The Jonas Åkerlund directed “Lords of Chaos” combines documentary, true crime story, drama and horror genres. Regardless of whether you’re watching it at face value, already have a vague knowledge of the chronology, or are a die-hard historian or fan, the movie is a violent ride, highlighting events and personal histories while using a large amount of creative indulgence. The first thing on-screen is a disclaimer saying the film is based on truth, lies and what really happened. This film about the birth of the early ‘90s Norwegian black metal scene, church burnings and murders, has been made for the cinematic screen with source material from the book “Lords of Chaos” by Michael Moynihan and Didrik Søderlind, as well as the Norwegian documentary “Satan Rides The Media.”
Both praise and criticism have come down full-force; Norwegian black metal musician, Varg Vikernes of Burzum, has publically slammed the movie via YouTube, calling it character assassination, having dismissed the book years ago. Besides the issue of making a movie about Norwegian musicians casting American actors without accents, there are, according to some complaints, an unnecessary romance and pointless pseudo-pornographic sex scenes.
The film takes us through the shared journey and the struggle between record store owner, Mayhem founder Øystein Aarseth aka Euronymous (Rory Culkin), and Vikernes (Emory Cohen), who first enters the scene perceived as a poser by Euronymous for liking the Scorpions.
Euronymous’ record store and connections gives him early scene recognition and influence while Culkin does a stunning job portraying his manipulative nature while both men’s narcissistic power plays are on full display throughout.
The movie hits most historical bullet points–illustrating Mayhem vocalist Pelle Ohlin’s, aka Dead’s (Jack Kilmer), morbid, disgusting fascination with death and his unstable state of mind. There’s a definite blunt, almost snuff-like quality to his death scene. Though Kilmer does a great job displaying the unknown amounts of depression and despair going on inside Dead’s head as it slowly drives him to the grim reaper. Euronymous finds Dead’s body, taking pictures like a sociopath for the album cover.
While many people say it’s too Americanized, Mayhem: Behind the Music, it ain’t. Gore and bloodshed are abundant, including the difficult-to-watch murder of a gay man by Faust (Valter Skarsgård) and the final brutal multi-stabbing of Euronymous by Vikernes, which borders on Manson-level violence.
Culkin carries the film, masterfully displaying the full range of real and assumed emotions experienced by Euronymous, from jealously to manipulation to hypocrisy as someone who talks the talk, but unlike Vikernes, won’t actually do anything. Vikernes, initially portrayed as a tag-along, goes to repeated massive extremes to fit in. An admirable job is done by both actors portraying the dangerous brewing emotions and the evolution of their relationship as each tries to one-up the other. Vikernes burns down a church, earning metal scene hero status, sparking the internal feud. The two musicians eventually have a “bonding” experience in a church before smoldering it to the ground.
The movie isn’t without humor. Seeing Euronymous early on around his family in ugly Christmas sweaters is funny, and seeing typewriters, cassettes, video cameras and Walkman’s bring nostalgia to anyone who lived during the era of the film’s events. The early party scene is a cool time capture of what metal heads–and some people in general–did way before social media. They captured the look of Euronymous’ record store, Hell, and underground lair with genuine authenticity. Though, if you pay close attention in certain scenes, you’ll notice a “Dr. Feelgood” album sitting by “Scream Bloody Gore.”
Live concert footage shows the lengths Dead went for a reaction before resorting to self-mutilation, spraying people with blood and throwing a pig’s head into the crowd.
Near the end, we slowly see Euronymous begin to sport a conscience and show his reaction as he loses his grip on what he created. Although the movie portrays him as a cold, manipulative, calculating, self-promoter-at-all-costs, “Lords” tries giving him some redemption, and the storyline could be seen as Euronymous’ rise and fall, as the creature he created overshadowed and destroyed him.
History and scene purists will nitpick certain event portrayals, but audiences watching for pure entertainment value will find a graphic movie about a band’s dangerous ambition and dedication to starting a movement inspired by rebellion, violence and evil. Regardless of your level of interest or repulsion, “Lords of Chaos” is entertaining, perhaps for both the right and wrong reasons. It’s a period piece capturing the birth of an extreme subgenre of metal that has evolved and survived to the modern day, serving as a reminder of where true Norwegian black metal started.
As Culkin narrates at the end, he’s Euronymous, founder of Mayhem, who had his own record shop and label, who created a new musical genre. But what have you done lately? Poser.
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