Metallica Through the Never – Nimród Antal and Metallica burst into 3D. (Film Review)

There’s not much point decrying thrash metal for the “showmanship” the hyper-machismo or the overtly empty gestures it is famous for, as the fans can see this just as well as the critics can, and metal has always carved its niche from the disdain of the “non-metal-community.” The metal concerts I’ve attended became acts of emotional courage as I was looked upon with open derision for my converse sneakers, store-bought hair cut and lack of studded leather. The metal scene is far more like a religious experience, complete with unconvincing symbolism and a form of hysterical transcendence that, like religion, is very much tied to poverty and emotional isolation. The classic metal fan is young, male, straight, white, and blue-collar, and given its potent ethic of “not selling out” that isn’t going to change any time soon. Much of the symbolic imagery of metal stems from an “anti-religious-theme” which is of course, just the other side of the same coin.

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All of this comes across in Metallica: Through the Never without, I have to confess, much of the good reason for all the props Metallica is getting these days. The performance, and we’re talking eighty percent of the film here is so strictly rehearsed, that it loses the live feel, even though Hetfield still manages to whip the crowd up into a brother-loves-travelling-salvation-show-frenzy just the same, even if a Metallica crowd is strictly a frenzy waiting to happen. Metal is about a uniform non-conformism, and it has a striking adherence to capitalism that its anti poseurs aesthetic perpetuates. It doesn’t matter that Metallica is wooden, repetitive and paint-by-numbers. You just ask them what happens when they try to get creative, as in Lulu with Lou Reed – Hetfield got so much fan hate he was forced to beg them to understand they just wanted to do something different and Lou Reed got death threats. We are talking a totalitarian style conformity here.

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And yet, part of this passion for the (their) norm is a desire to preserve the culture and the already always endless appeal for authenticity  that is at the heart of metal.  It’s difficult to make a transcendent appeal with out god, something has to replace him, and in Metal (in all its formats) that replacement is authenticity. The costume, the music, the disdain and the unity are all about authentication of the empty gesture and its no surprise that metal rose to prominence in the 1960’s and 1970’s when feminism and pacificism were questioning the hollowness of masculinity. You can’t be that closed off to everything else without the anger that is propelled by your own selling out and the fear that “I am a sell out” is at the heart of metal worship. This comes through in the Metallica performance; in the age of the group, their black skull wedding rings replaced by solitary bands, their middle age spread, their shorter hair (no hair in the case of Lars) and their tired pledge to be all about music that represents the under thirty’s. There is a certain honesty lacking in the polish and perfectionism of Metallica: through the Never, and it isn’t coming from the audience. Metallica is part of a promise to make a certain fantasy real and when they struggle to conjure up the fantasy, even the inauthenticity of the promise can’t be real.

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But of course all of this is about the observation from the outside and Metallica: Through the Never isn’t about the outside (or perhaps secretly it is?) but rather its made for fans and made interesting enough that those outside the thrash metal culture can enjoy also. That extra little bit of interesting is the twenty percent added onto the eighty percent concert, which is a small sideline story that uses Metallicas songs as plot points in a drug induced narrative. There’s a glam ‘The Wall’-esque rock opera going on outside of the film, as current IT-boy Dane DeHaan plays Trip, a skaterboi cum metal head whose sent on a “trip” to grab a special parcel for the band, that is of course a mcguffin. His journey toward the bag begins with his downing a matrix-meets-alice pill that is swiftly followed by an accident that launches him into a post apolcalyptic world where a mask wearing horseman determined to hang everyone he sees tries to stop Trip returning the cargo.

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When I first heard Metallica were doing a live concert film in 3-D I thought it was a great idea, and had the performance packed a little more punch and less resting on special effects I think it would have been. Nimród Antal is at home with his subject matter and does make great use of the extensive props and elaborate sets Metallica use to try to keep their concerts interesting, with the winner being the overhead shots. I guess my overall dissapointment with this film was summed up in a carefully choeographed section of the concert where they “fake” an accident, fake deciding to play on anyway, and fake trying to get back to a raw thrash sound. I’m guess I just wasn’t convinced by those empty gestures.

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