Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey follows metal fanboy and anthropologist Sam Dunn as he attempts to uncover why metal evokes antagonism from non-fans. Dunn breaks down the various metal subcategories – he begins by noting early metal acts such as Blue Cheer and Black Sabbath, tracing their influence to power, thrash, and black metal. He then begins to cite modern metal acts, including Norwegian black metal bands that are sure to send chills down any metal fan’s spine.
Through his journey, Dunn displays sincerity in his subject matter. He bridges together his academic career and his love for metal into a loving union. This becomes problematic, particularly once the film winds down. Given the enormity of his subject matter, there’s an inherent lack of focus and commitment to some of the issues he tackles. The image of gender in metal is briefly touched upon, but not given much thought. While Dunn does a fine job analyzing the lyrics of a variety of metal acts as a possible source of antipathy, he surprisingly doesn’t look very closely into the composition of the music itself as an indicator of dislike.
Much like the problems with Greg Olliver’s Lemmy, Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey felt more like a series of anecdotes than an academic approach to answering a question. Still, there’s a bit more of an underlying focus here, and most of all, the metal world has an endless supply of compelling figures to at least keep it entertaining.