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"Pagan Metal: A Documentary" (DVD)

 - "Pagan Metal: A Documentary" DVD cover image

Reviewed by on November 26, 2010

"No one should hit 'play' and expect a comprehensive overview of pagan metal or to gain much insight into where it’s going."

Filmmaker Bill Zebub has a pretty specific fan base of people who don’t care about low budget productions and prefer silly, low-brow humor. Sadly he doesn’t break out of that shell much with “Pagan Metal,” with the exception of dropping a bit of the silliness. No one should hit “play” and expect a comprehensive overview of the genre or to gain much insight into where it’s going. Far from being a documentary as advertised, the movie is simply a collection of video interview snippets from folk and pagan metal bands and a scattering of live show footage.

“Pagan Metal” follows much of the same structure of the earlier “Metal Retardation” DVD (reviewed here), which consisted of Bill Zebub asking bands inane questions about nothing for a few giggles. Some of the scenes even seem like they may have been recorded at the same time but weren’t humorous enough to make the cut. The members of Turisas and Leaves Eyes are noticeably in the same locations and wearing the same clothes as in the other movie.

Even the promo materials included with the movie point out that “Pagan Metal” doesn’t actually explain a real history of that particular sub-genre of metal, which is the film’s greatest weakness. The interview questions are mostly related to why bands choose to deal with folklore, along with issues of traditional languages and the preservation of culture (which makes some of the bands rather uncomfortable). The allegations of racism and socialism that get thrown around a good deal of black and death metal bands is an important subject, but it isn’t explored too deeply.

Most of the interview segments frankly aren’t that interesting. A subject as exciting as extreme metal bands screaming about Christian priests killing followers of pagan traditions shouldn’t ever be boring, but somehow it frequently is. The only real worthwhile part of the film is watching the interactions between the band members and seeing how they live on the road. As would be expected, a member of the frequently alcohol themed Korpiklaani takes pulls straight from a bottle of liquor throughout one interview, while Finntroll is surrounded by cast off beer bottles in another. The antics in the drinking stories are definitely worth hearing for fans of the more folk-oriented bands. There are also a few little gems in the interviews, like when Ensiferum proclaims “Don’t call us Viking metal or I’ll kick your ass!” or Korpiklaani’s bemused observation “Why would anybody hate Finland? Finland is like the Canada of Europe.”

There’s not much in “Pagan Metal” that couldn’t be learned by reading or watching other interviews with the bands online, and it doesn’t do much to actually show the style’s evolution or highlight its major players. Folk metal fanatics may get something out of seeing their heroes discuss various issues, but the hour and a half of meandering questions, along with the overall low quality, make this one easy to skip.

Highs: Some of the drinking stories are amusing, bands explain some of the workings of Europe that North American fans may not be familiar with.

Lows: The live clips are far too long, the interviews aren't that interesting, and it explains essentially nothing of the history of the genre.

Bottom line: A collection of interviews with folk and pagan metal bands that doesn't come close to actually being a documentary on the subject.

Rated 2 out of 5 skulls
2 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)