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Anthropologist Sam Dunn Discusses Constructing "Metal Evolution: The Lost Episode, Extreme Metal"

Photo of Autopsy

Band Photo: Autopsy (?)

Anthropologist Sam Dunn and Banger Films have documented the history and evolution of rock’s ugly cousin, heavy metal. “Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey” (2005) broke down metal’s various styles in a heavy metal family tree, and explained through exhaustive research and interviews, the construction and progression of each style. Although the film played on network television outlets such as VH1 Classic, an hour-and-a-half film is a mere scratch on the shield of heavy metal history.

After releasing a stint of award-winning films such as “Iron Maiden: Flight 666,” and “Rush: Behind the Stage,” Banger Films returned to metal lineage, this time securing a contract with VH1 Classic to release a season of “Metal Evolution: The Series.” Each week Sam and his crew presented an hour-long segment focusing on a single sub-genre. Dunn documented everything from the prototype bands that influenced metal’s loud and raucous nature to Black Sabbath’s rise, eventually landing on newer styles such as Nu Metal and Power Metal (‘80s German to modern Finnish symphonic).

Even though Banger Films released eleven episodes, there were still major holes in the series. Viewers reached out to the film company and asked why the network didn’t release episodes on extreme metal branches such as black metal, death metal and grindcore. The simple answer is none of the networks felt those topics were suitable for television.

Now Dunn and Banger Films have set out to create “The Lost Episode,” a segment devoted to extreme metal. Metal Underground.com called Sam Dunn to discuss how he and his crew plans to write, film, finance and release “Metal Evolution Episode 12: The Lost Episode, Extreme Metal.”

Darren Cowan (Rex_84): Interviews about creating “The Lost Episode” started yesterday. When did you start the IndieGoGo campaign?

Sam Dunn: We launched the IndieGoGo campaign last week. The back story on it is we did the series “Metal Evolution,” which was eleven episodes on the history of metal. It did really well on VH1 Classic and on networks around the world. The feedback we got, though, was extreme metal was missing. I kind of felt the same way, but this sub-genre pushed things over the edge for their viewers. We’re doing the IndieGoGo campaign because, clearly, there is an appetite for it. We think it’s important to the story of metal history, so here we are.

Cowan: When VH1 Classic showed your film “Metal Evolution: A Headbanger’s Journey,” it exposed bands at a level never seen before. I point to the Autopsy bit for an example.

Dunn: For us, death metal isn’t really as obscure as people think it is. You ask a lot of young fans today, most of them are into heavier bands. They’re pushing this form of music to metal’s outer edge. When you’re doing a show about the evolution of metal, it seems kind of criminal to talk about extreme metal. To the outsider, it may sound like a bunch of noise, but it’s testing the boundaries for the people who love this form of music. In a way, that’s what metal has always been about, in terms of music. It pushes the boundaries of speed, intensity and volume of music. Ever since Sabbath, that’s kind of what it’s been about. We just think that extreme metal deserves to be part of it.

Cowan: When the series ended, I was a bit disappointed because there wasn’t a black, death or, speaking of Sabbath, doom metal episode. Do you have a doom metal documentary in the works?

Dunn: That’s a good question. We’ve already gotten a lot of feedback from the campaign. People asked “where is the doom metal?” I think that’s something we have to take into consideration. Just from my vantage point, I never really included doom in the umbrella of extreme metal.

Cowan: Not so much under the extreme-metal umbrella but under its own umbrella.

Dunn: For sure, and we do have our own sub-genre. It’s on the heavy metal family tree that we created. The same thing can be said for industrial metal. We have people asking “where is that episode?” We would like to do those episodes as well, but I guess we felt that extreme metal was the one thing that has the LOUDEST rebellion [laughs]. It was the one that was by-far the one that most people felt was missing from the series, so we’re trying to respond to what people have told us.

Cowan: Texas is one place you didn’t mention visiting. Rigor Mortis was the first death metal band to release an album through a major label. Devourment is a key band in the slam movement.

Dunn: Definitely, Rigor Mortis. That’s a great point. I remember those guys and I had their early demos when I was a teenager. I think it’s a good point because those moments are important for the story, those moments where there is a significant jump in the movement. A death metal band signing to a major label is a momentous occasion.

Cowan: Bolt Thrower is on the bill for Chaos in Tejas 2013. Is Bolt Thrower a band you plan on talking to?

They are definitely on the list because they tend to get lumped in with grind core. They tend to get lumped into with bands like Napalm Death and Carcass. If there were a big three of grindcore, Bolt Thrower would definitely be in there. I can’t make any promises, but I certainly think they are important.

Cowan: What is the plan for making the episode? Can you go into detail about where and how you would like to release it?

Dunn: Once we get to a point where we can see the finish line on the campaign, we’ll spend a few weeks researching and writing for the episode. We’ll develop kind of a treatment that maps out the story. Then, we’ll start booking interviews. We’ll go out and spend two-to-three weeks filming the episode. We’ll go out into different parts of the world like Florida, San Francisco, Norway, Sweden and the UK. Then, we’ll bring that material back in and spend about eight weeks editing the episode. We’re looking, ideally, around April for the release date. At this point, we’re looking at an online or digital release because this hasn’t been supported by a broadcast. It’s up to us for how we want to do it. We’ve talked about releasing it in five separate sections over the course of five weeks, rather than releasing it all at once. That might be kind of cool to get the buzz going and get people waiting for the next episode. That’s all in discussion right now.

Cowan: With the Internet being what it is now, many sites are doing premieres, really helping out with promotions. I saw Metal Sucks listed on your Vimeo videos. Would you possibly release it through them or Metal Injection?

Dunn: Yeah, those guys are super supportive. I would like to give you a firm answer on that, but we’re in the early stages.

Cowan: I just wondered if it were a viable option?

Dunn: It certainly is. This is something that is new to us. We have never done a crowd-funded campaign before. We’ve always done it the more traditional way. We’re learning that we have to be open to all possibilities and listen to people who do have experience doing this kind of model. We’re totally open to working with different websites to get the episode out there.

Cowan: Seems like some of those bands would help out with travel cost, considering the amount of exposure each artist stands to get.

Dunn: One thing we’ve talked is if we don’t make the full amount, we may go to some of the labels and companies that work with extreme metal to chip in some additional money. Brian Slagel, the head of Metal Blade records, is a good friend and big supporter of us and has been in a couple of our films. He has been very helpful in spreading the word and bringing people together to point out that this is very important. It may turn out that we could go to some of the labels and companies and say, “Hey, we aren’t quite there yet. Can you guys chip in a little more?” Really, as you say, this episode is going to benefit the bands. It will probably bring more attention to these bands than anything else. We want this to be a big exposure for these bands because love this music. We think it deserves it.

Cowan: Have you dealt with many egos that put up road blocks to your questions?

Dunn: Rock and metal is full of egos. That’s the short answer. So, definitely yes. You always run into situations where people are trying to protect their selves or not disclose certain information. That’s a casualty of what we do. I’m thankful that I’ve never been in a situation where an ego has gotten in the way of what we want to do. Whether it’s ego or not, I’m not sure. We really wanted Led Zeppelin to be part of the Metal Evolution. I think that was less about ego and more about them not really having a positive opinion about heavy metal. They don’t like to be categorized as a metal band. Inevitably, there are errors where you struggle with bands that don’t want to be cast in a certain light.

I’ve never met a band that likes to be categorized. From the get go, it’s always a bit of a challenge. I think we try to overcome that by just being informed about what we do—doing our research and recognizing that just because we’re calling a band a “death metal” band doesn’t mean we are limiting them or casting certain judgment on them. We’re just trying to understand where they fit in the lineage of this music. Ultimately, we find it important to demonstrate that metal is an important part of music history. That’s why we were doing the series. It isn’t some sort of obscure offshoot: it’s part of the evolution of music. It’s been that way almost since the Second World War. Anyway, we just try to be smart and respectful. Most of the time that works out for us. [laughs]

Cowan: I asked that question as a lead in to talk about the Necrobutcher (Mayhem) interview. He was irate. He swore a bunch and flipped his middle finger. I wonder what got him so stirred up.

Dunn: Alcohol and also not knowing who we were. I think he thought we were just another student film project. He didn’t think the interview would be reaching the thousands of people that it did. You can put that down to maybe the manager not giving him the right information or maybe he didn’t ask the right questions about who we were. I don’t know. I can understand: a lot of those black metal bands have been beat up and dragged through the mud. We were aware that asking questions about the church burnings wasn’t something they wanted to talk about. We knew we were up against that challenge. I think the case with Necrobutcher was that he was fired up and didn’t know who he was talking to. I don’t think it backfired, though, because now a lot more people know who Necrobutcher is now that he was on TV.

Rex_84's avatar

An avid metal head for over twenty years, Darren Cowan has written for several metal publications and attended concerts throughout various regions of the U.S.

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