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NXNE 2012 Review: Så Jävla Metal – The History of Swedish Hard Rock and Heavy Metal

The intent of the NXNE festival seems to be to both inform and entertain patrons by introducing them to things they didn’t know about, or in some cases, teaching them new facts about things the patron was aware of. The film Så Jävla Metal – The History of Swedish Hard Rock and Heavy Metal accomplishes both of those tasks quite handily; it further informs the viewer about the history of Swedish metal after informing the viewer that, yes, Swedish metal music is a thing that exists.

The documentary is a comprehensive look at the history of Sweden’s contribution to both the hard rock and heavy metal scene, and the film begins its examination in the late 1960s with the band November, and continues on to include more modern acts and developments on the scene, such as Bathory’s pioneering in the genre of black metal. Despite knowing nothing about most of the subjects presented here, the film is entertaining, exhaustively examining its subjects in both modern interviews looking back, as well as archival footage of performances and interviews with the bands. The arguments brought up by many of the band members, music critics, and acts drawing influence from the scene are sound, entertaining, and occasionally very funny.

Like all documentaries, a fan of heavy metal music is likely to find the film more interesting than the casual music fan like myself, but the film does not lack entertaining moments for the newbie. The bigger names in the film provide typical rock documentary stories, like Yngwie Malmsteen’s story of drunkenly pouring a cup of his urine on a woman who did not enjoy how hard he was partying mid-flight, to stories of the band Europe dealing with their fame after the release of The Final Countdown. Perhaps the most interesting moment in the film to the casual moviegoer (read: me) will be when the members of Europe explain how it seemed like overnight their genre went from the hair metal stylings (and those of Bon Jovi, Poison, etc) to the more intense sounds of bands like Guns’N’Roses. It’s a moment that illustrates something that popular artists will go through at some point in their career, and it is something that never ceases to be interesting and engaging.

Perhaps the biggest fault in the film is just how comprehensive it all is. At a point, the documentary starts to feel a bit too long, as the last quarter of the film begins to feel episodic. While the first 90 or so minutes are a linear look at the history of the scene, the rest feels kind of like extra footage that director Yasin Hillborg simply couldn’t fit into the story. It almost feels like you’re watching DVD bonus scenes at times, except in this case they have simply been thrown onto the end of the actual film. While these scenes do tend to examine different metal sub-genres that might have taken them out of the flow of the first sections of the film, their context-free placement often makes them much more difficult for somebody who doesn’t know much about the music already to be a bit confused. The end of the film does tie everything together adequately, but it feels like the last few scenes leading up to that take the viewer out of a film that until that point flowed smoothly and enjoyably.

Så Jävla Metal is an entertaining, funny, and (mostly) well-constructed documentary on a subject I didn’t know was interesting, which is generally the highest complimentary a documentary can receive. What it lacks in production values, it makes up for in the fact that the filmmakers clearly care very much about the project, and despite some missteps it is still worth a watch for the casual and more hardcore music fan alike.

[star v=3]

Alex Stephenson

Alex is an avid film fan, with an appreciation for both low and high culture. He loves Steven Seagal movies, but he can break down all those womb metaphors in The Graduate, too.