The Blackest of Black: True American Black Metal (2020) - Reviewed

Produced and directed by Bruce Moore, Brutally Delicious Productions brings us a documentary about Black Metal, but there is a catch, children of the cult! This is not yet another reinvented Scandinavian concept piece about Norwegian icons in frozen forests. This doccie is pure American made.

True American Black Metal is a documentary narrated by the dark folk master himself, Dee Calhoun, and explores a rather untainted and obscure avenue of the popular metal sub-genre. Appalachian black metal, predominantly, lies just under the veil of frost and exists through the beauty of American rural desolation that echoes the sentiments of their pioneering Scandinavian predecessors. 

Interviewing some of these prime American black metal bands, the documentary uncovers the interesting mindset of these musicians and their take on the roots of their particular musical directions. The musicians are articulate and genuine in their perception, already a wonderful peek into what is still a mystery to those of us who were not aware of this branch of American black metal.

Most of the opinions overlap in certain views, such as the influence of the more natural life in the mountains and what inspires these bands to weave their own brand of atmospheric black magic. For many of them, it is not about religion or heritage as much as their love for solitude and introspection, which is sure to break a few ignorant boundaries about black metal.

What I personally struggle to grasp here, is the claim that desolation inspires black metal specifically. As a recluse and metal head myself, I hardly feel the need to specifically bask in double strumming, scream vocals and slapping on my corpse paint when I embrace the beauty of nature and isolation around me, but perhaps I am over-simplifying a more complex diversity.

What I do agree with is the perception of music style vs lifestyle, which the musicians in True American Black Metal perfectly relay. The soul of black metal being transcendent across planes of daily life and its necessary tasks makes perfect sense as an instrument to convey not only atmosphere and spiritual intensity, but also paying homage to their American heritage in doing so.

True American Black Metal is shot entirely in black and white, an obvious choice for the subject matter, however, not changing it up makes the film look bland and uninteresting visually. It is essentially an hour and eleven minute long interview, lacking enough flexibility with its imagery, not to mention the missed opportunity to showcase the music these featured bands deliver in the way of audio clips or music video material.

There are two or three very brief live clips (also in black and white) which is not nearly up to par for a documentary that is trying to share something great. It is just noisy and one directional, which makes it feel as if the filmmakers did not much care for presentation or properly promoting the American black metal bands they feature here. Just because the genre is obscure, does not mean that it has to be drab and monotonous, but that is technical perspective and perhaps not important to the filmmakers (like spelling mistakes in the credits *wink wink*)

In the end, if you are already into black metal, True American Black Metal will hold your attention and fascinate you with very intriguing points of view that shed light on the beauty of the wilderness and its darkness brought through black metal. If you are a novice trying to get into black metal, though, rather put this doccie lower on your list.

-Tasha Danzig