Horns up! What’s driving film and TV’s metal revival?

Hollywood's rockin' again – Ali Shutler tracks down the big and small screen's hardest headbangers to find out why

“Metal doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously,” says Mike Bishop, better known as ‘Blothar the Berserker’ from shock-metal band GWAR. “Show me what’s not ridiculous about the posturing or the masculinity – it really is silly… but that doesn’t mean it’s not fraught with meaning.”

Bishop is speaking to NME because last week, new rock doc This Is GWAR hit streaming platform Shudder. It tells the twisted tale of the Virginia rockers, formed in 1984, who dress up in grotesque monster costumes and spray punters with fake bodily fluids. There’s another reason we’re keen to chat to Bishop though – and it’s because heavy music is having a Hollywood moment.

The newest and “most metal” Marvel movie, Thor: Love And Thunder, features no less than four Guns N’ Roses songs plus a character named after Axl Rose; while the nerve-shredding climax to Stranger Things’ fourth season is built around Metallica’s 1986 hit ‘Master Of Puppets’. Recently, movies like Sound Of Metal and Metal Lords, have brought the genre back into the mainstream. Even arena kings Foo Fighters, sensing a mood-shift, wrote and starred in Studio 666 – their own horror movie which sees Dave Grohl write the ultimate satanic jam. So what’s got film and TV rocking again?

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This Is Gwar
Gwar, the legendary band of metal monsters. CREDIT: AMC/Shudder

For Bishop, the change is down to a generation of ‘80s kids who grew up worshipping at the altars of Metallica, KISS and Iron Maiden. Now, finally, they are the ones in positions of power and influence. “They understand what this music means,” says Bishop, “so they’re able to use it expressively in their own art.”

One such example is Taika Waititi who was 13 when GNR’s debut album ‘Appetite for Destruction’ made them the most dangerous band in the world. Speaking to NME about packing the soundtrack to Thor: Love & Thunder with ‘Welcome To The Jungle’, ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ and more, he says it was a teenage dream come true.

“The idea of [including] one of my favourite bands from when I was a kid was a real triumph,” he gushes, “they were the band that really informed the soundtrack to my life in many ways.”

Similarly, Dave Grohl tells us that Studio 666 was inspired by the campy rock and roll flicks they watched as kids, whether it was Kiss Meets The Phantom Of The Park or Ramones Rock and Roll High School.” Producer BJ McDonnell agrees: “The metalhead kids who grew up in the ‘80s are now filmmakers like myself.”

Thor
Natalie Portman and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’. CREDIT: Marvel Studios / Disney

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Of course, metal has always had a home in the world of horror. “There’s an instinctual relationship between the two, because they’re both usually dark and go against the grain. They tend to speak to people who seek out something a little different,” explains Spencer Charnas from Ice Nine Kills. The American group have recently had a run of horror-themed albums with 2018’s ‘The Silver Scream’ and 2021’s sequel featuring tracks about movies Psycho, Pet Semetary and American Psycho. “So many bands have come before us that have opened the door for what we’re doing,” Charnas continues, listing the likes of Misfits, Alice Cooper, Slipknot and Rob Zombie.

But of late, popular horror audiences have evolved from campy gore-fests to smarter, more intricate and disturbing films like Get Out, A Quiet Place and Hereditary. It makes sense that other genres would want to take from this world to give their own stories an edge. “Metal, like horror movies, provides a safe scare and people need that right now,” adds Charnas. “There are so many terrible things going on in the world that are real, it’s nice to have something dangerous, that you can walk away from.”

Perhaps a bigger reason for more headbanging on-screen could be a change in the music itself. “Nu-metal was the last big reinvention of the genre that still had mainstream potential,” explains Ash Avildsen, who wrote 2017’s supernatural music thriller American Satan and its 2021 TV spin-off Paradise City, starring members of Black Veil Brides, Slipknot, Lamb Of God and Sleeping With Sirens. “Since the early 2000s though, metal got a lot more extreme so it really only spoke to the underground and it felt like a lot of rock bands were scared of being larger than life, meaning the genre lost its edge.”

Nova Twins
Bands like Nova Twins are bringing metal-inspired music to mainstream radio again. CREDIT: Federica Burelli / Press

Again though, there’s been a shift recently with metal-inspired guitar music crossing over onto popular radio in the form of Machine Gun Kelly (who’s also released two films in the past 12 months), Yungblud, Willow and Billie Eilish while bands like Bring Me The Horizon, Spiritbox and Nova Twins are all making the genre feel exciting once more and speak to a new generation. “Rock ‘n’ roll is a young man’s game,” agrees Avildsen, who also runs independent label Sumerian Records. “Right now really is the perfect storm for it to return to the mainstream.”

Even Bishop has noticed that GWAR’s music has “definitely moved towards the mainstream in recent years. It feels like there’s been this powerful forgiveness.

“With QAnon entering the mainstream,” he adds. “You’ve got people straight up believing in a world of science fiction or horror. Reality has become an option for many and if people are willing to believe all that stuff, then suddenly metal doesn’t really seem very extreme anymore.”

Studio 666
The nicest psychopath in rock and roll, Dave Grohl, in ‘Studio 666’. CREDIT: Sony

The resurgence shows no signs of slowing down either. Following the use of ‘Master Of Puppets’ in Stranger Things, the track was downloaded over 17.5million times on Spotify in a single week and shot up the UK singles chart. Sure, some long term fans are put out that a new generation are discovering their band via a TV show but Metallica don’t care how you get into them, releasing a statement welcoming everyone into their “family”. At Lollapalooza this week, they even projected Stranger Things‘ character Eddie Munson – who gives a rooftop rendition of the iconic track in the latest season – onto a massive screen during their set.

Bishop “can’t think of a time where heavy metal has ever been solidly in the mainstream” Even when GWAR were featured regularly on the generation-defining Beavis & Butthead, the group were largely ignored. “People who weren’t a part of that world dismissed metal as being so profoundly stupid, that it’s not worth their attention,” he says.

He’s “grateful” that’s changing now though. “Metallica have been a great band for such a long time, they deserve that respect just like Kate Bush.” Yes, there’s something silly about rockstar fantasies and big riffs, but metal has always championed the outsider. It’s encouraging that Hollywood wants to do the same.

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