Rush: Beyond The Lighted Stage

Rush: Beyond The Lighted Stage
Directed And Co-Written: Sam Dunn, Scot McFadyen
Produced by: Banger Films
2010
Review by Chris Galea
10/10

“I always like to consider us the world’s most popular cult band.”

(Geddy Lee in “Beyond The Lighted Stage.)

Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen have produced a string of documentaries related to Heavy Metal, such as “Global Metal” and “Iron Maiden: Flight 666”. The two are Canadian so it was no surprise that at one point they would make a feature on one of the biggest bands to emerge from Canada: Rush. The duo’s knowledge, passion and dedication for the band helps make “Beyond The Lighted Stage” an engrossing account of the history of this longstanding power trio.

The documentary starts by looking at the band’s roots in Toronto and Ontario. Geddy Lee (bass/keyboards/lead vocals) and Alex Lifeson (guitars) visit the school basement where they first performed live together and where they formed a friendship that would last a lifetime. At the same time, we get to hear audio clips of some very early recordings of Geddy and Alex, which I thought was all quite fascinating.

Both their mothers reminisce on their sons’ first steps into learning their respective crafts. They admit being befuddled as to why young Geddy and Alex were giving music so much attention but ultimately both were quite supportive of their sons’ endeavours. We learn from the documentary that both their families came from harsh background. For example, Geddy’s parents were WW2 holocaust survivors….perhaps that was partly why the band endeared itself to Kiss’ Gene Simmons (Gene’s own mother was a concentration camp survivor).

“Beyond The Lighted Stage” provides quite a comprehensive insight into the band. Amongst other things it discusses the tenure and dismissal of Rush’s first drummer, John Rutsey. Then it focuses on each band member individually in an attempt to learn more about their personalities, motivations and salient memories. The documentary then moves the spotlight onto Neil Peart who, on being recruited as Rutsey’s replacement, had just 2 weeks to learn Rush’s existing repertoire before that line-up’s first gig: in front of 11000 people supporting Uriah Heep and Manfred Mann. Of course, since then, Peart has become a benchmark for aspiring drummers around the world as well as a highly respected lyricist.

The documentary shares lots of amusing stories about life on the road with Rush. Of course it also sheds light on the band’s repertoire, such as “2112”, the crucial album that cemented Rush’s credibility with music industry boffins as well as asserting the band members’ reputation as musicians in the eyes of die-hard fans.

Meanwhile the band is forthright enough to acknowledge that fans don’t always react positively to their albums but this to be expected because Rush never repeated themselves, musically speaking. In fact, as one journalist puts it: “Nobody could really put a finger on what they were.” Curiously that same journalist – who used to host a 1-hour Heavy Metal radio show back in the early 1980’s – is today chief White House Correspondent for Fox News.

Numerous personalities and well-known musicians offer their take on the band and its music….fans, journalists, Rush’s manager, Mick Box, Mike Portnoy, Trent Reznor, Gene Simmons, Sebastian Bach and Billy Corgan amongst many others. Extensive trivia…whether sad, funny or tragic…is balanced with lots of live music and a good deal of insight.

Along with triumphant moments, “Beyond The Lighted Stage” also covers some dark periods in Rush’s history, chief of which was when Neil Peart lost two members of his family in a short space of time. The way the trio handled that situation contextualises the endurance of the band’s line-up. On his subject Les Claypool, Primus bassist, says, “It’s spectacular to see 3 guys tolerate each other for all these years and still make good music.”

While providing convincing arguments on the influence of Rush on contemporary music, “Beyond the Lighted Stage” is primarily about the three down to earth and open-minded musicians that lay behind the music. Neil Peart confesses that Rush was never so arrogant that the guys wouldn’t allow themselves to be influenced by other musicians and by other music. Indeed, he says: “There was no such thing as ‘that didn’t suit Rush’. Those words have never been uttered.”

Another thing that I observed is that Lee, Lifeson and Peart never expected success to fall into their laps. They all seemed to have an ingrained attitude that ambitions could only be attained through hard work and a steadfast determination. In all honesty I found it very hard to pull myself away from the screen, so intriguing is this documentary. And excellently edited too.

The ending of “Beyond The Lighted Stage” is a very endearing and befitting way to round off the documentary. Since its release, Neil Peart has passed away (in January 2020) and Rush is no more but the band’s legacy endures…a factor which might validate Geddy Lee’s description of Rush as a ‘cult band’.

Watch the trailer here:

The 40th Anniversary Edition of “Permanent Waves” by Rush is available now:

www.rushbackstage.com/dept/permanent-waves-40th-anniversary

LINKS:

Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of Chris Galea and Ever Metal. It is strictly forbidden to copy any part of this review, unless you have the strict permission of both parties. Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and will be reported to the relevant authorities.

Super Duper Alice Cooper

Super Duper Alice Cooper
Directed And Written: Sam Dunn, Reginald Harkema, Scot McFadyen
Produced by: Banger Films
2014
Review by Chris Galea
5/10

A film documenting the life, career, trials and tribulations of one of the founding fathers of Rock and Metal is certainly something to look forward to. “Super Duper…” starts by focusing on the upbringing of Vincent Furnier before he adopted the stage name of ‘Alice Cooper’, on his first forays into music, on meeting bassist Dennis Dunaway at school and revealing the origins of the band moniker.

More than half the documentary consists of voices speaking over photos and archive footage both of which are not necessarily directly linked to what is being said. It’s a very strange approach not to mention that it’s also very frustrating that you’re not actually seeing the speaker/s and sometimes it’s not even clear who is speaking.

For many years and seven albums into the band’s existence, Alice Cooper the band and Alice Cooper the frontman were two distinct entities and the film dedicates a hefty focus on the former. It tells about the band being discovered by Frank Zappa, who really got the ball rolling for the band. We get to know about a handful of crucial performances that significantly elevated the band’s status, such as a 1970 festival with John Lennon also on the bill.

Even after those shows, radio stations kept ignoring the band but that all changed when famed producer Bob Ezrin (Kiss, Aerosmith, Deep Purple, Pink Floyd) was roped in and Alice Cooper finally had their first hit single: ‘I’m Eighteen’. Since its inception, the band kept honing the theatricality of their live shows and “Super Duper Alice Cooper” makes this patently clear. Speaking of which, the film mentions some truly bizarre anecdotes about their gigs, one involving a chicken (think of it as Alice Cooper’s version of the infamous story concerning Ozzy and a bat). No less bizarre is footage of a live show involving panties…lots of panties.

The documentary then covers the divorce of Alice Cooper the singer from Alice Cooper the band. Around the same time, Alice/Vince suffered a mental breakdown. Upon emerging from that precarious mental state, one of the first things Alice did was collaborate with songwriter Bernie Taupin, famous for writing the lyrics to almost all of Elton John’s songs (incidentally Elton John is said to be a big Alice Cooper fan). The result of the Cooper/Taupin collaboration was for me Alice Cooper’s magnum opus, the album “From The Inside”, released in 1978 and recorded with the help of a large number of session musicians.

We are also told that Alice Cooper had to deal with a crippling cocaine addiction, from which he eventually recovered and returned to the stage in 1986 after an absence of 4 years. And in fact the documentary clocks off somewhere in the mid-1980s.

So, if Alice Cooper meant nothing to you beyond the albums, videos and concerts, “Super Duper Alice Cooper” certainly provides a revealing background about the band and showman. Sadly, though, the documentary is conspicuously lacking in any depth whatsoever. It mentions a number of stepping stones in Alice Cooper’s career but there’s very little insight in terms of how, why, who, when….etc. On the other hand, a lot of important events, albums and musicians are wholly overlooked. So, for example, we have nothing about the “Easy Action” album of 1970. And guitarists Glen Buxton and Michael Bruce, two musicians so crucial to the band, are almost completely ignored.

To that add what I mentioned earlier about invisible persons speaking over photo and video montages and in the end the prevailing feeling I got of this film-doc is one of a missed opportunity.

Interesting? Perhaps. But certainly not super duper.

Watch the trailer here:

Alice Cooper’s new album “Detroit Stories” will be released on February 26th, 2021 via earMUSIC.

LINKS:

Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of Chris Galea and Ever Metal. It is strictly forbidden to copy any part of this review, unless you have the strict permission of both parties. Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and will be reported to the relevant authorities.

Heavy Metal In Baghdad

Heavy Metal In Baghdad
Directed and Narrated: Suroosh Alvi & Eddy Moretti
Produced by Vice Films
2007
Review by Chris Galea
9/10

As this documentary starts rolling, we see the producers being forced to wear bullet-proof vests. Straight away it’s clear that this is not going to be your average music documentary. Sure enough…

“Heavy Metal in Baghdad” is about Acrassicauda, allegedly the only active Metal band from Iraq (then…and probably also now). The documentary uses interviews, commentaries, live performances and other original footage to reveal what it is like to be a Metal band in a war-torn country. Consequentially we are enlightened on much more than the band’s history.

The members of Acrassicauda initially come across as young and naïve but in reality Saddam Hussein’s tyranny and the war that followed his murder seem to have instilled in these Iraqis a sense of maturity far advanced for their age.

One thing that struck me was that in general Heavy Metal tends to use a lot of gory imagery, violent song-lyrics and horror theatrics but for Acrassicauda reality is far worse than all that. There’s a scene when one of the band’s members looks at the artwork of Iron Maiden’s “Death on the Road” CD and remarks that that artwork looks like daily life for him. And yet Heavy Metal gives the band members and their local fans a sense of purpose in life.

Marwan, the band’s drummer, sums up what Metal means to him: “If you can teach every prisoner to play drums…smash drums…they are going to be good citizens.” During that same interview, the band members are sometimes forced to talk louder when sounds of bombing and gunfire outside the building drowns out their voices.

The social climate within which Acrassicauda are immersed is incredibly tough. When the camera shoots (no pun intended) the street of Baghdad, everyone seems to be holding guns. So when the band members receive death threats for plying the ‘devil’s music’, their genuine concern is understandable. Power cuts during a live performance is the least they’d come to expect and you can’t help share their heartbreak when they discover a rocket has hit their rehearsal space and in one stroke destroys their gear which lay inside. Acrassicauda’s guitarist tells the interviewer: “It’s like a nightmare but the problem is that you cannot wake up from it.”

Eventually the band members manage to travel to Syria via Turkey as refugees, and even manage to organise a Metal gig in Damascus, the biblical place where millennia earlier St Paul is alleged to have converted to Christianity. The gig kicked off with a cover of Europe’s ‘The Final Countdown’ and, besides some original numbers, also included a cover of Metallica’s ‘Fade To Black’. The positive reaction to that gig seemed to reinvigorate the band.

Another memorable moment is when the chain-smoking band did their very first recording, a demo of 3 original numbers. The narrator makes the interesting observation that while Iraq seemed bent on either destruction or on rebuilding the ruins, Acrassicauda had actually created something from nothing with that first recording. And clearly that made them proud.

The band interviews tend to be frank and honest. In a particular one, a band member even calls the producers mad for showing an interest in the band and for travelling to Baghdad to meet them. In other interviews you can really sense the band members’ implied feelings of desperation and helplessness. It would have been interesting to hear more about their childhood and how they first came across Rock and Metal. On the other hand, the narrator/interviewer keeps the documentary flowing with his commentary and pertinent observations.

The film-doc concludes with a caption stating that the band was forced to return to Iraq from Syria.

Two years after the documentary’s release, the band managed to settle in New York and other parts of U.S.A. They also managed to record a full album in a proper studio, meet Metallica and tour North America. Life still remains a struggle for the guys of Acrassicauda but they have already rebuilt their lives several times so I’m sure they’ll keep overcoming the odds that life throws at them.

“Heavy Metal In Baghdad” is insightful, unique and, in my opinion, represents essential viewing. In particular, any band disheartened by the prospect of a decimated post-coronavirus live-scene should check this out.

Watch the trailer here:

LINKS:

Acrassicauda Promo Pic

Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of Chris Galea and Ever Metal. It is strictly forbidden to copy any part of this review, unless you have the strict permission of both parties. Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and will be reported to the relevant authorities.

Death – Death By Metal Documentary

Death By Metal
Directed by Felipe Belalcazar
Produced by Mental Pictures
2016
Review by Chris Galea
8/10

Consisting almost entirely of interviews, “Death By Metal” is an engrossing documentary that tells the story of Chuck Schuldiner and Death, the band Chuck spearheaded, and which was fundamental in spawning an entire Metal sub-genre…Death Metal.

The interviews gather testimonies and thoughts of persons closely associated with Death…persons such as family members of Chuck, band members, journalists and Death’s band manager. Although the documentary was produced after Chuck’s death, there are even archival interview excerpts with him.

What emerges is that Chick was yes a musical genius but also a flawed one with his own idiosyncrasies such as impulsivity, paranoia and susceptibility to mental exhaustion. In fact, while director Belalcazar’s admiration for Death and Chuck is obvious throughout, “Death by Metal” is more than a eulogy to the USA musician. For example the documentary reveals the extent of Chuck’s tantrums and his inability to pin down a stable line-up. It reminiscences on the numerous European tours, including some crucial ones, that Chuck cut short…and consequently alienated several people.

“Death by Metal” is a treasure-trove of trivia that will delight the most hardened fan but even viewers unfamiliar with the band or the music genre should find it quite interesting. For at the end of the day this is the story of a human being’s pursuit of his dreams and the importance of a loving family in providing an environment conducive to those very dreams. These are factors anyone can relate to. When Chuck’s sister recalls that the day Chuck was told he had a brain tumour was also his birthday, you can’t help feel a tinge of sorrow.

As far as being a musician was concerned, Chuck Schuldiner was the epitome of avant-garde in the sense that his mindset was constantly aiming to be creative besides cultivating musicality and technique. This sometimes conflicted with market demands and is another factor the documentary tackles.

Towards the end Glenn Drover (guitarist who played with bands such as Death, Megadeth, King Diamond and Testament) shares a reflection that’s actually a good summation of Chuck’s raison d’etre. Drover said “[Chuck had…] the balls to do something that he wanted to do and not conform to what everybody else though he should be. That is the testament to a true musician….somebody who follows his own path and not caters to what he thinks other people expect from him.”

“Death by Metal” is about life as much as it is about Death.

Watch the trailer here:

LINKS:

Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of Chris Galea and Ever Metal. It is strictly forbidden to copy any part of this review, unless you have the strict permission of both parties. Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and will be reported to the relevant authorities.

Death Angel – A Thrashumentary

Death Angel – A Thrashumentary
Directed by Tommy Jones
Nuclear Blast
2015
Review by Chris Galea
7/10

As Metal evolved beyond the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) into something rawer and more visceral, several young bands on Los Angeles’ Pacific coast embraced this embryonic sub-genre dubbed ‘Speed Metal’ or ‘Thrash Metal’. Testament, Metallica, Exodus and Forbidden were a few of the emerging crowd-pullers. Death Angel was another…notable for having within its line-up a family of cousins and brothers of Filipino descent. The members of Death Angel were young (their drummer was just 11 years old when the band recorded their seminal debut album) but they were bursting with energy and determination.

“Death Angel – A Thrashumentary” is a documentary chronicling the band’s history via interviews with its members and acquaintances, numerous live excerpts and candid footage. It takes a look into the very beginnings of Death Angel, the band’s first live performance (supporting Megadeth), their first demos (produced by Metallica’s Kirk Hammett) right up to the writing and recordings of their recent albums. And it revisits all the joys, tragedies and notable live shows in between all that.

By 2001 Death Angel had already been laid to rest for about a decade when a benefit show was put together for Chuck Billy (Testament) and Chuck Schuldiner (Death), who had both been struck by cancer. Death Angel were invited to play and the crowd reaction to their performance convinced the band to reunite. Chuck Billy later recalled: “I had to go and get cancer to get Death Angel back together. See how much I love you guys.” Of course, he said that jokingly, but it illustrates the bond and respect that Death Angel enjoyed amongst its peers…something that emerges from this documentary.

“Death Angel – A Thrashumentary” is at once hilarious, sad, intriguing and exciting. The regret of Death Angel’s band members when recounting the departure of previous members highlights their internal bond. But they’re not always so staid…the same guys prove to have a wry sense of humour, such as when their two guitarists ‘complain’ (tongue in cheek, of course) about being harassed by fans.

At over 2 hours’ duration the documentary is quite long. Sometimes it meanders….it becomes a little repetitive. Fans of the music genre and of the band, however, are bound to enjoy it. I know I did. Doubtlessly it provides quite a comprehensive insight into the life of Death Angel.

“…Thrashumentary” ends with Death Angel performing the song ‘Thrown To The Wolves’ in the Philippines and shows the band’s willingness to interact with fans. An appropriate conclusion to this very interesting documentary.

Watch the trailer here:

Death Angel’s latest Acoustic EP “Under Pressure” has just been released digitally via Nuclear Blast!

LINKS:

Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of Chris Galea and Ever Metal. It is strictly forbidden to copy any part of this review, unless you have the strict permission of both parties. Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and will be reported to the relevant authorities.