Directed by David Hall
Written by David Hall, Vivek Venkatesh, Jason Wallin
Screenplay by David Hall, Vivek Venkatesh
Produced by David Hall, Vivek Venkatesh, Jason Wallin, Owen Chapman, Ivar Bjørnson, Jannicke Wiese-Hansen, Kirsti Rosseland
This weekend the touring extreme metal, media, art, and literary festival Grimposium brings two events to the Montreal area. The first, taking place on Saturday July 2nd at the Katacombes, is a performance by Enslaved guitarist Ivar Bjørnson’s dark ambient side project Bardspec. The next day Bjørnson will take part in a panel discussion following the free Canadian premiere of the documentary Blekkmetal, which examines the Bergen-based festival of the same name that took place in late 2015. Blekkmetal (the festival) sought to celebrate the origins of Norwegian Black Metal in an attempt to capture the original spirit of the music, which many feel has lost its significance over the last twenty-plus years. The documentary (an all-Canadian production) features interviews with the festival founders, bands, and fans, plus performance footage from Enslaved, Old Funeral, Taake, Gaahls Wyrd, and others.
The tone of the film has much in common with early Norwegian Black Metal. The opening is very straight forward and bare bones, particularly focussing on fans attending the festival and how they came to find and embrace black metal as their raison d'etre. There is no pontification from the filmmakers, rather they let their subjects set the mood. The most memorable statements in the film come from Hervé Herbaut, founder of the French label Osmose Productions where many bands who became pillars of the Norwegian scene got their start. Herbaut is extremely passionate about the genre, and has an obvious disdain for the commercialization of black metal. Aside from his fiery opinions, his anecdotes on the label’s early releases of bands like Immortal also provides an insight into the sonic qualities that defined the music.
The film also goes deeper into the city of Bergen and shows how the rainy, secluded, artist-driven environment has naturally turned into a hotbed of creativity; the perfect place for cultivating an art-form that often forces the artist to look inward and examine the darker parts of their own being. It also looks at tattooing, which was a major part of the festival, and how its function as a means of personal expression can be the perfect partner for black metal music.
Much like the music itself the final product is a unique blend of high and low elements. On the one hand the interview footage is presented in a very raw fashion, with grainy visuals and warm audio, perhaps representing how the music has defined the inner essence of its disciples. On the other hand the performance footage has a focussed vitality that stands in stark contrast to the interviews. The immense shift in tone emphasizes the emotional and spiritual connection that the fans have to this music, and how it stands apart from conventional rock and metal. Like a clap of thunder before a storm, the performances jarringly remove the viewer from the subject positioning of a standard documentary viewing, and ushers them into a new world where their existence and beliefs are uncomfortably challenged.
The Blekkmetal festival was a one-time affair. Its founders believe that like early Norwegian black metal, it can’t be recreated with the same urgency and vitality (although they encourage others to stage similar events in their own countries to celebrate the different black metal scenes that arose in the wake of the Norwegian bands). The film Blekkmetal functions in a similar way. It represents a singular moment in time and space where music and art came together to create something that was both uniquely beautiful and terrifying. If you’re looking for the standard slick and shiny documentary you will probably be disappointed, because this film doesn’t function as documentation of a particular art-form, but rather an extension of it.
You can catch a free screening of Blekkmetal this Sunday July 3rd at 7PM at the VA114 cinema at Concordia University, 1395 René-Lévesque Ouest in Montreal. In addition to the panel featuring members of Enslaved, there will be an additional panel featuring Director David Hall, as well as producer of the hit Canadian comedy film Bon Cop, Bad Cop Kevin Tierney, and Aisling Chin-Yee of Fluent Films. For more information check out the Facebook event page, and you can watch an extended trailer for the film below.