In 2005, Sam Dunn, a Canadian anthropologist and metal head, released a documentary called “Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey.” It traced the history of heavy metal from its start in the late 1960s to present day and was told by the people who lived and shaped the genre. Simply put, it was a great primer for the uninitiated and validation for those that truly believe in the power of metal. Dunn then went on to craft three additional (and award winning) documentaries: 2008’s “Global Metal,” 2009’s “Iron Maiden: Flight 666” and 2010’s “Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage.” Long story short, Dunn knows what he’s talking about.
On November 11, 2011 (11/11/11 … AKA “National Metal Day”), Dunn premiered his latest work, an 11-part series being shown exclusively on VH1 Classic called “Metal Evolution.” This fascinating series digs deeper than his initial documentary and actually starts in the pre-metal days of the 1950s with the birth of rock n’ roll.
In the first episode, Dunn visits Memphis, TN and tours Sun Studios to hear all about the 1951 recording of “Rocket 88,” heralded by many to be the first rock n’ roll song/recording. He does a great job of demonstrating how and when early rock starting transforming and morphing and when it eventually spawned heavy metal. It’s not until the second episode that Dunn actually explores the origins of metal and actually breaks it up across the 2nd and 3rd episodes, dedicating one to the U.S. origins and one to U.K. origins. He then quickly moves into other permutations, dedicating episodes to the new wave of British heavy metal (NWoBHM), glam, thrash, grunge, nu metal, shock rock, power metal and progressive metal.
All the while, the anthropologist in Dunn is quick to ask questions and make connections that others that lived the history don’t always see. He’s a diplomat and it is interesting as he posits to Iron Maiden’s Steve Harris that punk drew influences from early metal and that maybe … just maybe … from the energy and the urgency of the live performances that NWoBHM drew some inspiration from punk and then watching the friendly sparring as Harris does his best to distance Maiden and the entire NWoBHM movement from punk in general. Similarly, in a later episode, it’s captivating to watch the division within Grunge, as members of Mudhoney, The Melvins and Soundgarden align their origins more with punk than metal and are shortsighted enough to categorize the entire genre in terms of the hair metal days of the early/mid 80s. It’s only Alice in Chains who wholeheartedly embrace their metal foundation.
Dunn is a visionary and tells a well-crafted tale. He doesn’t let his subject matter get off easy. He asks the touch questions and creates a product that is as entertaining as it is educational.