METAL DOWN UNDER
MA 15+ Animus Industries
Australia’s heavy metal scene never had a San Francisco Bay Area or the wintry plains of Norway. Like our multicultural heritage, it has a little bit of everything that’s emerged from almost everywhere, leaving fans with limited history outside stories passed down around pints at the local. After two years of scouring the country, writer/ director Nick Calpakdjian has brought the best tales together, to tell at least part of the history that makes up Australia’s heavy metal heritage.
Beginning way back in the late 1970s, Metal Down Under quickly sets the tone for an engaging look at the scene retold by people who played a pivotal role in its birth and existence. As record store owners talk about local musicians hanging out in their store and bands reflect on the early days, there’s an immediate sense of personality in the film. It’s this personality, or rather these personalities, that drive the film and accompany you on the journey through nearly four decades of music.
Everyone, whether they’re band members, journalists, managers or even fans, brings something unique to the table, not to mention a bunch of unexpected stories that will make you sit up and say, “I can’t believe that happened in Australia!” The sheer amount of archival footage that’s been dredged from bedrooms and broadcasters is an absolute highlight, and you get the impression that you’re watching something that hasn’t seen the light of day for more than a decade.
But of course, this is a scene populated by larrikins, and like all good larrikins they’ve got more than a few epic yarns up their sleeves. As it turns out, Australian bands aren’t above breaking into radio stations and demanding the DJs play their records at gunpoint. And there’s something so endearing about seeing some of the biggest names in the local heavy music scene conducting interviews in pubs or at their day jobs.
While the film spends the better part of its three- hour runtime talking about bands that broke the mould and helped define the local scene, it hands over a few minutes here and there to significant events like Metal for the Brain and the growing support of community radio. But they really don’t get the focus they deserve, as Metal Down Under is clearly focused on the bands.
Even so, Calpakdjian tries to cover all the bases while keeping the focus on the bands, wearing a few topics thin and confusing the overall point of the film. After a while the timeline falls apart, becoming a disjointed series of conversations thinly held together by general topics that often drift into uninformative band worship.
Of course like any documentary, there will be the post- screening rants about who or what wasn’t included. But bias aside, it’s hard to ignore the lack of women in the film. This was an excellent opportunity to break down the gender stereotypes, but with just three female appearances, it also feels like a wasted opportunity.
With no coherent timeline, it’s difficult to work out what Metal Down Under is trying to achieve. Nevertheless, the stories it brings together are significant enough to leave you with a partial understanding of a music scene that’s been largely ignored by many, but sorely adored by a dedicated few.