Pagan Metal: A Documentary
by Trevor Portz
With the current surge in popularity of the very broadly defined Pagan Metal scene, it was only a matter of time before a documentary would surface attempting to chronicle the genre. Unlike the Black Metal scene from which many Pagan bands emerged, this scene—encompassing everything from the folk metal stylings of Otyg to Turisas’ self-defined “battle metal”—has managed to incorporate some of the more over-the-top visual and stylistic aspects of Black Metal, but without many of the negative connotations. Instead of focusing on the dark and macabre, these bands often rely on European history, fantasy themes, and (in the case of Korpiklaani) drinking to carry forth their brand of metal. Pagan Metal: A Documentary consists of interviews with a handful of notable bands from within the scene, and though fun and informative to a point, serves less as a true documentary of the genre, and more as a snapshot of a few bands’ histories and world views.
Most of the interviews contained on this DVD take place in and around various bands’ stops at B.B. King’s Blues Club in New York. Thus, the majority of the interviews come from bands that have made it to the US, namely Primordial, Korpiklaani, Fintroll, Turisas, and Ensiferum. The interviews are broken up and jump from band to band showing each groups’ answers to similar questions. Breaking from Bill Zebub’s trademark style of asking silly, sarcastic questions, most are fairly serious, dealing with everything from cultural history to nationalism.
With Ireland’s Primordial (and German/Norwegian mix Leaves’ Eyes) as the odd-men-out, the majority of the featured bands hail from Finland, and as such, a large portion of the DVD deals with Finnish history and heritage. We learn of Finland’s vague religious past (due to little written language prior to the 16th century), and find that many of the bands dislike the rapid Westernization of their homeland. Their critique of the influx of McDonald’s restaurants seems rather at odds with the fact that their [street] clothes and instruments, among other things, are clearly Western in design and manufacture. One wonders how historically “Finnish” the bands actually live in their day-to-day lives. What is clear, however, is that most of the musicians profiled are very aware of their history, and are doing their part to preserve it musically and lyrically.
Though most interviewees came off as reasonably intelligent and interesting, Primordial vocalist A.A. Nemtheanga comes out on top, being extremely well spoken and knowledgeable about Ireland’s history, both economic and sociologic, and giving credence to the fact that metalheads are often very socially aware. He spoke extensively of Ireland’s ongoing economic struggles, as well as the current issues being faced by the nation in the educational sector and job markets. This gives fans new insight into the band’s lyrical content, and helps illustrate how many of the emotions expressed in Primordial’s music can be felt in nations the world over.
While the interviews are educational and interesting, what they tend not to do is paint a picture of the scene as a whole. Little is said regarding the history of the genre—its rise from Black and Power Metal, and incorporation of themes first touched on by groups such as Bathory—which would have been appropriate for a documentary. Additionally, only a tiny portion of the scene is represented here, thus only a small part of the larger picture is revealed. Logistically, perhaps it was too difficult to interview other key bands from the scene—Eluvietie, Kampfar, and Moonsorrow to name a few—but acknowledging the vastness of the scene would have been desirable.
Additionally, the title “pagan metal” is a bit of a misnomer, as few of the bands actually deal with paganism from a religious standpoint, and the name seems more likely to do with the fact that they aren’t Christians. While “pagan metal” isn’t entirely inaccurate, “folk metal” would seem more appropriate as it more closely describes the bands from both a lyrical and musical standpoint. But nomenclature aside, the genre seems to be getting ever more popular, and new bands a popping up every day. Whether this will be detrimental remains to be seen, but if the
But hey, this is supposed to be a review of a DVD, not the scene in general, and with that in mind, Pagan Metal: A Documentary is an interesting look into a small corner of the pagan metal pantheon, but will certainly be more interesting to those already into it, and is unlikely to do much for outsiders. It simply does not get deep enough into the origins of pagan metal, nor does it cover many of the biggest players involved. Then again, perhaps this is merely mirroring the poorly recorded Finnish history that is discussed within, and instead will serve as an important first attempt at documenting a current metal trend.
Label: Bill Zebub Productions
Hardrock Haven rating: 6.1/10