Nearly all art is reactionary, and death metal is no different.
The extreme nature of this usually apolitical subgenre (whose most influential outposts are Tampa, Florida, and Gothenburg, Sweden) takes on new meanings in Death Metal Angola, Jeremy Xido’s documentary charting the rise of heavy music in the wake of that south African nation’s decades-long civil war.
For many of the budding musicians interviewed here, the genre’s aggressive qualities aren’t just a coping mechanism, but also a means of recontextualizing their personal and national traumas — stories of lost loved ones are the norm, not least because an orphanage run by a saint of a woman named Sonia Ferreira hosts much of the footage.
“I think the beats in death and black metal are derived from African beats,” notes one interviewee, “so death metal was also born in Africa.” The pleasing circularity of that notion makes it easy to root for the grassroots efforts of Ferreira’s partner Wilker Flores to host the first music festival in Huambo, Angola’s second city and one of its most ravaged.
Buildings lie in ruin, unseen land mines wait to be triggered, and the sound of blast beats and down-tuned riffing emanates from tucked-away practice rooms in anticipation. While hardly the first or most accomplished film of its kind, Death Metal Angola‘s focus on the ability of abrasive music to act as a healing agent builds toward genuine moments of renewal and serenity.