Film and TV

Teenage Headbangers Get a Music-Biz Crash Course in Breaking a Monster

Going viral guarantees little beyond having your fifteen minutes of fame reuploaded to YouTube in ever diminishing quality, the original video (and its impressive view count) eventually lost to time and/or takedown notices. That makes Unlocking the Truth's second act as a signed band doubly impressive: The teen group is a two-time anomaly. As that Times Square street performance that stormed the internet makes clear, the heavy metal power trio's chops belie the age of its members.

Luke Meyer's Breaking a Monster follows Malcolm, Alec, and Jarad as their manager escorts them to Los Angeles to sign a $1.8 million, five-album deal with Sony. That process entails graduating from busking on sidewalks with their angular, downtuned axes to playing a Coachella gig amplified by Orange half-stacks. It'd be easy to dismiss Unlocking the Truth as a flash-in-the-pan novelty, but these kids can play — namely, a kind of breakdown-heavy metalcore that suffers from the same problem as approximately 97 percent of teenage metal bands: bad vocals and lyrics. ("I don't know if this is real or he's watching it on Degrassi," their manager says after reciting one of their songs.)

Despite a wealth of esoteric subgenres, heavy metal isn't known for its diversity. Remember that "True Norwegian Black Metal," which gained notoriety for a spate of church-burnings and murders in the '90s, is among the whitest genres of music in existence — sometimes in the supremacist sense. That makes the all-black Unlocking the Truth notable beyond the average age of its three members, whose experiences with metal seem to be the same as most other nascent headbangers': thrilled disbelief that music so intricate and powerful even exists. Metal, like punk, inspires its listeners to start bands of their own at a disproportionate rate — Unlocking the Truth is the tip of the tip of the iceberg.

But they're still thirteen-year-olds, which leads to Breaking a Monster's funniest moments: one of the boys proclaiming that his current girlfriend, while not his first, is definitely his best; their manager telling someone on the phone that the three kids all love L.A. because it reminds them of the latest Grand Theft Auto game.

You keep waiting for these kids to be exploited, of course, and what's made it onscreen confirms the impression you'll probably already have: that they signed a major deal not expecting to be subject to executives' whims with little agency of their own. What's happened since the cameras stopped rolling is more telling than what the filmmakers' time frame allowed them to capture: Unlocking the Truth has already gotten out of its five-album deal and just released its first record — without the help of Sony.

As for what comes next, we'll have to wait and see — the official video for the band's first single boasts 115,000 views as of this writing, which is impressive until you remember that its most famous street performance has nearly 2 million.
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Michael Nordine is a regular film contributor at Voice Media Group and its film partner, the Village Voice. VMG publications include LA Weekly, Denver Westword, Phoenix New Times, Miami New Times, Broward-Palm Beach New Times, Houston Press and Dallas Observer.
Contact: Michael Nordine