“We Were Punishing People”: A Review of Deadguy: Killing Music

Wry and stylish on the surface while reveling in primal vitriol and unorthodox approaches to violence just below, Deadguy: Killing Music honestly could not capture its subject better if it broke into Keith Huckins’ house, stole his B.C. Rich Mockingbird, drove to wherever you’re watching the doc, and hit you over the head with it every time you chuckle at some zinger or one-liner.

Alas, you would likely not survive: In addition to instantly establishing itself as one of the best documentaries ever, period on extreme music, the combustible nature of the youth drawn to create it, and the subsequent better-to-have-a-full-core-nuclear-meltdown-than-fade-away art like Decibel Hall of Fame inductee Fixation on a Co-Worker, Killing Music is, paradoxically also a very fun and funny watch; it’s good-natured sarcasm and sweetness and baby steps toward the reconciliation and peace that life in a post-“Pins and Needles” adulthood (at least here) mercifully grants.

If that sounds like a study in contrasts…well, it should. The best way to describe Killing Music, ultimately, may be to ask you, dear reader, to imagine tuning into one of those all the rage true crime documentaries about some infamous murder spree—and instead of somber retellings and analysis, all the survivors are chuckling. Or, better yet, one of those It-esque horror films in which a group of haggard, own-TheBigChill-on-special-edition-DVD adults reluctantly come back together to face the monster they unwittingly unleashed in childhood. Except in this version, rather than seeking to destroy that monster, this pack of adults is wistful about the idea of perhaps bringing it back to kill again. (Hello, Decibel Magazine Metal & Beer Fest!)

“We were punishing people,” drummer Dave Rosenberg says at one point. “It was an act of aggression when we played. Like, that was the goal. We’re here to kill you. And were gonna leave and…go fuck yourself. That was the whole band.”

That was the whole band. And Killing Music, written and directed by William Saunders with a deft understanding of when to linger and when to head for terminal velocity, captures that perfectly, somehow communicating the sui generis vibe of the band in 1995. “There wasn’t a genre of metalcore,” Huckins says. “We were Deadguy.”

Of course, there’s a great stream of talking heads including Steve Austin, Jacob Bannon, Randy Blythe, and Shai Hulud’s Matt Fox, who contextualizes the band as kind of the Hunter S. Thompson of metallic hardcore. (“The post-Deadguy] surge of what some may refer to as ‘chaoscore’ is as abysmal as it sounds,” he says. “[The Deadguy sound] can’t be genuinely replicated.”) And Saunders wisely doesn’t give the ill-timed breakup, subsequent dueling bands, or quarter century estrangement short shrift. (My defense of Screaming’ with the Deadguy Quintet lives here.)

The key takeaway, however, from the film is the extremely unlikely triumph of a very rabid underdog.

“It’s not hardcore,” guitarist Tom Yak says. “It’s not heavy metal. It’s not thrash. If I had to give you a word right now? Fear.”

Deadguy: Killing Music has its world premiere this Friday, September 24 at 9 p.m., Underground Arts in Philadelphia just ahead of the band’s appearance at Decibel Magazine Metal & Beer Fest. Tickets here.