CFF 2017: Blekkmetal review

In 2015, Spotify did a study of listener genre loyalty, which revealed that Heavy Metal fans are the most dedicated to their own genre. It’s no surprise, really- everyone has at least a few metalhead friends who refuse to listen to anything else. And few other genres have as much of a puritan streak when it comes to whether or not the music is “real” or “false,” as far as stylistic rules go. It’s a ravenous scene, and one that has spread to practically every country all over the world.

Around the same time Spotify released their study, four Canadian filmmakers traveled to the Norwegian coastal city of Bergen, to document a once in a lifetime gathering of classic Scandinavian black metal acts (Enslaved, Taake, Old Funeral, and more). The fest was called Blekkmetal. The idea was, as an opening scroll tells us, to gather old heads together with new heads, to bring things back to a “pre-1994” state of mind. As the various subjects tell us, the 90’s were a tense time in the scene, as church burning connected with various black metal bands created a media circus around the genre and its alleged connections to satanic worship. But there was, of course, a lot more to the world than church burning. Enter Blekkmetal. The documentary showcases an event that feels very much like a class reunion. No main interview subject appears to be under the age of forty. Covered in tattoos and piercings, Blekkmetal provides us a window into the live of a number of black metal lifers.

One of the great things that Blekkmetal has going for it is a clear sense of structure. After a twenty minute opening period, where we get to know the history of the town of Bergen and its connections to black metal, the music begins. The rest of the doc alternates between a live performance of a song from a different band, and a brief interview or two. We always know what’s coming next. Yet an even greater strength of the film is its crisp, clear digital cinematography. I can’t remember the last music documentary that looked this striking, this pleasant to the eyes.

The live performances look especially riveting. I imagine that director David Hall and fellow producers Vivek Venkatesh, Jason Wallin and Owen Chapman, knew they had to do something special to fuse these performances with cinematic appeal. They employed the use of live illustration, adding texture and flare to the whole affair. Some performances become split screened with gorgeous, trippy sepia toned shots of the town. Some have actual hand drawn recreations of the performances transposed over the footage. And they’re all shot from pretty much the same vantage point- dead center at the front of the stage.

Metalheads are going to love these scenes. Especially the performance from Gaahls Wyrd, a relatively new Norwegian act featuring legendary frontman Gaahl (Gorgoroth, Trelldom, Gaahlskag). For nine showstopping minutes, accompanied by a backing group dressed up in full gothic garb, the band vamps on one chord, while employing handcranked smoke machines and lighting goblets of fire. It’s enough to make you want to hide your children in a closet somewhere, or wake them up to come watch with you. It’s also enough to pique the interest of even the coldest metal agnostic (or infuriate anyone offended by its suggestive presentation).
Blekkmetal will have its Philly premiere Wednesday, April 19 during the Cinedelphia Film Festival. Event details and tickets available here.

Author: Andy Elijah

I am a musician and music therapist who loves movies too. Raised in Maryland, I have been proud to call Philadelphia home for five years. Sounds can be heard at Baker Man and Drew. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd

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