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‘Metal Lords’: How not to make a film about metal music

| Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Makayla Hernandez I The Observer

“Metal Lords” is a new Netflix original coming-of-age comedy centered around two high school misfits who start a metal band in hopes of winning their school’s battle of the bands. Along the way, they come to learn a lot about themselves, the music world and the joys of playing music. However, as with all great bands, one member is an egomaniac. His selfishness almost tears apart the band when his bandmate gets a girlfriend. It’s a paint-by-numbers coming-of-age film, so naturally, the friends make up just in time for the battle of the bands and go on to deliver a killer performance. Unfortunately, they do not win, but they leave with a renewed creative fire. The aforementioned girlfriend even joins the band! Frankly, the whole thing is a bit boring, and I couldn’t care less.

“Metal Lords” is the latest victim of Netflix’s relentless content production machine, which produces paint-by-numbers, lowest common denominator dreck that claims to identify with a niche subculture for the sake of marketing. Unfortunately, this is just window dressing to attract metal fans to the film, with hopes of it being worthy of their time. They even managed to rope legends like Kirk Hammett, Rob Halford, Scott Ian and Tom Morello into the film by way of meaningless cameos.

What I mean by all this is that writer D.B Weiss and director Peter Sollett miss the point of their own movie. Part of what makes producing a film about music, especially about performing music, so difficult is finding a way to make it feel authentic. Some films get it, but some films don’t. “School of Rock,” “Almost Famous,” “Deathgasm” and “This Is Spinal Tap” are all examples of films whose directors just got it. “Metal Lords,” though, halfheartedly attempts to make some kind of grand statement about what metal is early in the film, but it feels disingenuous.

Even the presentation of Metal music in this film feels— for lack of a better term— fake. It’s as if Weiss and Sollett listened to their local radio rock station or a “top ten metal albums of all time” list from Rolling Stone for inspiration. Sure enough, this is the most surface-level presentation of metal that I’ve ever seen. The entire film feels like it’s coming from the perspective of a kid in a black shirt whining about how nobody understands them because they listen to obscure music like Metallica and Black Sabbath. It’s like a curated Spotify playlist of boilerplate popular bands in the genre. Perhaps this is an attempt at name recognition to establish familiarity for the sake of general audiences. Most people have heard of Judas Priest, and perhaps Netflix was worried that they might alienate audiences by namedropping slightly lesser-known yet highly influential bands like Carcass, Death or Acid Bath. Yet, these are exactly the kinds of bands that actual metal musicians listen to and use as inspiration, especially Death Metal musicians like the group the film focuses on.

Even the original song that the band is working on throughout the film feels soulless and manufactured. Sure, it’s a competent song, but it’s boring. Consisting of two riffs, clicky programmed drums, weak vocals and some of the most uninspired lyrics I’ve ever heard, “Machinery of Torment” is one of the most grating original songs I’ve heard in a long time. Don’t even get me started on the chorus. The band claims to play death metal, yet this song is completely devoid of any sonic elements that even resembles death metal. The song feels like a bunch of studio execs listened to one Judas Priest song and then dumbed it down to sound like high schoolers wrote it. The only redeeming quality of this song is the guitar solo, but even that fails to save it from pathological dullness.

Ultimately, I am left asking myself: who is “Metal Lords” for? It’s certainly not for actual fans of the genre. Fans of coming-of-age films are clearly not the target demographic, as this movie can’t hold a candle to half-baked films like “Paper Towns,” let alone genre giants like “Dead Poets Society” or “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.” “Metal Lords” is a film without an identity, without an audience and without a point. Skip this and go watch “School of Rock” instead.

Title: “Metal Lords”

Starring: Jaeden Martell, Adrian Greensmith, Isis Hainsworth

Director: Peter Sollett

If you like: “School of Rock,” “Lords of Chaos,” “Deathgasm”

Shamrocks: 1 out of 5

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