Pagan Metal: A Documentary

(Bill Zebub Productions/MVD Visual 2009)Pagan Metal: A Documentary -

The combination of metal and various European countries' culture and music has resulted in the interesting subgenre of pagan metal. Also known as folk metal, it's a style that has made a major splash in Europe but not much of a ripple across the pond, despite is lengthy existence. Pagan metal's history and practices almost beg to be explained and explored, but "Pagan Metal: A Documentary" isn't quite that type of film.

As soon as the DVD begins, you're treated to a handful of previews of extremely dubious quality when abruptly, seemingly in mid-preview, the movie begins. There are no options. There is no menu. What follows is a no-frills, no-budget mishmash of interviews and live performance clips. There's no narration or explanation, so it's entirely up to the artists to carry the movie and make it interesting. And for the most part, they do. We get to see all the biggest European pagan metal acts, including Turisas, Tyr, Korpiklaani, Ensiferum, Finntroll and the incomparable Primordial. Most band members are funny and engaging, even when a great deal of the questions being asked them are irreverent or just plain stupid. Some of the topics kicked around are elements of pagan metal and the differentiation between bands, differences between various European countries, the United States' influence on and misunderstanding of Europe, extensive discussions on Finnish drinking culture, and an unbelievably brief oral history of pagan metal.

The overall quality is of the DVD is pretty sketchy. There isn't any sort of narrative or through-line, so the film needed to be well put together in order to prevent this from becoming a series of non sequitur sound clips, which it unfortunately is. In fact, the editing is so sloppy that the exact same 30-second interview segment is used twice in a 3 minute span. The live performances could have been used more effectively; they're mostly a minute or so long and placed at random, with one full song performance from both Finntroll ("Nattfodd") and Primordial ("The Coffin Ships"). The informative level hovers somewhere above zero, but despite all its failings, "Pagan Metal" ends up resting pretty comfortably in the entertainment value zone. This is a case of the filmmaker being bailed out by the bands, who are amusing, generally well-spoken and completely intelligible, no mean feat considering they represent about a half dozen nations. I'd love to see your average American band explain themselves in a different language.

B-

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