Tom Morello and D.B. Weiss band together to deliver a sincere film about teenage metalheads.
From the way the camera lingers on the cymbals of a drum kit or the strings of a guitar, to the film’s nonstop needle drops of Metallica and Judas Priest, it’s obvious that Metal Lords has a genuine love for the heavy side of music and its influence. For the most part, this latest Netflix original is your usual high school coming-of-age story that hits familiar beats, but by rooting itself in the power of metal (particularly the nonconformity of it), it allows for plenty of fun shredding and creative cursing to go with the teenage angst.
Written and produced by Game of Thrones co-creator D.B. Weiss with fellow metal fan and legendary musician Tom Morello executive producing, the film is directed by Peter Sollett, who is best known for directing Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist and is currently set to bring the massively popular Minecraft video game to the big screen within the next couple of years. While that’s plenty of talent behind the camera, Metal Lords strongest aspect is its trio of stars: Jaeden Martell (It), Adrian Greensmith and Isis Hainsworth.
The film centers on best friends Kevin (Martell) and Hunter (Greensmith), two outcasts in their local high school who try to form a band under Hunter’s direction. Ever since marital issues forced Hunter’s mother to leave the family, he’s been stuck with a father (Brett Gelman) he neither relates to nor gets along with. Heavy metal has become his one and only solace, so an upcoming Battle of the Bands at school is Hunter’s big chance to prove himself in front of his peers. He convinces Kevin to join him and learn how to play the drums, but Kevin knows very little about playing an instrument and even less about the world of metal.
What Metal Lords understands so well about the music is just how transformative it can be for those who get into it. As Hunter piles on stacks of homework for Kevin to go through (Megadeth, Slipknot, Iron Maiden, Pantera, Dio, and others) and as Kevin basically teaches himself how to play, we see a newfound confidence start to form in the shy and reserved kid. He comes out of his shell and begins to improve his life, making friends with people he wouldn’t dare talk to before, embracing a bit of the fashion of the genre, and even beginning his first real romantic relationship with new student Emily (Hainsworth).
Hunter, meanwhile, uses metal as his only defense against a world he feels is against him. He has a big chip on his shoulder and takes it out on everyone around him, whether it be his classmates or even his best friend. When the band fails to find a bassist, Kevin brings in Emily (who shreds on the cello) to join. But Hunter, despite being the self-proclaimed expert on all things metal, outright rejects Emily for being a girl and not playing a “real” metal instrument, calling the entire idea “totally gay”. His ideas on the music and its image are more than a little outdated, showing how the teenage rebel may think he understands everything about the culture of heavy music but clearly has a lot to learn.
That dichotomy of Kevin and Hunter and what the music means to them is what lifts Metal Lords just a bit higher than similar stories. The film gets that misfit feeling that draws kids to the genre in the first place and is then able to explore the ways in which they externalize and internalize it. It’s the strongest element in a film that can oftentimes feel mundane; there’s not much style beyond the musical sequences (one mosh pit camera moment near the end is pretty cool) and much of the plot can begin to feel predictable. And despite a couple of more modern acts that make it into the soundtrack, much of the music and the dynamics of high school life feel far more Gen X than modern day.
Still, the passion is clearly there and the Morello produced song that the band performs, ‘Machinery of Torment’, is a genuine banger. It’s hard to complain much when you’ve got a soundtrack worthy of the film’s title, some laugh out loud moments, and a smart and surprisingly sweet take on the world of metal kids. There’s also a pretty amazing rendition of Black Sabbath’s ‘War Pigs’ and more than one cameo from true metal gods. Any metal fan will find something to enjoy here.
‘Metal Lords’ is now streaming on Netflix.