Lords Of Chaos (Cert 18)
1 Disc Blu-ray (Distributor: Arrow Video) Running Time: 118 mins approx
Woooargh, woooarrrgh, woooaaaargghhhh!
That’s Black Metal speak for welcome to this review. I hope fans of this uncompromising genre of music don’t take umbrage at that little jest if they are anything like the subjects of this film, as they’d likely burn my house down or stab me to death.
Sounds grim right? Well, Lords of Chaos is a very grim film, made even more unpleasant by being based on true events, though the source material is actually a book about the real events, the veracity of which have been called into question. The opening disclaimer says “Based on truth and lies”, possibly by way of covering director Jonas Åkerlund’s backside but that doesn’t make the reality behind it any easier to digest.
Øystein Aarseth (Rory Culkin), aka Euronymous, is the creator of “True Norwegian Black Metal” with his band Mayhem in the late 1980’s, preaching hate, Satanism, and violence. After Mayhem’s first singer, a depressed Swede called Dead (Jack Kilmer), real name Per “Pelle” Yngve Ohlin, commits suicide, Øystein runs his own record shop and small label for Black Metal bands.
He is approached by teen prodigy Kristian “Varg” Vikernes (Emory Cohen) with his tape of his band Burzum, which Øystein puts out on his label, then invites Varg to play bass for Mayhem, and join his clique the Black Circle. But Varg proves a bit too intense for Øystein with his penchant for burning churches whilst Varg thinks Øystein is a sell-out for not sharing his vision of blowing up Norway’s most famous cathedral, leading to a bitter and tragic fallout.
One can almost see the headlines blaming the music got Varg’s unstable behaviour but the lad was clearly damaged goods without it, though this film doesn’t go into this side of him. Instead, it sort of sensationalises his destructive, sociopathic reign of terror on Nordic places of worship – “sort of” because it doesn’t try to justify or condone it but doesn’t ask “why?” with any real concern.
Director Jonas Åkerlund is arguably well qualified to make this film, not just for being an award winning music video director, but he was also the drummer in black metal band Bathory in the early 80’s. By rights, he should know whereof he speaks with the subject matter, and probably does, but by choosing a book with credibility issues for adaptation, Lords Of Chaos is only likely to appeal to an audience who know nothing about the music of this infamous story.
I personally recall reading the story of one Count Grishnackh (Varg) killing Euronymous in Kerrang! magazine back in 1991 (the article writer Jason Arnapp plays himself in a cameo) and found it rather chilling. This feud actually has nothing to do with music but given the dark and disturbing bent of Black Metal, and the aggressive imagery of the Kiss-influenced make-up, the wielding of weapons and nihilistic lyrics, it is the sort of publicity metal really can do without.
Yet, for Øystein this was perfect in making a splash, albeit anonymously, and according to this telling of the tale, would encourage Varg to do create havoc to get them noticed. The burning of churches is one thing, later in the film another member of the Black Circle, Faust (Valter Skarsgård), murders a gay man, earning kudos from his peers for making such an extreme statement.
That these were still young men, Varg was just 19 when arrested for Øystein’s murder, is something lost in the narrative yet apparent to the audience. How did they become so jaded, cynical, and disaffected with the world at such an early age? With Dead, we at least learn he was badly bullied at school but there must have been more to his unhappy life, though speaking from personal experience, depression is not to be taken lightly.
Such is the lack of trying to uncover the root of this collective and individual anti-social behaviour, quite often Øystein and especially Varg come across as little boys trying to act tough and adult, but this swagger is a façade to gain acceptance from the “big boys”. Some may even find this depiction bordering on parody because of their youth, yet it is important to remember this is a fictionalised account, the real events were presumably far more serious.
Åkerlund doesn’t direct this as a biopic, largely because it isn’t, whilst his flair as a music video director shines through in oneiric and surreal nightmare sequences delving into the addled head of Øystein. As a storyteller, Åkerlund keeps the audience invested through the steady pace punctuated by the insanity of the cast, unafraid of getting graphic, not to shock for shock’s sake but to illustrate the extreme nature of this group of misfits.
Black Metal fans or anyone keen to learn about this musical movement will be in for a disappointment as aside from the odd reference to other acts, everything is contained to Mayhem. The main story is also subject to the usual liberties regarding the actualité which learned viewers will pick up on, though the uninitiated should still find it morbidly fascinating.
Despite Norway being the setting, the cast are egregiously almost entirely American and speak only English to cause further damage to the film’s credibility, but to their credit, they at least physically pass for the people they are portraying. There are only a few musical performances so any lack of genuine skill with their instruments isn’t in danger of being exposed. For Jack Kilmer however, all he had to do was scream, cut himself on stage and bleed over the audience!
How much you know about the original story will influence how you feel about Lords Of Chaos. It is a very well made film and tells the story as well as it can within the remit of a dramatised work, possibly prone to appalling those coming into it fresh, disappointing anyone with an intense knowledge of the subject or the Black Metal genre.
English HOH Subtitles
Blood Fire Death
From The Dark Past
Son Of Satan
A Dangerous Meeting
Thurston Moore Introduces Lords Of Chaos
Original Trailers & Teasers
First Pressing only: Illustrated Collector’s Booklet
Rating – ***
Man In Black