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Top 10 Heavy Metal Documentaries

Daniel Boczarski, Getty Images

The last few years has seen a steady stream of heavy metal-themed documentaries hitting the independent film circuit. With so many subgenres and its countless number of larger-than-life characters, it’s no surprise that directors have been insprired by metal. Even if you’re not a huge fan of the music, these flicks are definitely worth your time. To help guide you, Noisecreep has compiled a list of the 10 best heavy metal documentaries.

10. ‘Until the Light Takes Us’

Directed by Aaron Aites and Audrey Ewell (2009)
While it certainly has its flaws, ‘Until the Light Takes Us’ features enough compelling moments to warrant it a spot here. The film is centered on the Norwegian black metal scene and the interview footage of Darkthrone founder Gylve “Fenriz” Nagell and Burzum mastermind Varg “Count Grishnackh” Vikernes is particularly intriguing. Both musicians are outspoken and provide insight on the trials and tribulations they’ve both been through. The most jarring scene comes courtesy of Kjetil-Vidar “Frost” Haraldstad of the band Satyricon. In it the directors follow the drummer to one of his performance art shows where we see him fire-breathing and cutting himself with a knife in front of a stunned audience.

9. ‘Iron Maiden: Flight 666′

Directed by Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen (2009)
This film follows the British metal maestros on the first leg of their Somewhere Back in Time World Tour between February and March 2008. But what sets it apart from other tour documentaries is that the band is travelling in their own 747 which is being piloted by their vocalist, Bruce Dickinson. Directors Dunn and McFadyen do a bang up job of capturing all of the behind-the-scenes workings that keep the Iron Maiden touring machine running. After seeing this documentary, Noisecreep will never look at a Maiden show the same way again.

8. ‘Heavy Metal Parking Lot’

Directed by John Heyn and Jeff Krulik (1986)
If you’ve been to a metal show in the last 30 years, you already know how great the people watching can be before you actually walk into the venue. This 17 minute film documents fans tailgating in the parking lot outside the Capital Centre in Landover, Md. on May 31, 1986, before a Judas Priest headlining appearance. It’s a brilliant idea and before it found an official release in 2006, it was one of the most widely bootlegged videos within cult music circles. The flick has become an ironic comedic landmark and has served as a ’80s heavy metal time capsule of sorts. Check out the DVD version where the directors visit some of the movie’s standout figures some 20 years later.

7. ‘Get Thrashed’

Directed by Rick Ernst (2008)
Sure, the thrash movement of the mid to late ’80s birthed giants like Metallica, Slayer and Anthrax, but what makes this documentary so special is that director Rick Ernst also shines the spotlight on some of the lesser-known, yet vital, artists of the era. Everyone from Vio-Lence and Hirax to Overkilland Nuclear Assault is featured in ‘Get Thrashed’ providing a well-balanced overview on the golden age of the thrash scene.

6. ‘Heavy Metal in Baghdad’

Directed by Suroosh Alvi and Eddy Moretti (2007)
Shot over the course of three years, ‘Heavy Metal Baghdad’ follows an Iraqi metal band called Acrassicauda and their struggles in their war torn country and its surrounding areas. The exotic locales and directors Suroosh Alvi and Eddy Moretti’s warts and all shooting style makes this one of the most unique films to ever be made about our beloved music. To see what Acrassicauda go through just to get their music heard is an inspiration and puts a lot of things into perspective. We can’t recommend this one enough.

5. ‘Lemmy’

Directed by Greg Olliver and Wes Orshoski (2010)Few musicians embody the spirit and look of heavy metal as well as Motörheadbassist-vocalist Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister does. Tearing audiences new a-holes since the 1970s, it’s surprising that it took till last year for someone to release a film about the British road dog. In ‘Lemmy’ we’re treated to a look into Kilmister’s inner-circle which includes everyone from his son, Paul Inder, to his trusty road crew and bandmates. The tour of Lemmy’s memorabilia-crammed Hollywood apartment is worth the price of admission alone.

4. ‘Some Kind of Monster’

Directed by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky (2004)
Made by the same directors behind ‘Paradise Lost,’ the West Memphis 3 documentary, ‘Some Kind of Monster’ is a no-holds-barred look at Metallica at a point when the metal juggernauts were close to breaking up. It’s an often uncomfortable film where we see Hetfield and company sit through intense therapy sessions with ‘performance enhancing coach” Phil Towle. Metallica obviously found a way to keep the band going, but ‘Some Kind of Monster’ reveals the Rock and Hall of Fame inductees at their lowest point. It took a lot of guts for them to get behind the film’s release.

3. ‘Anvil! The Story of Anvil’

Directed by Sacha Gervasi (2009)
Outside of a small community of old-school metal enthusiasts, few mainstream music fans even knew Anvil existed. But once this flick hit the film festival circuit, the Canadian power trio became media darlings. ‘Anvil! The Story of Anvil’ is a classic David and Goliath story where the band battles with the music industry and indifferent fans who either don’t remember Anvil or don’t care. Director Sacha Gervasi used to roadie for the group and he treats them and their story with grace, humor and a lot of love.

2. ‘The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years’

Directed by Penelope Spheeris (1988)
Before she went on to direct blockbuster films like ‘Wayne’s World’ and ‘Black Sheep,’ Penelope Spheeris helmed this masterpiece. The documentary follows the Sunset Strip music scene of the late ’80s during its peak. Although heavier artists are also included [Megadeth, W.A.S.P.], ultimately it’s the hair metal groups that steal the show. Critics of the film cite its scenes of excess and over-the-top behavior as one of the reasons why many fans and musicians abandoned the glam scene, but Noisecreep sees it differently. We love the way Spheeris captured the carefree attitude and rebelliousness of the era. Let’s hope the producers of the movie find a way to finally release it on DVD.

1. ‘Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey’

Directed by Sam Dunn, Scot McFadyen and Jessica Wise (2005)
Here is Dunn and co-director Scot McFadyen’s second entry on this list after ‘Flight 666.’ This exhaustive documentary follows the then 31-year-old Dunn, as he travels around the world talking to musicians, fans and others, about heavy metal and its endless array of subgenres and their histories. The film’s use of a family tree type of flowchart is a genius way to both keep the pacing moving nicely and adding clarity to the mass amounts of factoids. If you haven’t seen this one yet, and you call yourself a metalhead, you’re doing yourself a huge disservice.

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