18th January 2018 (UK)
A young rock band, half of its members from England and half from the U.S., drops out of college and moves to California to chase their dreams.
Andy Biersack, Booboo Stewart, Ben Bruce
Heavy Metal heavyweights Andy Biersack and Ben Bruce headline Ash Avildsen’s American Satan, a whirlwind world tour through the dizzying highs and soul sacrificing lows of an up and coming rock band.
American Satan tells the story of a young rock band, half from England half from the US, who move to the Sunset Strip to chase their music dreams. Living in a van, their passion and talent exceed their means to survive when an enigmatic stranger (Malcolm McDowell) preys on the emotional turmoil of lead singer Johnny Faust (Andy Biersack of Black Veil Brides fame) who has just learned of his mother’s (Denise Richards, Starship Troopers) grave illness. Manipulating this time of weakness for the band, he offers them a deal that will set them on a path of fame, fortune, and ultimately dark destruction. Caught in the middle of a pact with the devil himself, their music and controversial altercations end up influencing society beyond anything this century has seen.
Putting musicians in the lead role of a feature film is usually a risky move, but there’s no need to worry here: both Biersack and Bruce, guitarist for British Metalcore band Asking Alexandria, impress in their roles as members of the fictional band The Relentless. It’s disappointing to discover, then, that the duo’s involvement with the soundtrack side of things is minimal, with Remington Leith of Palaye Royale lending his voice to the singing parts. The score does have some considerable talent involved though, with Jonathan Davies of nu-metal pioneers Korn giving the film its catchy earworms. It’s the live performances of these songs in which American Satan really shines with flames and pyros shooting from the stage, giving an accurate reflection of the energy of attending a metal gig.
The rest of the cast, which includes Game of Thrones actor John Bradley as the hapless band manager Ricky, Sebastian Gregory as drummer Dylan and Jesse Sullivan as the bad-influence bassist Lily, put in commendable efforts, but it’s veteran actor Malcolm McDowell who is the undeniable show stealer. He looks to be having the most fun with the material, which admittedly is played straighter by the others than it probably ought to be, and his spontaneous appearances instantly become the highlight of the scene.
The antics of the band themselves are predictably preposterous and tick every box of what is expected from a heavy metal band on tour. Sex, drugs, vandalism, run-ins with the authorities, protesting parents: American Satan has it by the tour bus load and makes the Motley Crue backstage stories sound like children’s birthday parties.
For better or worse, everything in American Satan is done in excess, including its nearly two-hour runtime. The first hour flies by as the band establish themselves and find themselves in all kinds of wild situations, but its disjointed and fleeting episodic nature robs the film of a stronger overarching narrative. This is especially evident towards the end of the second act, as the film essentially becomes softcore pornography with sequences relying on sex to pass the time.
An ill-judged scene recalling the story of the real-life death of Hanoi Rocks drummer just to prove a point to the fictional band seems a little tasteless, but there are some real anecdotal gems and fun conspiracy theories involving Satan’s connections with heavy metal included in Matty Beckerman and Avildsen’s script.
American Satan is much like the music it contains – best enjoyed when not taken too seriously. Fans of both Black Veil Brides and Asking Alexandria will love seeing their idols on screen, and the music is as good as anything you’d hear in the rock charts.
A devilishly exceptional turn by McDowell is reason enough to catch American Satan, but anyone who has even the smallest interest in the genre will find something to love here.
Music is up to the standards of high charting releases
A well-paced introduction to the bands rise
Malcolm McDowell is perfect as Satan
Story not strong enough to last its 111 minute runtime