The hottest new metal band from the coldest country on Earth is Impaled Rektum… or at least that’s what Finnish comedy HEAVY TRIP centers on. After twelve years of rehearsing in a garage without a gig, lead singer Turo (Johannes Holopainen) is finally ready to bring to the world what their bassist describes as ‘symphonic post-apocalyptic reindeer-grinding Christ-abusing extreme war pagan Fennoscandic metal,’ mostly to impress a girl. Part love story, party road movie, Juuso Laatio and Jukka Vidgren’s film delivers the true black metal goods, while still being a feel good comedy.
The directors are quick to point that there are more metal bands per capita in Finland than anywhere else in the world – and I looked it up. There are approximately, according to a 2012 study (see graphic), 53.2 metal bands per 100,000 people. If you average that at 3 members per band (accounting for 1-man outfits to pull numbers down), that means one in every 626 people is in metal band, and that includes babies and grandfathers. “Depressing, long dark winters” offer Vidgren as an explanation. “Highest suicide rate,” adds Laatio, the acknowledged ‘metal-head’ of the directing team.
As a directing team, Juuso Laatio and Jukka Vidgren had worked on a number of metal music videos, and the idea for HEAVY TRIP came from that. “The thing with them is usually underneath those scary looks and long hair,” says Vidgen, “are really heart-warming, nice guys. Good dudes.” Even though metal is such a part of Finland’s cultural identity, its not necessarily well-loved, especially in a small town like the setting of the film. “Everybody knows metal in Finland,” he says, “but it’s still not the biggest mainstream music there.” Laatio agrees, “Even from my spouse’s family, they’re always joking, ‘cut your hair,’ and this sort of stuff.”
Life in Turo’s small town changes forever when a chance meeting with the promoter of the hottest metal fest in Norway leads to a slight lie that the band will be playing – propelling them from hated outsiders to minor celebrities. “I’m from a small town myself so I think that’s a pretty universal small town,” says Vidgren, “where people know each other and talk. There’s this culture – someone very different is not treated very well.”
Although the film is steeped in legit black metal concepts and music (more so actually than the Sundance film LORDS OF CHAOS about Mayhem), the score is a sort of arena-rock hodgepodge that conjures up memories of Survivor and Foreigner. “We want people who are not metal heads to be able to watch the film,” admits Vidgren, “it can’t be all like the music that the band plays because then it might be a little hard for the default viewers.” Even so, composer Lauri Porra plays in Stratovarious, one of the most successful and longest-surviving bands on the Finnish metal scene. “[He] had a mission,” explain producer Kai Nordberg, “you need to compose metal, which goes together with this really tough stuff, and at the same time is a feel-good comedy score.”
Although the actors in the band come from musical backgrounds, they did not have to play the music in the film. They did, however, have to look like they were playing it. That means, for black metal – just play it – because you can’t really fake that sort of thing. “The drummer has played some drums and the lead singer is a singer and guitarist,” says Laatio, “the guitar player, the bass player, they pretty much started from nothing.” ‘Band’ rehearsals began three to four months before shooting, but if the members of the band feel like they have bonded as a band, it may be because they were actually cast two years prior. “We were supposed to shoot it before we got funding,” admits Vidgren, “but we kept the guys together and we had time to spend time with the guys. We had a weekend where we went to the cabin and then the guys had to rehearse a lot together… you can see that in the film.”
If the film starts small, part of the joy of HEAVY TRIP is it gets bigger and more ridiculous as it picks up steam, featuring grave-robbing, international high-speed chases, and a viking warship. “If you go on and follow your own thing, your world expands to the measures you couldn’t even imagine. This is the message of the film,” says Nordberg, “their metal dreams are like, becoming more and more true as the film proceeds.”
HEAVY TRIP made its world premiere at SXSW and continues its festival run throughout the year (hopefully somewhere near you) Do not miss this one.