There is no shortage of coming-of-age teen comedy-dramas where the central protagonist will have some passing remark regarding a band they like or put up posters of rock groups on their bedroom walls. If a film is to center on a musician, the music is typically mainstream indie, with the lead sporting a guitar singing the flowery song they wrote for their crush as if they will be the next Ed Sheeran or Shawn Mendes. Metal Lords, written by Game of Thrones showrunner D.B Weiss, attempts to subvert expectations and be a true ode to metal. To that end, Metal Lords is an endearing love letter to young metal fans and the genre itself. Hunter (Adrian Greensmith) is a die-hard metal fan who appreciates the art for what it is musically and for what the genre as a whole stands for. He recruits his longtime best friend, the quiet and nerdy Kevin (Jaeden Martell), to join his band, SkullFucker, to win the high school’s Battle of the Bands. Kevin then brings on Emily (Isis Hainsworth), the transfer student with a temper and affinity for the cello. Hunter and Kevin have always been friends but Hunter underwent a transition when his home life changed and he sought out metal for comfort. However, like most people who give metal a passing glance, Hunter picked up on the aesthetic and “bad boy” image projected by the stars of many of his favorite bands, Ultimately, for him, Kevin, and Emily this journey to win the Battle of the Bands will be a re-education on how to be a band and embrace imperfection.
The average teen flick, there is a segment that always reintroduces audiences to the cliques that make up high school. There is undoubtedly always a table of kids drenched in dark make-up, rocking distressed t-shirts and jeans, with jagged pieces of metal or tattoos covering their bodies. Metal Lords flips the script and brings those characters out from the margins and makes them the central focus — but with a twist. These kids are actually pretty darn normal. The story follows a predictable structure, outcasts get together to triumph over societal expectations and, along the way, the group gets to peek into each other’s lives, learn to love a niche thing that unites them, challenge themselves, and fall in love. The film tries its best to be edgy, but is too held back from going over the edge. While Metal Lords is enjoyable, albeit predictable, it does pull its punches in the most pertinent moments. Sentimentality is the bread and butter of teen films, but poignant moments of character growth or delving into important issues relevant to teens are skipped past or not given space for exploration here. Metal Lords also relies on heavily outdated high school tropes that may have worked a decade ago, but don’t quite resonate today. There is almost a comical level of misunderstanding of high school socialization from the creatives, sadly showing their age with how they perceive the youth. For a movie about kids learning the values of metal, the story sure does fail them by being so predictably outdated, and sadly presenting two incredibly unlikeable and uncharismatic leads as the faces of this tale.
The one thing Metal Lords excels at is in its portrayal of metal. Just as the fashion of iconic teen movies from the early aughts spurred change in the real world, Metal Lords has a similar pull with the metal genre. It is a very concise and simple introduction to some of the top bands to consider when getting into the metal, and it is presented with reverence here. There is an aspiration that Hunter exudes that will resonate with young folks who may also see in metal what Hunter sees. There is a great deal of attention put towards bringing this long misunderstood genre to mainstream audiences in a way that doesn’t scare anyone away but is inviting. The film is at its best, visually and narratively, when it is deeply entrenched in metal. There is a visceral impact to the third act which truly hones in on what this film has been lacking from the beginning. Cinematographer Anette Haellmigk, film editor Steve Edwards, and the iconic composer Ramin Djawadi lean heavily into the metal to create the most compelling reason to watch this film. Also, the soundtrack is just exceptional. Music producer Tom Morello is the one who wraps up this uneven mishmash in pretty packaging. Metal Lords will not be highly regarded in years to come, but it has its moments of joy, fleeting as they may be.