As Norway prepares for one of its epic black metal festivals, 3 bands prepare to go and play their set there for the first time. The film follows closely Hector from Columbia (leader of the band Luciferian), Sina from the Middle East where playing black metal is a jailable offense, and Kaiadas and his band mates (band Naer Mataron) through their preparation for the festival and what pushes them to play this type of music. The film also explores the history of black metal in Norway, including a visit to the Rockheim museum in Trondheim, interviews and moments with members of bands such as Keep of Kalessin, Mayhem, and a few others. Through seeing the lives of these musicians, what they believe in, and what they want to accomplish, the viewer can get a good idea of what black metal is all about and also learn about its history.
Written and directed by Fredrik Horn Akselsen and Christian Falch, Blackhearts provide an insightful look into the black metal scene with a good idea of the background of it and its history. The film does not shy away from potentially sensitive subjects and faces things head on much like the music it focuses on. The most interesting part of the film to this reviewer is everything that has to do with Sina, a man ready to risk prison to do his art. He explains clearly that he is putting himself at risk by playing the festival and recording an album which is published by a Norwegian record company. His music sounds good and interesting to an uninitiated ear. His struggle shows what a lot of artists around the world go through and how only some of them are willing to take the necessary risks for their work. The Columbians have an interesting way of getting what they want and hope for that is completely different: they hold black masses and their leader relishes the burning down of a church. The tenets of black metal are supportive of Satan and against the church. The scenes of black mass are interesting to see, especially for those with some knowledge of Satanism (not the movie version but the real stuff) and how it all work as well as for those curious to learn more about why some people participate. The Greek band is also interesting to follow but at the same time, the film shows things that will turn quite a few off of following them after the film. Their leader, Kaiadas, is put in jail early on for his activism in what seems to be a neo-nazi political group. His views and involvement put him in trouble and leads to his band having to deal (or refuse to deal) with some of it. The film does not separate the artists and their doings in good or bad, leaving it up to the viewer to decide who they connect with on an ideological level. Other bands are also explored, in particular a few older black metal bands from Norway and they do well in giving an idea of where it all comes from and how some of them have mellowed out and moved on even.
The music here is of course extremely important and the film showcases recorded music from albums as well as live music. The live shows are mostly at the festival and give a good view and impression of black metal concert. Some of the bands using corpse paint but most of them seem to opt-out, which is approached a bit but not delved into enough, which is too bad as the why for corpse paint and the why some bands have moved away from it would have been an interesting aside here.
Blackhearts is one of those documentaries that are a good exploration of its subject with a few angles that could have been explored more but it does not mean that the film feels incomplete. The story of each artist is interesting in and of itself and it would be interesting to see where some of them are now. The history of black metal certainly deserves a deeper exploration but this is a nice start and is entertaining, making its run time fly by and creating and easily watchable documentary. The protagonists are interesting, the music is good, and the directors show respect for their subjects and their audience’s intelligence and capacity to make their own judgments on what is shown. Blackhearts covers a lot of the musical genre’s history, bands, and beliefs which make it interested to fans of the music as well as the casual listener or viewer. One does not need to know much going in to enjoy the film.