2015 has been a good year for metalheads, with a barrage of great releases from celebrated bands both old and new. In the realm of cinema heavy metal has also had a presence in some of the most delightful films to come out this past year. Among mainstream blockbusters such as Jurassic World and Mad Max: Fury Road however, these smaller-budget underground films have sadly not gotten much at all in terms of mainstream attention and exposure. Therefore, I want to use this opportunity to spread the word on a couple of my favorite underrated films of the year.

Both of the heavy metal films I will be referring to I was made aware of at the Night Visions film festival which is held twice a year in Helsinki, Finland. During the festival's first round in April of this year, I was introduced to a documentary called I Am Thor. The documentary centers around body builder and metal musician Jon Mikl Thor, best known as the frontman of the heavy metal band Thor. Ever since the '70s, the band has had a more or less cult following but never managed to break through into the mainstream. After setting up the unfortunate history of the band and its frontman, the documentary then follows the man's attempts to stage a comeback in the 2000s. What follows is a film that is hilarious and entertaining, yet also somehow sympathetic and moving.

While watching the documentary you can see why Thor never managed to become a household name, you can't help but feel sympathetic for the man. The now middle-aged metalhead dressing up in cheap-looking and ill-fitting costumes looks hokey at best and is hard to take seriously even in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way unlike when he was convincingly ripped in his younger years. But his determination to keep pushing on despite adversities ranging from financial woes to problems with health is nothing short of admirable. Even if you don't believe in the product he's pushing, there's still something to be said about the passion and love for his craft he exhibits. It makes you want to see him succeed, if only to be rewarded for all his hard work.

The other film about heavy metal that I enjoyed this year is not a documentary but a work of fiction I was made aware of by the Internet earlier this year. However, I didn't manage to see the film until its inclusion in the program of Night Visions in November. The movie in question is Deathgasm - the directorial debut of Jason Lei Howden. The film is a splatter comedy from New Zealand centering around a couple of metalheads who form a band and through certain twists and turns come into possession of pages of notes that they decide to turn into a song. When played however the music unleashes demons that possess their town, and so the teens are faced with the task of stopping the evil they have unwittingly unleashed, all while slaughtering the possessed in their path. What follows is a glorious barrage of metal references, sexually explicit humor, and bloody gore guaranteed to satisfy horror movie fanatics and metalheads alike. And well, anyone with a dark enough sense of humor to have a good time with a splatter comedy where a bunch of metalheads fight back people possessed by demons with big black dildos and vibrators.

But speaking of the enjoyment of violence in media, there is something that I would like to bring up. There have been and continue to be moral panics regarding metal music, blaming it for keeping teenagers depressed and turning them into devil worshipping, violent sociopaths. One need only look at how Marilyn Manson was blamed for the massacre at Columbine in the late '90s and this becomes evidently clear. Likewise, violent media has also been blamed for turning kids violent, ranging from violent movies to violent video games. Both these panics can be seen as converging in Deathgasm - an extremely violent film centering around heavy metal. But I am here to say that it is not movies like Deathgasm or the genre of music it and I Am Thor represent that create evil in the world. Rather it's something else - something brougt up by another underrated film to come out this year that I wish to highlight. The film in question is called White Rage.

White Rage is a Finnish documentary based around the true story of its main subject who narrates the film in his own voice but never shows his face and is only referred to by a fake name - Lauri - as to protect his identity. Lauri is someone who admits to planning a large-scale mass murder as a teenager. He never went through with his plans however, seeing a therapist and ultimately ending up a respected psychiatrist himself. In the film Lauri narrates the course of his adolescent years and the chain of events that he feels led to him harboring extreme fantasies of violence and genocide. His father died when he was young which left him having to step up as the man of the house at an early age. This was followed by extreme bullying throughout his time in school right up to university, meaning the vast majority of his life up to that point had been engulfed with torment courtesy of his fellow students.

Lauri describes the ways in which he started detaching himself from his surroundings and his emotions during his regular beatings, over time resulting in him becoming emotionally distant and cold at all times. In an attempt to survive the torment by rationalizing things and denying his feelings to make it easier to cope, he lost touch of his humanity and only started looking at things analytically. He found that those with power had influence, and that if he too could have power, he could reconcile all the pain he had to indure. He then started harboring violent fantasies, and ultimately planning a mass murder. As he desrcibes it in the film, he had dehumanized his potential victims, seeing punishing them through violence as justified because through bullying him the targets had revoked their humanity. He knew what he was thinking was morally wrong, but his anger helped him justify his plans to himself.

White Rage makes a compelling argument against real-life violence of all kinds, showing that violence breeds violence. The bullying suffered by children and adults all around the world results in such feelings of hatred and despise that Lauri describes, and in certain cases also in these feelings being realized as violent acts in retaliation for the anguish these people have had to endure. This violent retaliation is however not excusable as these former victims take out their anguish on other people who are sometimes innocent by-standers, creating even more victims and anguish as loved ones are left to mourn the death of those closest to them. It's a vicious circle where cruelty towards fellow human beings results in suffering, which eventually breeds further cruelty and suffering towards even more people. It is not media that breeds violence - it's all of us, whether we engage in behavior that is cruel towards our fellow man and woman, or if we stay silent and do nothing when we see others engaging in such behaviors. White Rage makes a compelling and emotionally powerful plea to tackle this issue head on, and it is therefor my favorite film of 2015. Devoid of a world-wide release and press the likes of Hollywood blockbusters it may be, but it is still no less important.

Compassion is what the world needs - not less heavy metal and splatter movies. And compassion is something that both I Am Thor and Deathgasm in their own ways breed. I Am Thor shows metalheads not as evil people out to spread violent and immoral propaganda, but as passionate people with a love for their art, and a burning need for validation. As for Deathgasm, despite a large part of enjoying splatter films being based in enjoying the creativity of the special effects in the blood and gore department, Deathgasm also makes you root for its characters. While in no way complex or deep, the characters are interesting and fun to watch, meaning that you want to see what happens to them amidst the bloody mayhem of the story.

At the time of writing this article we are still a week away from what is the most anticipated film of the year not only for myself but a vast majority of people - Star Wars: The Force Awakens. By the time you're reading this the movie will more than likely be out and we'll have found out whether the film is a collosal disappointment or everything we hoped, thus warranting a mention from me in terms of my favorite films of the year. But one thing I am fairly condifent in saying already, and that is that if people enjoy the film for its aerial dogfights, soldiers being blown away with blasters, and lightsabers clashing in a violent duel of fates, it won't be out of love of death and destruction, but out of love for the characters in the film, and the thrill of wanting to see them pull through at the end despite the destruction around them. It won't be a celebration of violence, but a celebration of our collective humanity. And that to me is what cinema is all about. Even when it's about demons being slapped in the face with big black dildos.