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Netflix’s Metal Lords Review: A Headbanging Coming-Of-Age Comedy From Game Of Thrones' Co-Creator

If Bill and Ted had bypassed time travel for more band practice...

Kevin and Hunter in music store in Metal Lords
(Image: © Netflix)

When it comes to crafting a follow-up project to an entertainment behemoth like Game of Thrones, one might think that “bigger” is the ideal option. But for former co-showrunner D.B. Weiss, the only true option was to make something more metal in the form of a passion project that began percolating even before the adaptation of George R.R. Martin's fantasy epic. With his fun and informed screenplay for Netflix's Metal Lords, Weiss has definitely pulled off one of cinema’s most rollicking odes to the riff-tastic heavy metal genre – cementing its high school characters at an age that is as heavy as can be, while often being anything but metal. 

Metal Lords' almost surprisingly low-key narrative is centered around the BFF-ness of the semi-outcast teens Kevin, played by IT’s Jaeden Martell, and Hunter, which marks the first on-screen role for newcomer actor Adrian Greensmith (though you’d never guess it). Considering their days aren’t exactly overwhelmed with opportunities to hang out with popular crowds, the lads aim to start a heavy metal band, with Hunter as the resident shredder and Kevin bringing double-bass density on the skins. To be expected, it’s not so easy for them to find another proper bandmate at a school where distortion pedals are as common as dodo birds, and their name – Skullfucker – is hardly a welcoming beacon.

Also to be expected, because this is a movie that needs larger stakes than “Will they find that bassist?” Metal Lords tasks Kevin and Hunter with the goal of winning the school’s Battle of the Bands. (It’s not the only Bill and Ted comparison to make, but it’s the one that reminds me how jealous I am of people who went to schools with enough musically gifted students that a Battle of the Bands could even be possible.) That’s where Isis Hainsworth’s Emily enters the picture. A cellist whose skills are matched only by her social anxiety, Emily inadvertently causes a rift between the guys, and the story becomes less about whether they’ll win, and more about whether Hunter and Kevin will even stay friends.

Metal Lords’ love for classic heavy metal is turned up to 11. 

By and large in a visual sense, Metal Lords' embrace of '70s, '80s, and '90s heavy metal comes through most in Hunter's bedroom, which is immaculately designed and decorated to exude fandom in every available way. From posters to album covers to full-sized pinball games — cue more of my jealousy — Hunter's safe haven is a testament to all of the iconic bands and musicians that pop up on the soundtrack, from Metallica to Black Sabbath to Judas Priest to Mastadon. This movie definitely isn't aiming to be that one kid who only listens to Icelandic vampire Viking bands without vowels in their names, but that's certainly better for a film that plays things so straightforwardly. 

Speaking of the tunes that Metal Lords has in the metaphorical jukebox, this is oh-so-thankfully not a case where producers skimped on the soundtrack budget and opted for crunchy public domain rock. On the contrary, so many classic guitar riffs blast through your speakers throughout the film that it starts to feel like maybe they paid too much money for all the tracks used. Whether or not that was made easier by Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello serving as an executive producer (among other musicians who lent their talents in one way or another), the efforts are more than appreciated.

If there's a record regarding instantly memorable scene entrances, I will nominate Metal Lords for it, as it features one of the best needle drops ever put to a moving image thanks to perfectly timed Pantera riffage. I daresay even the late, great Dimebag Darrell would have given it a headbang of approval, regardless of what he thought of the rest.

Jaeden Martell, Adrian Greensmith, and Isis Hainsworth bring the acting and musical talent.

Though other characters do exist in the periphery — from Hunter's douchey father played by Brett Gelman to Noah Urrea's rival band frontman Clay — Metal Lords centers almost entirely on Hunter and Kevin, and could have been a disaster if both actors didn't fully embody these characters' maturity-lite personalities. The same goes for Isis Hainsworth, who gives Emily the proper gravitas in the same way the others do: by acting like actual high school students. 

Even when Hunter is being obnoxious and twerp-y and way too impressed with his own vision, I still kinda like the guy, and probably would have befriended him in my younger years. Even when Kevin is too introverted to be comfortable and unable to express his very logical ideas in convincing ways, he's still a nice and respectable kid that I probably would have hung out with in school. I don't even have an "Even when..." set up for Emily, because she's great, freak-outs and all. 

Thankfully, Metal Lords infuses many of its scenes with musical performances, and those are the moments when everything aligns best. Adrian Greensmith clearly knows his way around a guitar, and Jaeden Martell legitimately learned how to play the drums during the COVID-delayed pre-production process for the film. Meanwhile, Isis Hainsworth makes everything sound wonderfully melancholy with her cello talents, despite the actress not being privy to heavy metal in general ahead of filming. It would be a major understatement to say I would be glued to my seat for a feature-length concert film featuring a "greatest hits" lineup from this trio. 

Metal Lords becomes a bit formulaic, but that’s also how hit music is made. 

As much as Metal Lords can be enjoyable in spurts, the film isn't without its drawbacks, at least in terms of ways it could have been that much better. And perhaps the biggest issue here is that D.B. Weiss' script doesn't stray from any predictable patterns with its characters, and thus leans into quite a few tropes without many attempts to subvert. Hunter's relationship with his dad is particularly rote and given the short shrift, even if Brett Gelman excels at playing judgmental pricks. 

One exception involves toxic stereotypes regarding sexuality, which get amusingly turned on their head. But then there's something amiss about Hunter not recognizing cellos' rise in usage within the metal community in more recent years, which possibly boils down to him being a teenager without anyone guiding his tastes, or possibly boils down to him just not thinking girls are metal.

Despite an all-around lack of surprises, the formulaic nature isn't entirely a negative, since the entire music industry continues building on the backs of what came before, with the majority of pop music being derivative in some fashion. And in that sense, Metal Lords isn't guilty of anything too sinful, since even its least original beats are still played as authentic by all involved. To play things more fantastically and unbelievably would have meant sacrificing what already worked best. 

Perhaps they can save the wilder story beats (like kidnapping historical icons via time travel) for the encore...er...sequel. Plus, there are lots of moments — such as the "bassist who gets way too intense while he's in the groove" that will feel hilariously familiar to anyone who's ever been in a band.

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist and Freeheld director Peter Sollett was tasked with bringing D.B. Weiss’ script to life, and he does so with some of the same verve and energy that he brought to his own coming-of-age tale Raising Victor Vargas and its preceding short film. And he gets as many props as anyone for the Pantera needle drop mentioned above. So while there isn't much about Metal Lords that will stand out as far as stunt sequences or wildly inventive shots, Sollett keeps things moving easy-breezily. 

D.B. Weiss' next effort with Thrones co-creator David Benioff is the sci-fi adapation of Liu Cixin's complex novel The Three-Body Problem, which will no doubt be another blockbuster-in-scope TV venture for the duo. And don't be surprised if Metal Lords inspires those three bodies to hop into the mosh pit by the time it's all said and done. 

Nick Venable
Nick Venable

Nick is a Cajun Country native, and is often asked why he doesn't sound like that's the case. His love for his wife and daughters is almost equaled by his love of gasp-for-breath laughter and gasp-for-breath horror. A lifetime spent in the vicinity of a television screen led to his current dream job, as well as his knowledge of too many TV themes and ad jingles.