One of my pet peeves when it comes to concert films is when the filmmaker feels it necessary to intercut band interview footage during a concert performance. Just try to watch Black Sabbath’s The Last Supper and you’ll know what I mean. With Metallica’s Through the Never, the thrashers take this notion a step further; rather than interview footage, what amounts to a concert film inserts a fictional narrative that hints at facets of the band’s lyrical output, albeit in an open-handed, metaphorical approach. And although I very much enjoyed the concert film, I found the narrative tedious and cliché.
The concert-film component of Through the Never deserves its own review, because it really gives hardcore and new fans alike what the band are all about, warts and all. Few will argue that Metallica are not a monster band, but Metallica has progressively moved from a thrash-metal juggernaut to more of a pop-metal band. Old-school fans have abandoned the band altogether, a rather crude move, given that albums such as Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets cannot ever be dismissed as classics of the genre.
And so it goes with the concert film. Metallica takes full advantage of their back catalog, smartly mixing punishing numbers like “Creeping Death” and “Cyanide” with the likes of “Ride the Lightning,” “Battery,” and “Master of Puppets.” For the newer fans, there are contemporary smashers like “Fuel” and “Enter Sandman,” as well as the melodic “Nothing Else Matters” and “Wherever I may Roam.”
Metallica’s fierce four are all in fine form in Through the Never. Guitarist and vocalist James Hetfield takes center stage, his voice solid enough and his stage presence electrifying. Drummer Lars Ulrich is a little overdramatic, but he shines on the skins. Guitarist Kirk Hammett steps back and lets his axe do the talking, and the man is a master on the six-string, infusing melody into brutality and the reverse. Relative newcomer Robert Trujillo gives the bass a run for its money and also provides some low-end growls that complement all the material, old and new.
Made up of two performances, the footage on Through the Never is really not a concert film at all. Rather, this film is an intentional film, showcasing audience members who at times come off as acting rather than really enjoying the show. All the band members showboat throughout, their performances coming off as forced. There are all types of special effects during the performance, and at one point supposedly a roadie catches fire, culminating in the “destruction” of the set. At this point, the band abandons all the hype and focuses on the music itself. A coda at the end of the movie has Metallica performing “Orion” to an empty house. It’s moments like this closing segment that will make Metallica fans nod and smile.
Although I enjoyed all the special effects and the elaborate staging throughout, the “storyline” during the concert performance made be a little ill. Metallica’s songs and their performance stand on their own—there’s no need to showboat or create an undercurrent storyline to impress people who already appreciate the music and the words that surround each composition.
The fictional narrative of the movie is not worth watching. This story focuses on Trip (Dane DeHaan), a skateboarding roadie who is sent out to rescue a disabled van holding something precious to Metallica. Before he heads out, Trip downs a multicolored pill, and this in part leads him into a wild world of crazy, trippy encounters that mix elements of The Road Warrior and The Warriors. Hell, there’s even a nod to Ronin. As a standalone feature, this movie falls apart. It’s not even worth watching intercut with Metallica’s performance.
Despite the letdowns, Through the Never is a worthwhile concert movie that captures Metallica accepting their past and embracing their future. When the band members drop the showboating, they come together as one of the most powerful and visceral thrash-metal bands to ever take the stage. This is the essence of Through the Never, and it is my sincere hope that Metallica realizes that all they have to do is thrash.
The Blu-Ray package comes with a bonus disc that includes a making-of documentary, theatrical trailer, interviews, and a music video of “Master of Puppets.”