In August 2019, just months after the polarizing finale of game of Thrones Airing on HBO, showrunners DB Weiss and David Benioff signed a $200 million deal with streaming giant Netflix. Her eagerness to move on to other projects was evident by the end thrones‘ running, but the flow of new material has only been a trickle so far. The two served as executive producers on the 2021 miniseries, directed by Sandra Oh The chairbut the new teen movie Metal Lords is the first taste of postthrones Writing from one of them since they made the Netflix deal. The duo co-produced the film, but the script is a solo project by Weiss, loosely based on his own youth playing in high school bands. It’s a small film and an almost self-consciously understated sequel to the massive game of Thronesbut Weiss has the personal experience to realize his more modest ambitions.
Metal Lords follows a pair of childhood best friends who become rifted in their mid-teens. Hunter (Adrian Greensmith) constantly struggles against the contours of a world he loathes – a boringly affluent, overwhelmingly white suburb. His lean, angular physique is a physical echo of his hard-edged temperament. Kevin (IT and knife out‘s Jaeden Martell, styled to eerily resemble a young Steven Wilson from Porcupine Tree) is a softer presence. He is mild-mannered and nervous, and is frequently swallowed up by Hunter’s larger personality. But he’s also curious about girls, parties, and anything else his more popular classmates might enjoy.
Hunter is a die-hard metalhead and a serious guitarist. Kevin doesn’t know much about the music, but he agrees to play drums in Skullfuckers, the high school band Hunter thinks will take over the world. Metal ultimately deepens the bond between the two, but the tension they process in the process drives the film forward and allows for some astute observations on what it means to dedicate yourself to a niche art form.
Many films have explored the apparent intrinsic connection between social alienation and heavy metal. A foundational film for the pseudo-subgenre was 1994 short film directed by Jim VanBebber my sweet satanWhich dramatizes the true crime story of teenage metalhead and murderer Ricky Kasso. Jonas Åkerlund was also inspired by real life for 2018 Lords of Chaosdocuments the rise of the Norwegian black metal scene in the early 90’s and the black cloud of church fires, suicide and murder that followed their young anti-heroes.
The moody, atmospheric film from 2013 metal head provided something like a photo negative of these films, showing a grieving young Icelandic woman whose only solace lies in black metal’s lightless emptiness. Lukas Moodysson’s 2013 anarchic feature film We are the best! — a significant impact on Metal Lords – is full of punk, not metal, but it also bestows its disaffected teenage protagonists with loud music as an amulet against the conformity of their Swedish hometown. In all of these films, heavy guitar riffs and pounding drums become a lifeline for kids who are at a loss to cope with the world. Something almost supern atural seems to be pulling them into this cacophonous, confusing music that square society can’t take. That describes Metal Lords
At the beginning of Metal Lords, Hunter has already sold his soul to Metal. His no longer black wardrobe, the posters on the walls of his rehearsal room and his knee-jerk rejection of all non-metal music leave no doubt. He’s an archetypal movie metalhead, a child from a broken home with behavior problems and an inability to relate to his peers. He puts all his energy into cultivating an encyclopedic knowledge of metal and practicing the guitar. Every headbanger in the audience had a hunter in their life.
Kevin, on the other hand, represents a less-documented demographic of metal fans: the enthusiastic, dedicated newcomer. Forget the bullet-belted message board denizens who say otherwise: no one was born to know the difference between early and mid-Morbid Angel. Every metalhead spent a dizzying few months or years trying to figure out what it was that they loved about this music and Kevin’s journey Metal Lords
Less compelling is the film’s portrayal of Emily, a sort of metal pixie dream girl who serves as Kevin’s love interest, and what Hunter shyly calls a “yoko” for skullfuckers. She is featured in a scene where she yells at the headmaster of the marching band (author Chuck Klosterman) and rams her clarinet into the lawn. When Emily later reveals that she only gambled because she didn’t take her “luck pills,” it’s clear she’s little more than a bunch of cliches in girl form. The script doesn’t let the audience in on the exact state of Emily’s mental health, but the way they blithely brush aside a comment about her medication shows just how little they actually care. Everything she does in the film can be excused or explained away by the presence or absence of mood-stabilizing drugs. She rarely acts like a real person.
That’s no discredit for Hainsworth, who delivers a quiet, powerful performance despite the script’s flaws. Emily eventually joins Skullfucker as a cellist and helpfully renames the band Skullflower so she can play at their high school Battle of the Bands. But her interest in metal is both passive and clearly connected to her infatuation with Kevin. Their romance is Netflix sweet, rolled into one To all the boys I’ve loved before sort of, but the under-characterization of Emily gives short shrift to 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 arrives at this high school concert where Skullflower steels herself against her classmates’ boos and performs “Machinery of Torment,” written by executive producer and Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello. In School of Rockanother spiritual predecessor of Metal Lords, Dewey Finn of Jack Black says: “A great rock show can change the world.” Weiss has clearly internalized this principle. No matter what happened in the first 90 minutes Metal Lords, it had to culminate in a big musical moment. Skullflower delivers on that promise: the young stars’ performance is justifiably great, full of awkward energy and big grins. The film encodes Hunter, Kevin and Emily as three different types of metal fans (and musicians), but the power they summon when they come together is far greater than the sum of their parts.
There’s a bit of “Who’s this for?” baked in Metal Lords. game of Thrones Obsessed who watch it to see what Weiss is up to will have to squint to find similarities between the two projects, and cranky metalheads will surely find things to complain about in his sometimes comical portrayal of their beloved genre be able. (counterpoints: game of Thrones is metal as hell and metal elite should just get over themselves.)
It’s also a teen movie, but the specifics of its subject matter aren’t exactly attuned to a Gen Z frequency. In 2022, classic heavy metal isn’t the music of a 16-year-old’s parents – it’s the music of their grandparents. The central thesis of Metal Lords is that for the lucky few who respond to metal’s siren song, the experience of falling in love with the genre is a timeless, universal rite. There is no social currency in metal, especially in a high school where the only other band plays tepid Ed Sheeran covers to thunderous applause. Hunter, Kevin and Emily embrace it anyway and dedicate themselves to him as fans and musicians. It’s a powerful argument for every teenager out there interested in pursuing something that nobody they know is interested in: do it anyway.
Metal Lords now streaming on Netflix.