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Lords of Chaos – the devil is in the details

As a young headbanger in the late nineties I was captivated by the stories coming out of Norway about Black Metal and this band Mayhem that was taking the ridiculous and making it dangerously real.

Jack Kilmer as Dead wearing corpse paint

One of my favourite music biographies that actually read more like a true crime novel is Lords of Chaos by Michael Moynihan and Didrik Søderlind. I burned through my first reading of it like a Norwegian church on the 6th of the 6th at 6am, I could not put it down.

The stories of murder, suicide, arson and Mayhem contained within its pages have helped to cement the legend of Norwegian Black Metal as being one of the most dangerous and extreme forms of music ever created. Even though those closest to the subject matter have openly claimed the book was a load of crap.

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What a great idea for a movie!

When they said they were making a film based on the book I was intrigued. Were they going to further dilute this story and dispel the legends, or would they push this genre closer to the fashion statement that a lot of it seems to be these days?

Many members of the Black Metal scene were quite outspoken about the film, but that seems to have simmered down. In fact Mayhem have actually granted permission for their music to be used in the film and the son of their current singer, Atilla, has a small part playing his dad in the movie, which is about as close to an endorsement as you can get.

Who made it?

Having Jonas Åkerlund on board to direct is appropriate given his connections to the music. He had a short stint as the drummer for the extremely influential Swedish band Bathory between 1983 and 84 before moving into filmmaking.

In spite of Åkerlund only being in Bathory for about five minutes, I actually couldn’t think of anyone better for the job. He’s done some diverse work and he’s got a lot of style and flair. He’s directed music videos for everyone from Madonna to Rammstein and he’s responsible for the Prodigy’s ‘Smack my Bitch Up’ video, which was pretty groundbreaking at the time. Lords of Chaos is only his fourth, and I’m gonna say best, feature film.

What’s it about?

For those not in the know, the story is about the creation of the Norwegian Black Metal scene. At the centre of the story is Mayhem founder Euronymous, who serves as the narrator throughout. We’re introduced to the band Mayhem, their first singer, Dead, the infamous Varg Vikernes, church burnings and the murder that tattooed their story into heavy metal legend.

It’s a tale that not even the mighty Led Zeppelin, a hotel room full of groupies and a mud shark can hold a candle to.

Who’s in it?

The cast include Val Kilmer’s son Jack , who looks a little too babyfaced as Per ‘Dead’ Olhin but does an excellent job of capturing the essence of his character. Valter Skarsgård is a decent Bård ‘Faust’ Eithun. Jonathan Barwun plays Jørn ‘Necrobutcher’ Stubberud, who incidentally is the only remaining founding member of Mayhem these days. And Skye Ferreria does a good job as the girlfriend who never actually existed in real life Ann-Marit.

Emory Cohen turns in an annoying and somewhat comedic at times portrayal of Varg Vikernes, although if anyone has seen Varg’s work on YouTube these days you can kind of understand why they may have taken that kind of direction with him. Varg is pretty much a parody of himself and everything he stands for anyways. This is a bloke who stabbed his mate 23 times, mostly in the back, with a couple of shots to the neck and head for good measure and still swears it was in self defence. Hardly a reliable source of truth.

That leads me to Rory Culkin, who takes centre stage with an excellent portrayal of Øystein Aarseth or Euronymous, in a way that is probably more flattering than what the real Euronymous may have deserved.

The verdict (long version)

They actually shot this film in just 18 days. Which is incredibly impressive given the level of detail they’ve gone to with this story.

A lot of the exteriors were the actual locations where all this happened, including the house that the boys lived in near Kråkstad where Dead took his own life and the record store Helvete in Oslo. These days Helvete is somewhat of a sacred site for some fans who consider a pilgrimage as a rite of passage, kind of like Mecca for shit heads. Then there’s the elaborate churches they built only to burn down all over again in the spirit of keeping the effects practical.

The attention to detail (not necessarily facts) is impressive, especially the wardrobe. They did a great job of bringing to life a lot of the outfits only seen in photos and magazines. Most notable was seeing Rory Culkin rocking an early Sadistik Exekution t-shirt, an Australian band who were light years ahead of any of the early Black Metal bands as far as extreme music goes. At one point I also noticed a blink and you’ll miss it poster for Aussie band Slaughter Lord, in the background in Dead’s room, which is another awesome nod to our home scene.

The one thing that becomes really apparent watching this film that you lose sight of in books and magazines is how young they were when all this was happening. Most of them were barely 20 years old.

As a result, there’s an element of kids doing dumb shit that shines through. Akerlund walks a fine line between lampooning them as being a bunch of bored, spoiled white kids and highlighting their overwhelming ambition and desire for infamy. How many guys do you know would have invented a new style of music, started a band, opened a record store, ran a label, burned a few churches and killed some of their mates, all before their 21st birthday?

That’s not to say their actions are glorified they’re merely on display in gory detail for you to judge for yourself. Although in the end, Euronymous does come across as being martyred at the hands of Varg who is very much the villain in this movie.

The verdict (short version)

Most Black Metal fans will be indifferent to something that happened so long ago because they’ve heard the story a thousand times before. Much like anything you did in your early 20s, Black Metal in now into its 40s is looking back at a large portion of what happened saying “well that was fuckin’ stupid”.

Lords of Chaos is movie and definitely not a documentary. Even the tagline says “based on truth and lies”.

The truth is even if there were a few lies in there I had a great time watching it .

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