Metalhead (Málmhaus)

Director: Ragnar Bragason
Released: 2013
Language: Icelandic & English
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Rating: 3/5
Review by Demitri Levantis

Warning: Spoilers!!

Iceland, like all other Scandinavian countries, exports countless tons of heavy metal music every year, so it is inevitable that said genre is the topic of films, as is the case for this coming-of-age drama set in the early nineties in a rural part of the nation, outside of Rekjavik.

Our hero, Hera (Thora Bjorg Helga) witnesses the tragic death of her brother, Baldur (Óskar Logi Ágústsson) at the age of 12 and after his funeral inherits his record collection, which inspires her to take up the guitar and make her own metal. Having grown up into a young woman who lives and breathes the “evil” music in a small knit Christian community, Hera is looked upon as the local Satanist and her parents begin enlisting the help of the church to change her ways.

Despite it being her ambition to leave for the city, Hera stays put on her family’s milk farm and causes chaos by lashing out at her neighbours and ex-friends who look upon her as a weirdo. This series of bad behaviour leads to her hearing about the church burnings committed by the Norwegian Black Metal scene in 1993 and she follows suit after her local priest, Janus (Sveinn Ólafur Gunnarsson) angers her.

Following the arson, Hera then leaves home for the mountains but is brought back to her community who slowly begin to realise it is her family’s grief from Baldur’s death that has led to Hera’s behaviour. Her mother and father (Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson, Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir) are given their own storyline where they realise, they are still hurting from the tragedy and slowly grow to accept their daughter for who she is.

Eventually, a record label from Norway turns up at her family farm saying they want to put Hera’s music out on their label, having received one of her demo tapes. This leads to Hera ditching her on-off partner Knutur (Hannes Óli Ágústsson) and following her dream to become a black metal musician – eventually playing her first gig to a rather unorthodox audience.

Overall, this is a drama that does not require a big understanding of the metal culture to be viewed and enjoyed by a wide audience. Metalhead is less of a story educating the outside world about metal culture, but more about how life in a remote and isolated community can make people do things that end up on the news in such countries. Black metal is not a major theme of this film as it only enters in the final act, so anyone fuming that this flick is messing with the trve kvlt status of the genre need not be dismayed.

What intrigued me the most about this film was the excellent cinematography that illustrates the vastness and loneliness of a nation like Iceland, where life is little more than feudal – given how Hera is amazed at a microwave in one scene.

If you’re looking for a film that explains just how boring life in such a country can be and why Scandinavia is the birth-place of some of the angriest and bitterest music imaginable, I’d recommend this film. If I were to compare it to the only other film that covers black metal, Lord of Chaos (2019), Metalhead scores higher in showcasing the backgrounds of said musicians rather than romanticizing their criminal actions for the sake of spin.

I feel the director was making it clear that Iceland should be proud of its creativity, regardless of where it stems and what it takes to come about, so Metalhead is worth looking at just to see what musicians like Hera go through just to find a different life to that of their parents.