mosh during a Slayer show as an example. Lastly, there’s a fairly humorous interview moment with Metallica‘s Lars Ulrich mentioning how he received many toothbrushes by fans over in Japan as a token of gratitude.
While nowadays, their scene seems to be rapidly evolving, Dunn describes India’s metal scene to be “just getting started.” The first key element that surfaces is an opposition for the country’s most popular genre, Bollywood, where Demonstealer from Demonic Resurrection, Prashant Shaw of Exhumation, and Nolan Lewis from Kryptos all discuss their distaste for the musical style. It was brought up briefly, but there was also a part where Dunn discussed a lack of venues for metal bands, which I believe is still an issue in the Indian metal scene. The notion of a succinct metal community was hinted at during the previous sections, but it was really nailed in during the Indian interviews as they explained that their music is a unified group and rebellion against parental expectations, religion, and social class discrimination.
As Dunn continues his journey across the Asian continent, he next lands in China, which is phrased as being late to absorb Western culture and is in the process of playing catch up. Yang Yu of Painkiller Magazine stated, “For twenty years, China was completely closed off culturally from the outside world. In terms of music, Western rock had a history of 50 years. We had to learn it in 10 years time.” Tang Dynasty was referenced as being the first Chinese metal band to expose the masses to heavy music when founding member Kaiser Kuo moved from New York to China and formed a band. The film then highlighted Ritual Day as a Chinese metal act who took the music to a more extreme level than the country’s predecessors.
Yet another country with the description of an oppressive dictatorship and poverty, Dunn arrives in Indonesia. Wendy Putranto of Rolling Stone Indonesia, Jason Tedasukmana from TIME Magazine Indonesia, Andre Tiranda of death metal band Siksakubar, and even Napalm Death‘s Barney Greenway ways in on the unemployment and social class disparity in the country. In addition to an unfair financial situation, the film also tells of violence at their metal concerts such as security beating fans at a Sepultura show with bamboo sticks or violently disallowing entry into a Metallica show, resulting in a ban of international rock/metal acts. Thus, a more underground scene was born with bands like Seringai, Jasad, and the controversial Tengkorak, who covers themes of “political or social commentary.” The most shocking scene was when vocalist Ombat (M. Hariadi Nasution) explained the meaning behind the song “Destroying Zionism,” claiming that Jewish individuals have created a system and a goal to “destroy Islamic people” and therefore Ombat believes that “Israel should be eliminated from the global map.”
Speaking of Israel, that was the next destination, which Dunn describes as having a “history of dealing with hatred.” Orphaned Land vocalist Kobi Farhi adds that the country’s culture is “very complicated, very ancient, and very mixed” pointing out at a Jewish cemetery, a church, and a mosque all in eyesight. Other Israeli metal artists like Eran Segal and “Evil” Haim from Whorecore and Butchered of Arallu weigh in on the rich, controversial history of the country and how it affects the heaviness of their music. A couple interesting plot points were also brought up during the Israeli chapter such as a discussion on the holocaust themed lyrical content behind Slayer‘s “Angel of Death” or an exchange in which Burzum‘s Varg Vikernes mailed a bomb to the vocalist of Israeli extreme metal group Salem.
After a visa denial to travel to Iran, Dunn instead meets Middle Eastern metal advocates at Desert Rock, a metal festival in Dubai. Of all the regions explored so far, this seemed to be the most strict towards metal music. Throughout many interview with fans and musicians, a theme of oppression against metalheads arose. There were stories of individuals being punished and assaulted for simply having metal band t-shirts or even long hair as they were “connected to Satanism.” Although there is hardly room for metal culture to bloom in countries like Iran, there was a notable performance where a cover band called SDS played Morbid Angel and Slayer songs, even if vocals were disallowed.
It has been over a decade since this documentary was released, so a sequel seems certainly warranted. Or at the very least, a Global Metal series on the BangerTV YouTube channel (also run by Sam Dunn) would be perfect. I am not certain how much these international scenes have flourished since Dunn visited, but I’d imagine more bands have popped up and there are more modern sociopolitical issues to discuss. Regardless of my desire for more, I can confidently conclude that Global Metal is a damn big deal for many reasons. Firstly, as far as I’m concerned, this was one of the first high-budget documentaries (or media coverages in general) about metal music outside the parameters of North America and Western Europe. Secondly, this film wasn’t just about metal music, but also about anthropology, focusing on the political and social climates of these countries, both good and bad. All those interviewed were humanized and defined as another individual who enjoys metal music, rather than an outsider. The film exposes the bigger picture that all metalheads across all parts of the world are attracted to heavy music for a valid reason, whether it be: oppression from their country’s government, parents, mainstream music, or a rebellion against culture. Also, in most of these regions, there was a looming influence coming from Western culture, yet each international scene added their culture and ideas into the mix.
The film perfectly concludes with Iron Maiden‘s performance in India as Dunn reads out his final thoughts on this experience stating: “although heavy metal may be part of the process of globalization, something unique is happening. Metal connects with people regardless of their cultural, political, or religious backgrounds. And these people aren’t just absorbing metal from the West, they’re transforming it, creating a new outlet they can’t find in their traditional cultures, a voice to express their discontent with the chaos and uncertainty that surrounds them in their rapidly changing societies. And for metalheads all across the globe, metal is more than music, more than an identity. Metal is freedom and together we are now a global tribe.”