Hall, David, Venkatesh, Vivek, & Wallin, Jason
Blekk Metal (Film Review)
Released: 2017, Indie
This is one of the more interesting film reviews that I have done for Metal-Rules.com. Normally I review a DVD so I can take my time and discuss the various merits of the film in question. However, this review of this movie is based a rare and special live screening.
BLEKK METAL was screened once only at the Boundaries & Ties Metal Conference held at the University of Victoria in Victoria, B.C. on June 11th, 2017. It was the final event of three day long academic Metal conference co-sponsored in part by UVic Metal Studies and the ISMMS (International Society For Metal Music Studies). The film has been screened elsewhere but quite infrequently, and it is an evolutionary work in progress, the producers in attendance at the event said they had not even seen the final cut yet!
Filmed in 2015 in Bergen, Norway the film documents a very special Metal festival. It was a small gathering of some early Black Metal bands and fans who put on a concert, art, and tattoo festival in an attempt to revisit the past; no pretensions, no media circus, just old friends who were there in the beginning of the Black Metal scene. (ie. early 90’s Norway). On a couple of occasions the film was referred to as a ‘home movie’. I'm confident many of the people involved would express disdain at the term 'scene'!
In terms of technical quality, the film certainly had a home-movie like quality, it was a rough cut for sure with some grainy shots and uneven sound levels, but those minor issues may (or may not) be corrected in post-production. Even if they are never corrected it would really matter it is supposed to be raw. The concert film has a full performance from each of the following bands; Enslaved, Taake, Aeternus, Gehenna, Helheim, Old Funeral, Kampfar, Hades Almighty and Gaahls Wyrd. Inter spliced is some commentary about the area of Bergen, (Pop: est: 275,000) and many interviews with various members of the scene, original artists, label owners, musicians, tattoo artists.
The film avoids the trap of regurgitating information about the infamous the crimes committed by people in the Metal music scene in Norway in the early 90’s. It dispenses with that historical narrative with a quick visual nod to some of the events very early on and them moves us forward about a quarter of a century quite rapidly into the festival. You can see and hear some of the passion that still burns within the people who were involved in the festival. The whole film is low-key and oddly quiet in tone and intensity, despite the performances. Perhaps it is the quiet nature of the Norwegians. The three Canadians involved (Hall, Venkatesh, Wallin) seemed to take a subdued approach, remaining off camera, letting the people being interviewed just speak from the heart; no objectives, no agenda, no message or moralizing. In that sense, unless you are a true Black Metal fan, with a bit of an understanding the scene dynamics, this movie might not be all that interesting to watch.
I personally found BLEKK METAL fascinating. I was drawn back in time, ever-so-briefly, that as a Canadian fan vicariously watching the events of Norway in the early 90’s (from the safety of my urban Vancouver home 7000 km away though album purchases and bits of information gleaned from fanzines) I felt what it might have been like to see those bands in those early shows in tiny venues where it was just the few. Watching BLEKK METAL reinforces thoughts and feelings I have today when watching bands like Dimmu Borgir or Immortal play the monster European festival stages of Wacken (etc) on DVD. These concerts are high-production value, multi-camera, pyrotechnical, HD shoots in front of 70,000 fans waving flags and bouncing beach-balls around. It doesn’t seem right somehow, perhaps too far removed from what is once was. This festival was and is the true underground and a family reunion and seems to my eye to capture what it was like back then. It is unlikely the festival will continue, that would defeat the purpose.
The filmmakers say the movie is not intended for the commercial market. Meaning currently there are no plans for a release on DVD, Blu-Ray or various streaming services. You can’t even find this on-line so the only way to enjoy BLEKK METAL is to see it at a film festival. I think that is the way it should be. The main participants are, perhaps rightly so, a bit gun-shy of media attention, especially from sensationalistic outlets who sought to capitalize or even glamorize the non-musical related events and activities of musicians who were essentially what were teenagers at the time. Now they gather quietly to celebrate a lifestyle of art, music and tattoos and fortunately someone was on hand to respectfully document this important event. If you get a chance to see BLEKK METAL at your local film Fest do not miss out!