Blood, Sweat + Vinyl is a brand new doc that follows three influential metal/dark heavy music labels that don’t fit the mold of what most consider the music to be. It provides a window into the ethos of the labels and what they hold most valuable, which is of course the music.
First let me start with a confession. I am a metalhead. I’ll admit it. Metal constitutes 97% of what I listen to on a daily basis all the way back from I was a wee lad. It’s a genre that has been vilified in film and television, from politicians and preachers to parents and teachers all the way to peers. And sure there’s good reason for that. Its a genre of music that’s created to play as a soundtrack to the emotionally and psychologically damaged. It’s rebellious and loud. For an outsider it’s angry hateful music that glorifies death, violence and sexism. Juvenile and potentially dangerous, it truly is the pornography of the rock world. But for every Slayer and Cannibal Corpse there’s a Mastodon or an Isis that proves metal doesn’t have to fit into any preordained mold. Most people just don’t get it. Those that do often never give it up. Every time I go to a concert there’s always a few contingents of codgers rocking out with their viagra’d cocks out.
I’ve always taken offense to the condescending attitudes of “normal” people in regards to what I think is the most diverse form of music on the planet. My love of metal goes hand in hand with my love of bizarre, beautiful, unique and exploitative cinema. I can find beauty and power in them that I guess most folks just don’t see/hear. I tell you all this not to blow my own horn, but so you know where I’m coming from and who I am before you read my review. It’s important for you to know that I am a part of the metal scene, and used to be heavily involved and interested in the specific genres represented within the doc. I know who these people are, have met and even worked for some of them and have seen many of the bands represented live. Got it? Good. Let’s continue.
Blood, Seat + Vinyl covers Hydra Head Records, Neurot Recordings, Constellation Records and interviews the label heads as well as the bands that have found a home on them. We hear about the whys of the labels’ starting and not so much the hows. Over 20 bands are interviewed, giving their honest reasons for why they do what they do and why they’re on the labels they’re on. The question is asked, “why do this?” Why put out this music? A label will never be rich and powerful putting out metal or any kind of heavy, dark music. Never. There’s no money in it compared to pop and rap, so clearly being a millionaire isn’t on these dudes’bucket list. Beyond that there’s even less money in avant-garde stuff that isn’t easily categorized and genre-fied. Isis rocked it for more than 10 years and still there’s no easy qualifier for what it is they played. Same thing for Neurosis. It’s all for the sake of art and personal expression of complex ideas and ideals. That’s right. Musicians not playing music just to get chicks and beer. They intentionally play non-commercial music that stirs their souls rather than fills their pockets. That is the primary reason for my obsession with heavy dark music. These dudes will never grace the covers of famous mags, never be looked to as idols. They’re in the trenches getting dirty, digging deeper and searching for something. I’ve always been one of the few that loves to crawl in there after them hoping to get a glimpse and what they see.
So the question is, is the doc any good? Yes. Yes it is. We get to see tons of rare live performance footage from a whole host of bands that cover and straddle many genres. The audience gets to see just how intense their live performances are; how engaged the musicians are when on stage performing their craft. Often these bands are misunderstood until they actually perform live. I remember seeing Isis tour on their first full length way back in 2001 with Napalm Death, Soilent Green, Cephalic Carnage and Benumb up at the Pound in San Francisco. Isis were the odd men out; everything else was all about speed and brutality and yet the crowd loved em. For most it was their first exposure to the band and they all got it. They understood what they were doing and the energy in the room was amazing. Had they simply heard the record and not experienced it live, they wouldn’t have been so receptive. The inclusion of Constellation Records’ post-rock/indie art output is a welcome addition to the more electrified metal half of Neurot and Hydrahead, but we still see how all these artists, labels, and musicians can all fit alongside each other. They don’t play the same music but they’re all creating interesting, soulful, heavy, intense music. It’s a wonderful showcase of just how broad the spectrum can be and that genre qualifiers don’t do a justice. Calling Godspeed You! Black Emperor an instrumental post rock band doesn’t even come close to explaining their complexity, and the same goes for simply calling Isis metal. It also shows the level of musicianship involved with making this kind of music. Sure these guys can play all sorts of music; they’ve got the chops. In one hilarious scene Constellation band Do Make Say Think starts to play Slayer’s Raining Blood as a joke. They can play complex music that requires fretboard acrobatics but they choose not to. It doesn’t suit their artistic view.
If you’re interested in witnessing unique artistic expression through maximum volume and minimal interference check out Blood, Sweat + Vinyl. It’s a film that shows us the DIY spirit is still alive and well, and didn’t die after the 1977 punk boom. It’s always been there, creeping under the radar waiting to be found by those willing to look. Thanks to this doc, it’s a little easier to find and appreciate for those of you who thought metal was just about leather, spikes, and homoerotic imagery.
One final note. I personally listen to a lot of the “non-artistic” metal that often generates the bad wrap. For me, it’s a lot fun and I can’t get enough. New Exhumed record anyone? One thing this doc made me realize though, was that in my younger more formative years I was more willing to listen to challenging music. The musicians showcased here make music that requires participation and a level of engagement that most music does not. I realize now that lately I’ve been listening to lazy music. No, the musicians making the music aren’t lazy, but they don’t require much investment from their listener. I have become lazy when it comes to music and thanks to this doc I believe I will be reinvesting into heavy music and open myself up to be challenged again. Thanks guys, for kicking my ass.