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Until the Light Takes Us

2007 documentary about black metal music.

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Black metal die-hard or not, this is a good musical documentary that aims to inform.

  • Sep 16, 2012
*** out of ****

I'm basically what you would call a black metal virgin. Prior to watching the documentary "Until the Light Takes Us" by documentarians Aaron Aites and Audrey Ewell, I'd only heard of the Norwegian cultural/musical movement here and there, mostly through little snippets from its nigh universal infamy. I was recommended this documentary by a friend and was interested in learning about something genuinely new to me, so it's in that regard that this film was effective and fulfilling. It will not be either of those things to a lot of people - especially those who are all too familiar with the movement - since otherwise it fails to develop a very compelling argument or any argument at all. What it is, instead, is an attempt to shed new light on the scene that it is covering; and I think it's in that area that it succeeds the most.

Aites and Ewell interview a few notable contributors to the movement in the course of the feature doc. The one who gets the most screen-time is Gylve "Fenriz" Nagell; Norwegian drummer and vocalist best known for his work in the band Darkthrone. The film tries its hardest to take us beyond his appearances. On the outside, he's a leather-clad kid with long, dark, and straight hair; but who is this Fenriz really? In this documentary, he comes off as an intelligent, sympathetic, and genuinely cool guy who is open and simply misjudged by a lot of people. He's the unfortunate byproduct of a scene that he was involved in, albeit he did not condone a lot of the things that others did.

The doc covers the bases of religion and rivalry amongst the people in the movement as well. The other interviewee who is on camera a lot is Varg "Count Grishnackh" Vikernes, part of the band (also Norwegian, also black metal) called Mayhem. He has some interesting stories to tell - such as those about the trials and murders of a few band mates - and provides some much needed comic relief. There, of course, has to be balance between these two most prominently featured people. They come from similar worlds but opposing sides, so to speak. Whereas Vikernes was impacted by a more violent existence, Nagell seems to have avoided that all-together.

We're made to understand that the people being interviewed were non-conformists in the very conformist society that is Norway. In this sense, for their time, they were unmistakable and their art was controversial. I find stories about the freaks and the outsiders particularly intriguing and resonant; so I definitely felt some sympathy, but not pity, for these guys. The religious portion of the film, which is a decidedly significant portion at that, is probably the most engaging; even if it's merely providing facts and evidence rather than a riveting view-point. You shouldn't go to this film expecting that, regardless of what most documentaries have trained you to expect. This doc, like the peculiar people that it features, does not necessarily conform to the norm.

It's obviously low-budget (my current camcorder could probably capture footage of a similar quality) and far from a great or masterful documentary, but if you know nothing about the black metal scene as I did when I walked in, I'd say give it a shot. And if you do know about the scene, try it out anyways. "Until the Light Takes Us" is a grueling and entertaining portrayal of societal misfits who specialized in music and modern art. I cannot, however, recommend it to the critics; for they probably won't like it if they know too much. But I can only hope that reading this review, you can understand where I stand. It's a documentary that provides a few stunning images that truly stick and food for thought that lingers in the mind for even longer afterwards. That's really all I was looking for.

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About the reviewer
Ryan J. Marshall ()
Ranked #3
It's very likely that the only kind of reviews I'll ever post here are movie reviews. I'm very passionate about film; and at this point, it pretty much controls my life. Film gives us a purpose; … more
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