As you've probably noted from scanning through the blog and through the podcast, I'm a big fan of the heavier music genres. Industrial, metal, etc.
So when Nathalia from Explore Music (the lovely woman who posts my articles, puts up with my emails and is generally very nice) dropped me an email letting me know about a documentary on Norwegian Black Metal called Until the Light Takes Us, was coming to Toronto for a limited engagement, I dropped Guesthole and State of Affairs head honcho, Alex an email about taking a look at it. That was soon followed by Adam joining us and we were set.
I'm not a huge black metal fan. What I do like, post black metal purists wouldn't. But I've always been interested in the subculture and legend that surrounds the beginnings of the genre. Suicide, murder, a crap load of church burnings, these guys were supposedly insane.
In fact, I'm willing to bet a lot of you out there aren't sure what is black metal. Well it's dark, it's loud and surprisingly a bit symphonic.
Here's an example
Until The Light Takes Us tries to bring the viewer into that world and subculture. We end up following two people in particular; Gylve “Fenriz” Nagell from Darkthrone and Varg Vikernas of Burzum. Varg is the more well known of the two having been convicted of burning a couple of churches as well as the murder of Mayhem guitarist Oystein “Euronymous” Aarseth.
Now content wise, the filmmakers made a good choice in following these two guys. Nagell is all about the music. He seems to have very little interest in the politics of the time or the subculture that surrounded black metal beyond the music and the guys he knew in other bands. Varg on the other hand seems to be a lot about the politics and ideals of an anti Christian movement and the music is a bit secondary.
This brings us into an interesting world where we see both sides of black metal. We see both the art and the politics. We hear about how the music got started and we hear from Varg's mouth his version of Euronymous's murder.
Unfortunately where this film fails is in the editing.
Now I'll be fair. Until the Light Takes Us is currently a “festival” film. It's playing in a variety of small markets and film festivals around the world so there is a chance this isn't the final edit of the film although we didn't have any indication that this wasn't the final cut.
While a lot of the information content is very good, the film goes into these side tracks that don't really have anything to do with the main subject. There's a sizable chunk the follows an artist that is doing a black metal art show. Sure when Nagell checks out the exhibition, it's worth noting but the fact the film follows this artist beyond that takes away from the rest of the film and is a bit annoying. Why are we following this artist when there's so much more of the black metal culture to explore. Even small simple question like “why corpse paint was introduced?” are ignored. A majority of the black metal bands wear it, we do find out the Mayhem singer Dead was one of if not the first to wear it but beyond that, there's no explanation.
Between this and the seemingly endless shots of following Nagell walking the streets of Oslo, the 90 minute film tends to drag. Alex and Adam both had a hard time staying awake during portions of the film and I don't blame either of them.
Part of the problem, especially in terms of metal, is we've been spoiled by a great doc called Metal: A Headbanger's Journey. It's a great documentary on all genres of metal that is very well paced and enjoyable to watch, I spent a good chunk of watching Until the Light Takes Us thinking “Man, I really wish the Metal guys had made this film.”
Now as for the soundtrack, it's a really nice mix of ambient electronic music and black metal that I really enjoyed. Apparently Boards of Canada did some of it and I'll admit, if there is ever a cd of the soundtrack, I'll pick it up.
So as far as a rating, this is a solid thumb in the middle. The interviews are great but the over all film needs an editor or six to re-work it, maybe delve back in and get some interview bits that were shortened or cut out and replace the many street scenes with them.
Alex also has a look at it over at State of Affairs for a slightly different perspective. In the meantime, here's the trailer.