In 1975, the now legendary band Kiss released their first live album, Kiss: Alive. This landmark production solidified heavy metal as not just another rock sub-genre but as a sensory overload, an adrenaline fuelled rollercoaster that grabs hold of you from the first hit of an open chord to the last explosion has literally rocked the arena.
These types of albums became a montage of carefully treasured memories for those who had been at the concerts and panacea for those who missed out. With Through the Never, Metallica has taken that concept by the neck, drummed it into shape and brought it right into the 21st century, with all the visual regalia that entails.
The announcement of the release of the band’s first 3D feature film was met with understandable apprehension by long time fans. After all, for over 30 years, Metallica had carefully sheltered their “untouchable” image through select appearances, rare biographical moments and by refusing to allow their music to be used in every and all movies that needed that little bit of metal impact. Had their “metal gods” let them down this time by going the over commercial route?
They needn’t have worried. Through the Never, directed by Nimrod Antal (of cult movies Kontroll and Predators fame), avoids the biographical trappings that come with studying 4 such famous subjects. It instead treats us to an immersive visual representation of bone chilling Metallica imagery, complete with crosses that rise from below the stage, people in sealed coffins and a giant blind justice statue that epically crumbles to the ground during one of the songs.
Weaved through the performance is the story of Trip (played by the wonderfully expressive Dane DeHaan), a roadie sent on a mysterious task by the band into a city that has ominously gone deserted. Through car crashes, riots and fires, his adventure escalates as he is chased and tormented by those two famous Metallica characters, Sandman and the Master of Puppets that have taken to running amuck in the city, as if summoned into existence by the furious playing in the arena just down the street.
Using footage from 5 nights in Vancouver and Edmonton during Metallica’s 2012 tour, the show is a carefully staged production, designed by John Mark Fisher whose resume includes the legendary Pink Floyd tour, The Wall. The boys in the band, however, don’t bother with that. From Lars Ulrich’s punishing drumming, to Robert Trujillo’s ape-like antics and James Hetfield’s Thor-like presence complete with incredibly tight pants (that left more than a few girls in the audience sighing), they go on about business as usual. The huge masses in the arena, the cross-shaped, screen filled stage and even the huge justice statue that comes dangerously close to crushing Lars, drums and all, seem to be part of the course for the nihilistic spectacle that is heavy metal.
With a set list that covers 30 years of Metallica history, from Hit the Lights and Ride the Lightning to Master of Puppets, Enter Sandman and Nothing Else Matters, the sound mix was, obviously, redubbed in the studio as there wasn’t one missed note or one ear screeching falsetto that this long time fan could point to.
The movie’s greatest achievement is, perhaps, it’s ability to include the theatre audience into the atmosphere and energy of a live performance. It’s as if with only extending your hand, you could be in the crowed or stand on that stage with the band.
In leaving the theatre my only thought was that Through the Never might not be deep but it sure was a fun ride. The best Metallica is, of course, the one you go to see with your friends, after buying your tickets 3 months in advance. But until the next concert comes along to a city near you, Through the Never is the next best thing.