Metal doc series connects Elvis to Metallica ... to Nickelback?
Published Friday, November 25, 2011 7:11AM EST
TORONTO - The target audience for the 11-part documentary series "Metal Evolution" is a pretty specific head-banging demographic that's already familiar with the history of the heavy genre from AC/DC to Metallica and Zakk Wylde.
And yet the Canadian-made show has landed screen time on MuchMore, which has the likes of Katy Perry, Bruno Mars, Beyonce and Britney Spears topping its current chart of videos.
Show co-creators Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen say it was a lot easier to sell this series (which first began airing in the U.S. on VH1 Classic) than it was to get buyers' attention with their first big project, the documentary "Metal: A Headbanger's Journey."
Dunn and McFadyen -- who received a Grammy nomination for 2010's "Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage" -- say they've proven there's a sizable audience for serious programming about heavy metal and how it's affected and been affected by other music genres.
"When we told people we wanted to make a serious film about heavy metal (seven years ago) we got laughed out of a lot of boardrooms, people didn't really think it was something that could be done and actually could engage an audience," Dunn says.
"VH1 Classic has been really supportive of our work in the U.S. and I think they recognized that provided you can kind of tie in a lot of the classic bands, like Kiss and Aerosmith and Van Halen, and touch on some of the more recent bands, they recognize there's an audience out there."
The idea for the show, co-produced by MuchMore and VH1 Classic, was based on the reaction to a family tree of heavy metal that the filmmaking duo presented in their first documentary, charting how the music of Elvis Presley, the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix connected to the various metal subgenres of today.
"There were a lot of people we were really excited to interview, some unlikely characters for a series about heavy metal," Dunn says, giving Dick Dale, the '60s-era "King of the Surf Guitar," as a prime example.
"He was really the first guitarist to create that rapid picking sort of intense sound and we sort of speculated, 'Well, I wonder if surf music has anything to do with heavy metal?' Lo and behold, when we started to talk to musicians, guys like Sammy Hagar ... a lot of musicians really loved the intensity of that music.
"The sound is the same as it is if you go and see a death metal band today. There's Dick Dale in contemporary death metal, believe it or not, and those are the kinds of connections we wanted to make."
Another somewhat unlikely connection to heavy metal -- which the filmmakers are expecting may cause a bit of a kerfuffle with fans of the genre -- is Canada's much-maligned bestselling rockers Nickelback.
The band is profiled during an episode about the aftermath of the grunge movement in the '90s and how the likes of Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden influenced hard rock.
"Grunge is a good example of those musical styles where half the people you ask will say it's totally metal and the other half will say it's got nothing to do with metal," says Dunn.
"That's really the question we ask in that episode, is grunge part of the story of metal?"
If it is, it's hard to dispute Nickelback isn't part of the conversation, given that the band began dominating the radiowaves in the years after grunge's demise.
"This show is about the evolution of sound and who did those grunge bands influence? Really, the next generation are bands like Nickelback, Creed and Silverchair, all these bands that came up in the late '90s that had hallmarks of the grunge sound but were creating something a little more mainstream, a little more radio-friendly," says Dunn, who was raised in Victoria.
It was impossible to ignore Nickelback's impact on hard rock music, McFadyen says, even if metal fans think the band is the antithesis of what they're into.
"Nickelback is a band people like to bash but they are great performers and they do kind of come out of that grunge influence and build on it," he says.
"People do bash them a lot and that's what's kind of interesting too. You look at bands like Kiss and Nickelback and, love them or not, they're a people's band, they sell out and sell records and Kiss was the same way. "
Dunn says he's ready to hear from metalheads who don't agree with their assessment of Nickelback's place in metal history.
"The easy way is to bash these bands but the fact of the matter is that they do come from somewhere and yeah, you may not like the lyrics, you may think they're just a cash grab ... but they are part of the story of hard rock and heavy metal."
"But let's be real," adds Mississauga Ont.-born McFadyen, "out of 11 hours we're talking (about Nickelback) a couple of minutes."
"Metal Evolution" premieres on MuchMore on Friday at 10 p.m. ET with the first two episodes in the series.