The heavy metal subculture gets co-opted for coming-of-age dramedy fodder in Metal Lords, now on Netflix. Fun fact: Game of Thrones co-creator D.B. Weiss is a Metal Guy, so he scripted and produced this story starring newcomer Adrian Greensmith as a leather-and-denim diehard headbanger and Jaeden Martell as his best drummer buddy, who contend with the usual high school hardships – while wearing Iron Maiden and Celtic Frost T-shirts, of course. Notably, Weiss drew Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello in as music supervisor, and sowed some cred into the movie’s earth via surprise appearances by a few metal luminaries. So will the movie earn the devil horns or the single-finger salute? Let’s find out.
METAL LORDS: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
The Gist: A riff judders and slices on the soundtrack – a metal riff, one its writer would surely contend is almighty as all hell. That’s Hunter (Greensmith), an unforgiving, uncompromising teenager who lives for metal, and if you take a look at him and think he’s a bit of a stretch of a caricature, I’m here to assure you that there are people in real life who are pretty far gone just like him, and I know some of them. Thou shall not question Hunter’s cred or authenticity as a character, a guy who is metal all the time and declares everything around him to be metal or not metal (and for what it’s worth, and you probably already came to this realization, Game of Thrones is very thoroughly metal). His best buddy is a meek dorkish type, Kevin (Martell), who joined the marching band so he could get out of phys ed. He plays snare drum, and so Hunter is trying to square-peg-in-a-round-hole him into being Dave Lombardo to his Jeff Hanneman, even though a double-kick drum kit is well outside Kevin’s meager musicianly range. Their band name? Skull—er, of course, likely because Shitf—er was already taken, and no, I’m not joking, look it up.
But the Power of the Riff compels him – eventually. First it must be established that these guys are in high school but, as you may expect, they exist outside the social mainstream. They go to a party and stand in a corner like dweebs, Kevin unable to approach girls and Hunter harshly criticizing the crappy band covering that irksome I’m-in-love-with-your-body song, whoever it is who sings that, it’s terrible, just terrible, because it’s not Venom or Voivod. There are the usual scenes with bullies who are jackasses and girls turning up their noses and teachers and principals scratching their heads at Hunter’s gregarious uberdramatic storm-of-the-light’s-bane presentation of himself, you know, tossing his long hair around, wearing denim “battle vests,” all the time speaking like the narrator of a bad ’80s movie with rubbery dragons and cornball wizards in it. A battle of the bands looms on the horizon, and nothing could fulfill Hunter’s power fantasies more than showing all those preppies and jocks and mean girls how hard he röcks.
And then there’s this girl, Emily (Isis Hainsworth), who Kevin notices amidst one of her righteously angry outbursts. She was off her meds that day, we eventually find out, after he meekly reaches out to her. She’s a gifted cellist who also signed up for marching band to get out of gym, which is a real bingo for Kevin. Hunter used his a-hole plastic surgeon single dad’s (Brett Gelman) credit card to buy Kevin a drum kit so massive it would make Neal Peart rise from the dead, and assigned him a song list to practice for the competition. So Kev’s fine-tuning Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” one day at school and Emily sits down and plays both the guitar and vocal lines exquisitely. And before you know it, Hunter’s strict No Yokos policy must be enforced, viciously and angrily, because Hunter’s dad is a piece of work whose assholishness has inspired his son to lash out at others. Being a teenager sucks no matter what, but trust me, being a teenager who’s into metal sucks slightly less than those who are into, I dunno, Harry Styles or some such flimsy crap.
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: References: School of Rock ebullience; teen doofs who are too into metal a la Lords of Chaos (although not so metal that they actually murder each other); the neo-coming-of-age comedy of stuff like The Edge of Seventeen or Lady Bird.
Performance Worth Watching: Formerly credited as Jaeden Lieberher, Martell has proven himself worthy of carrying mediumweight comedy-drama in the It movies, Knives Out and, ulp, The Book of Henry (judge him not for that movie’s failings). In Metal Lords, he provides a solid foundation for the cast, finding and expressing his character’s strengths and weaknesses nonverbally – like a pro, I might add.
Memorable Dialogue: Kevin proclaims his greatest fear: “We’re going to die virgins in a band called Skullf—er!”
Sex and Skin: A coupla butts here, a coupla sideboobs there.
Our Take: There’s a general not-greatness to Metal Lords, which mostly dresses up familiar teen-dilemma fodder – awkward romance, parents-just-don’t-understand clashes, a plot that leads to a big competition, etc. – in studded wristbands and army-surplus boots, stirs up a few decent laughs, inspires us to feel moderately invested in the characters’ well-being, spins some Motorhead and Slayer and Judas Priest on the soundtrack (but not enough Mayhem), then calls it a day. But on the flip side, there’s enough good-enoughness here to render the movie endearing, especially the strong performances by Martell, Greensmith and Hainsworth, who aren’t content to tread the usual teen-angst avenues while navigating social ostracization and the travails of mental illness.
Also working in its favor? It gets the metalhead shit mostly right, showing how this particular subculture can be a way of life, even a fetish, more than just a youthful dalliance. You know how it goes – if you’re truly metal, you’re metal for life, and everyone else is just posing. The Hunter character finds the music and iconography empowering, and Kevin learns it eventually as well, when, in the movie’s strongest sequence, he gets the kickass cymbal work and Bill Ward swing of “War Pigs” just right. In that sense, the movie’s doing more than just exploiting a niche for a few cheap laughs, instead showing honest affection for the music, for how fun it is to take such OTT stuff so seriously. Some may see it as satire – especially the sequence in which Hunter corpsepaints his face like a black metal antihero – but self-parody can be part of the game, my friends. And in that sense, Metal Lords is purely, strictly earnest.
Our Call: STREAM IT. Nobody’s gonna be moved to tears or strain themselves laughing, but Metal Lords is more likely to win you over than lose you in the mosh. Some hails, but not all-hail hails, then.
John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more of his work at johnserbaatlarge.com.
The post Stream It Or Skip It: ‘Metal Lords’ on Netflix, a Heavy Metal Dramedy That Riffs Hard on Coming-of-Age Tropes appeared first on Decider.