Genre: Music Documentary
Year Released: 2012
Distributor: The Vladar Company
Running Time: 83 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: R
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: March of the Gods, Get Thrashed, Rockabul, Global Metal, Black Black Metal
-Two of the bands featured in this documentary have their work featured in Cube Records. Check out their Bandcamp page here.
-Festival de Rock was the first ever rock and metal festival ever in the country of Angola and it took place in Huambo. That’s the 3rd largest city in Angola with over 595,000 people living there. It’s named after the Wambu kingdom that was in ancient times in that nation. Huambo almost became the capital of Angola when Portugal colonized it and renamed it Nova Lisboa (New Lisbon) at the time, but it did get it’s original name back after independence.
-Death Metal Angola was scored by Christian Frederickson. He is best known as the violist in the Louisville, KY-based post-rock band Rachel’s. Their music was featured in Kosmos and Hancock.
-This was directed by Jeremy Xido. His other directorial work involves Crime Europe, Care, and The Angola Project. Xido has also contributed as an actor in The Machinist, an episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent, and Headshots.
-One of the bands featured is Benguela’s own metalcore band Before Crush. They started out in 2004 under the name Nightmare Today, but they changed their name in 2006. Before Crush is the only band from Angola and one of the very few bands from Africa that has played in Germany including Bavaria’s Bayern Festival. Their lyrical themes revolve around Angolan history, events from that country’s civil war, as well as having that PMA as Bad Brains would say.
-Russian-American filmmaker and media mogul Vlad Yudin produced this film. He has directed other films such as the Generation Iron series, The Hurt Business, and Mr. Immortality: The Life and Times of Twista.
-Want to know who is the most famous person of Angolan descent? That would be none other than Chris Tucker when he got a DNA test on the PBS docuseries African American Lives.
Here’s the last review of the year. Boy, has this been tumultuous with everything that happened across the world. Racial tensions, COVID-19, the political situations in America, and so much more. Of course, I didn’t expect to review as many musical documentaries this year. I saw March of the Gods earlier this year not just co contribute to my goals of reviewing things from African nations I never covered before, but because Wrust was in it and I like their music. I also watched No New Kinda Story not too long ago which involved the history of Tooth & Nail Records which was my favorite label during my teens and early college years, so that was a huge nostalgia rush. Another reason why I was surprised is that I have a love/hate relationship with the music scene, and I’ll get into some of the reasons why later. Yes, I get the irony of the situation, but that’s a story for another day. Going back to the African goal, looks like I exceeded that because I get to watch something from Angola. That and it’s another documentary that involves the African metal scene.
Pardon the Spinal Tap reference, but let’s turn this up to eleven!
Death Metal Angola deals with the growing rock and metal scene in the aforementioned West Central African nation. The country has been healing from their civil war which lasted from 1975 to 2002. There were still untouched landmines, over a million orphaned children, and various towns or cities that haven’t been rebuilt. One such place was the third-largest city of Angola known as Huambo. In that city, there are a couple who want to do something great for the country. There’s Sonia Ferreira who runs an orphanage in Huambo and her boyfriend Wilker Flores who is a mentor figure who also happens to be a metalhead. Both of them were inspired by rock and metal music as it was cathartic and far better sounds than the gunfire or bombs they lived through. They wanted to make the first ever metal music festival in the country right in Huambo. They do their best to fund the fest and there was a level of interest from Angolan bands from multiple parts of the country. Bands such as Before Crush, Black Soul, Dor Fantasma, Nothing 2 Lose, Amnesia, Mental Grave, The Marines, Parelelo State, Singra, Dos Anjos, Last Prayer, and Fios Electrico were beyond enthused as they came by bus or carpooling to be a part of this event. Festival De Rock also goes by another name of O Rock Lalimwe Eteke Ifa which is the Umbundu phrase for “Rock will live forever”. How will these two and others in the community be able to bring some entertainment and healing in Huambo when the genre is still pretty niche let alone people still being shaken up by the war that only ended years ago.
Prior to watching this documentary, I have listened to a little bit of Before Crush when I was trying to discover African rock and metal bands. The context of the documentary and learning a bit about the struggles of Angola’s independence as well as that decades long civil war really put things into perspective with their music scene or mindsets. Think about it. You have Gen X-ers, Millennials, and even older Gen Z-ers alive today who lived through and remember these times of bloodshed for most of their lives. Sonia describes the situation as dire when you have people who feel lifeless and don’t want to get into any creative hobbies out there. Even though the war was over, the suffering still lingered in the society there. That certainly gave a chilling, yet powerful backdrop especially when you have bands making their own music in multiple cities or people trying to mentor the youth into doing constructive things in the community. Huambo got hit harder than most other major cities in Angola and it really showed. There were several buildings that were destroyed and haven’t been rebuilt. Construction projects are halted or at the very least severely delayed. People actually have jobs in tracking landmines to make sure nobody steps on them. It was amazing that there are people who actually have some hope despite living through hopelessness in a war ravaged nation. The cinematography was crisp enough to see what’s going on, but it captures the grit of this African nation. While Huambo is the main focus, there are other locales shown which have fared better like Luanda (the capital and largest city, for those scoring at home) and Benguela. You have a rock and metal radio station, multiple bands from those cities, and some pleasant places to visit that are shown like the cityscapes as well as the local venues. I was interested in the philosophy and reasons why people create and listen to metal music in the country. One of the musicians gets interviewed later on and talks about the various musical as well as international connections with death metal or black metal. It’s certainly a given to mention the innovations in Sweden and Norway when it comes to the death metal subgenre as well as the correlations with classical music (for those who don’t listen to extreme forms of metal, it makes WAY more sense than one would expect). He also argues that Africa played an integral role in the harder forms of metal because he recalls the traditional drumming styles in Angola which death metal drumming resembles despite using modern percussion (drum kits with double kick petals in this case), but the connection goes all the way back despite not being credited. Some people might balk at that as some faux-Panafrican pseudo-history, but he has a legitimate point. So many forms of music were birthed out of African musical rhythms including rock music. It’s also why in America how there was a racist backlash with drumming being associated with “jungle rhythms” or being called Satanic to associated Black music with something evil. Of course, I wouldn’t expect there to be that direct a connection with death metal or black metal, but there is more veracity than one would give credit for. It was so inspiring seeing Sonia and Wilker doing their best to encourage the community to be creative and to find hope despite living in a country healing from a decades-long war. Anyone else would’ve made it cheesy, but they were so sincere especially with what they have been through. Seeing the festival at the end was very cool with the bands and concertgoers having so much fun. They did everything themselves, so there was a very punk rock DIY aspect to it.
Let’s talk about the music here. I actually enjoyed it and not because of me getting used to the material in March of the Gods. I was a big metalhead back in the day, so I felt oddly nostalgic. Funny enough, when I saw the keyboardist from Dor Fantasma headbanging while rocking the ivories, I was sort of reminded of Christopher Dudley’s stage mannerisms from Underoath (Yes, I know Underoath isn’t a metal band, but just humor me here). Normally, I would have sworn off Before Crush at first for being a metalcore band instead of their peers playing thrash, death, Gothic, or other subgenres. However, they do have musical talent and I gained a lot of respect for them and other bands talking about their inspirations and lyrical themes. Since they grew up during hellish times and saw dead bodies around them, they used those elements as lyrical themes, but at the same time they wanted to make positive messages that were sincere and not hollow. This was amazing not just because it destroys a stereotype that Africans don’t play metal, but it also shows how shallow the West is when it comes to heavy music especially in the context of metalcore. Before Crush’s existence makes bands like Born of Osiris, As I Lay Dying, and Emmure among many others in the metalcore or deathcore scene look like spoiled little girls in hindsight. Real talk, everyone. Whether we can argue if metalcore counts as “real” metal or not, I’ve noticed firsthand that a lot of these bands who play that type of music aren’t some hardcore tough guys. Not all, but a very sizable portion of those bands are from rich white suburbs and they haven’t suffered a quarter as much as the bands featured in this documentary. The metalcore scene is so shallow with fake tough guy posturing (stage presence, lyrics, etc.), entitled mindsets, way too fashion-focused, cliquish attitudes even when the bands are clearly too old to be in high school, and a bunch of lyrics are just byproducts of first world problems just like pop punk (I SAID IT!). Trust me, I’ve seen this crap firsthand at shows and during my freshman year of university, I had a metalcore Hot Topic-shopping scenester as a roommate that looks like he’s straight out of the older website Your Scene Sucks at the dorm who was obsessed with The Devil Wears Prada (the band, not the movie), Chiodos, and owned a flat iron straightener that my little sister would’ve thought was too fancy for someone with a Y chromosome to have. He made fun of the music I listened to even if it was on the heavier side which was frustrating. Boy, I wished I would’ve made fun of him and others in retaliation instead of internalizing everything. The existence of Death Metal Angola further vindicates my points about the American metalcore scene as something so shallow and one could argue that even “real” metal bands out there look wouldn’t have lasted in these Angolan bands’ shoes. This made the documentary even greater for me even though it wasn’t intended with the interviewees or the director.
Death Metal Angola does get hexed at times if I were to reference Children of Bodom (one of the musicians even rocks a band shirt of theirs!). The rehearsal and concert footage could’ve been improved with the sound engineering. Sure, the instruments sound fine, but the vocals were buried so low in the mix and I assume it’s because they were filming the live footage as is. I can judge this because I’ve filmed concert footage before and I’ve filmed multiple videos with lower-quality equipment with clearer vocals going on including that from metal or hardcore bands. There were so many bands that I wanted to know about, but it was hard to keep track of all of them. Sure, Before Crush, Dor Fantasma, and Black Soul had great interviews, but everything flew by so fast to know who was who even though not everyone sounded alike. There were some setting issues like the story of Pacho being taken in to Sonia’s orphanage. While it did give insight into her day job, I felt that it didn’t go anywhere that much especially given how harsh the child’s home life was. I thought it was also strange when they overuse the word “rock” when it came to the music presented. The softest bands featured would be considered hard rock or maybe post-hardcore, and I know bands softer than the ones in the documentary who would still be considered rock, let’s be real here. While there was a very legitimate reason for multiple parts of Huambo looking the way it did with some of the ruins and dilapidated buildings, this may not destroy stereotypes about Africa to some people in the West even with the cleaner scenes in Luanda for example. They’re still recovering and rebuilding, but I could sadly see some bigots playing the “[poop]hole nation” card if the see some of the scenery. Never mind the fact that there are some people in the country who look like said naysayers or how there are more Portuguese people living in Angola than Angolans living in Portugal, but that’s a topic for a whole other day.
This was a fantastic entry into my documentary reviews. Death Metal Angola was wonderfully inspiring while also being an atypical documentary involving metal music (in Africa, no less!). The visual production was good with the mix of on-site footage, music videos, and TV footage. The stories were visceral, but also quite convicting. Even with my disdain with the music scene, it gave me positivity watching it while also proving me right that some bands care more about the music than others who use bands as status symbols. I do with some of the sound production would’ve improved though. Much like March of the Gods, Death Metal Angola is an awesome foray into checking out metal music from an unlikely place. Strongly recommended.
Here’s some music videos from the bands featured in Death Metal Angola.
Adjustable Point System:
Add 1 point if you’re a metalhead.
Subtract 1-2 points if you want pristine audio production in concert or rehearsal footage.
Subtract 1-3 points if you’re not a fan of death metal or metalcore.
-Powerful stories from the locals and the bands
-The Angolan scene is very inspiring and puts suburban metalcore/deathcore to SHAME!
-Vocal issues with the sound presentation
-Hard to keep track of all the bands
-Might not destroy all pre-conceived notions of the war-ravaged parts of Africa with the scenery
Final Score: 9/10 points
Content Warning: Death Metal Angola would be better suited for older audiences. The language gets very strong at times with some talking or lyrics using the F-word in both Portuguese as well as English. There’s one scene of rear nudity with someone in the background in the middle of the movie while Sonia is walking around. The themes do get very dark with various war stories, tales of people dying or being severely injured, sex being discussed, and other mature subject matter.
All photos and videos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. Death Metal Angola is property of The Vladar Company. The poster is from DVD Planet Store and is property of The Vladar Company.