I am a monster.
I am a monster.
That’s what you told me, baby!
And so goes the chorus to the song “Monster” by the heavy metal band Unlocking The Truth (UTT). I am quoting these lyrics because I just checked out Breaking a Monster, a documentary about the band. And what is so interesting about this metal band? It’s gotta be the shoes packaging. [Channel the patron saint of Brooklyn Mars Blackmon here.] UTT is composed of the most unlikely of metalheads --Malcolm Brickhouse, Jarad Dawkins, and Alec Atkins--three African-American kids from Brooklyn. They started out as 11-year-old buskers on the streets of New York, posting their performances on YouTube. Their videos eventually caught the attention of Alan Sacks, a television producer whose claim to fame includes the creation of Welcome Back Kotter and The Jonas Brothers tv series, and he became their manager.
The documentary tracks a year in UTT’s life after just landing a $1.8 million dollar record deal with Sony. The deal is a dream come true, but the realities of the music business bare down on the group. Although they have a ton of notoriety and invitations to perform (Coachella, anyone?), they don’t have a song recorded, much less an album. They are great instrumentalists, but their voices haven’t changed yet, and a lot of pressure is placed on lead Malcolm who has no confidence in his singing ability. Their parents are well-meaning and invested, but have no experience in the music game. Sacks is enthusiastic and helpful, but there is always a looming question as to whether he has the kids’ best interests at heart. Then there’s the reality that these are just regular kids, who like to skateboard and play video games, but are being held accountable for adult-sized obligations under the auspices of their record company handlers. Nothing is just about the music. In an ominous tone, as the kids seem burnt out over the prospect of doing yet another television interview, Sacks warns them that they don’t want to become like Bieber. Indeed, while the dynamic of the band is interesting, this documentary provides a rare look at the music industry itself. Rather than artists, bands are looked at as commodities that need to be packaged, marketed and sold in order to be successful. That reality leaves a bitter taste.
If you are interested in a double feature, I would recommend watching Breaking a Monster with the 2012 documentary A Band Called Death, which you can rent on Amazon. You can make it a triple feature by adding on the 2010 Fishbone documentary Everyday Sunshine, which is also available on Amazon.