The first-anywhere screening of Luke Meyer‘s Breaking a Monster just concluded at South by Southwest. It’s a decently assembled success-story doc about Unlocking The Truth, an African-American classic metal trio who were 12 and 13 when the footage was shot a year or so ago. It’s about how they built upon the novelty of “black kids playing metal” along with some serious YouTube popularity by joining forces with veteran music manager Alan Sacks. It takes the band forever to crank out a catchy, listenable song but they finally do, and eventually they land a $1.8 million record deal with Sony Music.

My initial reaction: “Basically meh, yeah, not bad, so-so but not enough information. The whole thing about Unlocking The Truth is the novelty (black teens doing metal) and the Times Square YouTube trending and people around them (especially Sacks) getting ahead of themselves in thinking ‘wow, these guys are unusual…and really young!…and sellable!” I’ve never been a metal fan. Ever. And I kept asking myself ‘okay, but where’s the beef when you get past the novelty? Where’s the song or songs that people are looking for?’ Isn’t that what makes a band successful? The songs they write and sing and the way they’re recorded/performed? Or am I missing something?

“In any case I sensed early on that there’s something missing here. Where are the fucking songs? You can’t become a successful band because you’re different and defying the paradigm that says all black music artists have to be into rap/hip-hop. And so you’re waiting. And you’re waiting. And the movie isn’t tell you much and you’re wondering ‘Uhhm, what the fuck?’ 

“Lead singer Malcolm Brickhouse obviously can’t sing very well. Yet. The manager himself says his voice is ‘a challenge.’ And then…what, after endless stalling about the band writing songs the manager finally hires some guy to help them record ‘Monster’ & he helps in particular by making the kid’s voice sound better with digital augmentation? Or something like that?

“I got the feeling that some (a lot?) of the narrative particulars were being held back or obscured. The filmmaker isn’t really unlocking the truth of this situation. ‘Monster’ is a semi-listenable track & I’m glad the kids landed a piece of change from Sony, and I hope they can crank out more ‘hits’ (is ‘Monster’ in fact a hit?) , etc. Good for them & we all love success but the movie just wasn’t that riveting. Decent. Passable in some ways. Nothing to write home about.  

“The coolest thing in the whole film is that TV ad they were featured in.  And Sacks is easily the most colorful character.

“All this aside, I, like everyone else, ‘like’ the fact that 13 year-old black kids have this metal band. I like that they went against the grain. But their singing/songwriting talent, not to mention the element of intrigue in their performing and musicianship, is so far behind Jimi Hendrix, another black guy who went against the grain for black musical artists of his day, that it’s not worth mentioning. Hendrix was cosmic, stupendous, levitational. 

Unlocking The Truth is…well, a reasonably decent band if you’re into metal. I guess. Take away the novelty aspect and whaddaya got? Not a whole lot.”