Metal Lords review: A Game of Thrones showrunner gets personal on the music
In August 2019, just months after the polarizing finale of The iron Throne airing on HBO, showrunners DB Weiss and David Benioff have signed a $200 million deal with streaming giant Netflix. Their eagerness to move on to other projects came at the end of thrones‘, but the flow of new material has come in a trickle so far. The two served as executive producers on the Sandra Oh-directed miniseries in 2021 The chairbut the new teen movie metal lords is the first taste of post-thrones written by one of them since they made the Netflix deal. The duo’s co-executive produced the film, but the screenplay is a solo project by Weiss, based loosely on his own adolescence spent playing in high school bands. It’s a lighthearted film, and an almost consciously understated sequel to the huge The iron Thronebut Weiss has the personal experience to make his humblest ambitions work.
metal lords centers on a pair of childhood best friends with a deepening rift between them in their mid-teens. Hunter (Adrian Greensmith) constantly bristles at the contours of a world he’s grown to hate – a low-affluent, predominantly white suburb. Her slender, angular figure is a physical echo of her sharp temper. Kevin (THIS and Knives outby Jaeden Martell, whose style bears an uncanny resemblance to a young Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree) is a softer presence. He is sweet and edgy, and is often engulfed by Hunter’s larger personality. But he’s also curious about girls, parties, and anything else his more popular classmates may enjoy.
Hunter is a diehard metalhead and serious guitarist. Kevin doesn’t know much about music, but he agrees to play drums in Skullfucker, the high school band that Hunter thinks is taking over the world. The metal ultimately deepens the bond between the two, but the tension they go through along the way enlivens the film and allows for some insightful observations about what it means to dedicate to a niche art form.
Many films have explored the seemingly intrinsic connection between social alienation and heavy metal. A founding film of the pseudo-subgenre was Short film by Jim VanBebber in 1994 My sweet Satanwho dramatizes the true crime story of teenage metalhead and murderer Ricky Kasso. Jonas Åkerlund also looked to real life for inspiration for 2018 Chaos Lordsdocumenting the rise of the Norwegian black metal scene of the early 90s and the dark cloud of burned churches, suicides and murders that followed its young anti-heroes.
The whimsical and atmospheric film of 2013 Metalheads provided something like a photo negative from those films, depicting a grief-stricken Icelandic young woman whose only consolation comes from the lightless void of black metal. Lukas Moodysson’s 2013 Anarchic feature film We’re the best! – a clear influence on metal lords – is steeped in punk, not metal, but it also tunes loud music to its disgruntled teenage protagonists as an amulet against their Swedish hometown conformity. In all of these movies, the heavy guitar riffs and thumping drums become a lifeline for kids who can’t face the world. Something almost supernatural seems to draw them into this cacophonous and disconcerting music that ordinary society cannot digest. Which describes metal lords‘ Hunter – but that’s clearly not true of Kevin, nor of Skullfucker’s eventual third member, classical music-loving cellist Emily (Isis Hainsworth). metal lords does its most interesting work in the discrepancies between its protagonists’ relationships with the genre.
At the beginning of metal lords, Hunter has already sold his soul to metal. Her blacker wardrobe, the posters on the walls of her rehearsal space and her instinctive rejection of all non-metallic music leave no doubt. He’s an archetypal movie metalhead, a child of a broken family with behavioral issues and an inability to relate to his peers. He devotes all his energy to cultivating an encyclopedic knowledge of metal and practicing the guitar. Every headbanger in the audience has had a Hunter in their life.
Kevin, on the other hand, represents a less documented demographic of metal fans: the enthralled and engaged newcomer. Forget the denizens of bullet-belted bulletin boards who say the opposite: no one is born knowing the difference between early and mid-period Morbid Angel. Each metalhead spent a dizzying few months or years discovering what they loved about this music, and Kevin’s journey into metal lords may be the best on-screen representation of this process to date. The smile that creeps across his lips when he listens for the first time Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” – the launch song for a playlist Hunter assigns him as homework – captures a magical, indescribable sense of discovery. The day a metalhead first hears “War Pigs” (or “Puppeteer,” or “The Number of the Beast”) often ends up feeling like the first day of the rest of their lives. Martell’s performance beautifully enlivens this moment of revelation.
Less convincing is the film’s portrayal of Emily, a kind of Metal Pixie Dream Girl who serves as a love interest for Kevin, as well as what Hunter hesitantly calls a “Yoko” for Skullfucker. She is introduced in a scene where she yells at the director of the school marching band (author Chuck Klosterman) and points her clarinet into the turf. When Emily later reveals that she only acted out because she didn’t take her ‘happy pills’, it’s clear she’s little more than a bunch of girlish cliches. . The script doesn’t let the audience know the precise state of Emily’s mental health, but the way he cavalierly throws an aside about her medication reveals how much she really cares. Everything she does in the film can be excused or explained by the presence or absence of mood-stabilizing drugs. She rarely looks like a real person.
That’s no discredit to Hainsworth, who delivers a quietly powerful performance despite script shortcomings. Emily eventually joins Skullfucker as a cellist, helpfully renaming the band Skullflower so he can play their high school Battle of the Bands. But his interest in metal is both passive and clearly linked to his infatuation with Kevin. Their romance is Netflix-cute, in a To all the boys I’ve loved before sort of, but Emily’s undercooked characterization makes short shrift of female metalheads, most of whom didn’t need to fall in love with a boy to understand the power of Judas Priest.
metal lords‘Climax comes to this high school concert, where Skullflower belts out boos from her classmates and performs “Machinery of Torment,” written by Rage Against the Machine executive producer and guitarist Tom Morello. In school of rockanother spiritual predecessor of metal lords, Jack Black’s Dewey Finn says, “A great rock show can change the world. Weiss has clearly internalized this principle. No matter what happened in the first 90 minutes of metal lords, it had to lead to a great musical moment. Skullflower delivers on that promise: the young stars’ performance is legitimately impressive, all the goofy energy and ear-to-ear smiles. The movie codes Hunter, Kevin, and Emily as three distinct types of metal fans (and musicians), but the power they conjure when they come together is far greater than the sum of its parts.
There’s a bit of “Who’s this for?” cooked in metal lords. The iron Throne obsessives checking it out to see what Weiss is up to will have to squint to find similarities between the two projects, and grumpy metalheads will surely find fault with its sometimes poseuristic portrayal of their beloved genre. (Counterpoints: The iron Throne is metal as hell, and metal elitists should get over themselves already.)
It’s also a teen movie, but the specifics of its subject matter aren’t exactly suited to a Gen Z frequency. In 2022, classic heavy metal isn’t the music of a 16-year-old’s parents, c is the music of his grandparents. The central thesis of metal lords is that, for the lucky few who respond to the siren song of metal, the experience of falling in love with the genre is an ageless and universal rite. There’s no social currency in metal, especially in a high school where the only other band plays tepid Ed Sheeran covers to raucous applause. Hunter, Kevin and Emily embrace it anyway, devoting themselves to it as fans and musicians. This makes a strong argument for any teenager who wants to pursue something no one else cares about: do it anyway.
metal lords is now streaming on Netflix.