MA 15+ Animus In­dus­tries

Blunt - - In Review - with Peter Zaluzny

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.

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