Madder Mortem, formed in 1997 in Norway in the wake of their country exploding onto the extreme metal stage with the antics of the Norwegian black metal scene, are forerunners of the current progressive metal world. Differing a lot from the metal their nation is most famous for; the band have been on the road for over 20 years supporting fellow Scandinavians such as Opeth and releasing many well-received albums.
It is, therefore, no wonder the band have created a documentary detailing not just their career but some of the most pivotal aspects of their background, beliefs, ethics and identity. “Howl of the Underdogs,” is not your typical band documentary following the group on tour or recording a new album, it instead delves into some of the more personal aspects of the members and reflects what the group stands for.
Made in association with the group Metalheads Against Bullying, “Howl of the Underdogs” begins as a typical band film talking about their origins in their rural, agriculture-rich hometown, and how the local attitudes and work ethics serve as the basis for their work. But things take a slight detour when they cover the mental health issues faced by drummer Mads Solas when rehearsing for the anniversary of their debut album “Mercury.”
As the story progresses with much detail on how the attitude of not sharing emotions or personal problems is dominant in Norway, the band explain how they deal with a new drummer replacing Mads and the hardship he feels in coping with his mental health.
Vocalist Agnete Kirkevaag then takes us into detail on what it is like being a woman in the metal scene and how issues such as fatphobia, misogyny, homophobia and other patriarchal attitudes still prevail over the metal scene. Though she does display a remarkable way of coping with and taking down said behaviours whenever the band tours or releases new material.
The impact of the band’s music on the metal world is kept more in the background on this documentary, and whilst we hear from notable music journalists like Jonathan Selzer, editor of Metal Hammer, Madder Mortem’s film is different from the typical music flick praising the band’s presence in the metal world. If this is what you were expecting, then I’m sorry to say this is more of an exploration of the band’s ethics and community work alongside their ongoing tours and recording.
Overall, I felt this was a film that displays what the band stands for well and is made clear early on that they are not the type of people who tolerate any kind of hateful behaviour. Though on a personal level, I was more interested in the details of everyday life in the rural Norwegian wilderness the band grew up in and their everyday lives such as Agnete Kirkevaag’s work as a teacher and school counsellor.
It is no myth that Scandinavians are renowned for their stoicism but going into the depths of it in their everyday lives was a very interesting aspect of this release, and I applaud it for revealing this. Said exploration details how the band have come to work hard in their efforts to make metal a safe place for fans and musicians, as well as work in their local community to help others along in their everyday hardships.
A rather poignant, emotionally driven and eye-opening documentary detailing how a metal band’s work can go further than just the fans who support their music, as well as an interesting insight into metal in Norwegian culture and behaviour that doesn’t mention Norway’s biggest cultural export: black metal.