Published Feb 07, 2019From its inception, Lords of Chaos was the center of endless controversy and uproar. The story itself is as close to real mythology and legend as one gets in the modern day. You can't please everyone, but to attempt to bring to mainstream attention to essentially the creation myth of music's most elitist, critical and generally hostile underground scene is just asking for trouble.
Nevertheless, director Jonas Åkerlund was not phased by the blast of negative attention given to his first feature film. By its nature, black metal is best left out of the light of public view, not meant for the likes of the masses. Despite what hate will and has already assaulted Åkerlund and his work (even from figures portrayed in the film and people involved in the source material), Lords of Chaos walks a slackline over an abyss and, despite a few lesser aspects, manages to come out on the other side as a solid film portraying, more or less adequately, one of the most insane stories in music history.
The film follows Euronymous (Rory Culkin), the founding member of legendary black metal band Mayhem, and the overall mastermind behind what would go on to become a trademark style of extreme music. Culkin's Euronymous is surrounded by a variety of other equally troubled and interesting figures, most notably in Jack Kilmer's Per Yngve Ohlin (aka 'Dead'), and Emory Cohen as the infamous Varg Vikernes (Burzum), whom we all love to hate. Based on the book Lords of Chaos: The Bloody Rise of the Satanic Metal Underground by Michael Moynihan and Didrik Soderlind, it chronicles the rose of Euronymous and Mayhem before his 1993 murder by Vikernes.
To both its strength and detriment, Åkerlund's lens rarely strays from Euronymous, which inevitably leaves many other notable figures, such as Emperor drummer Faust, on the sidelines. But to their credit, Euronymous is a great protagonist, revealing this self-professed prophet of Satanic extremity to be a frustrated individual struggling with the brink that he has brought himself to. Even as others around him, such as Varg, take the plunge that puts them beyond redemption, Culkin and Åkerlund succeed in portraying Euronymous as a dynamically conflicted character that is as empathetic as he is at times pathetic.
To the countless fans worldwide who subscribe to the 'trve' and 'cvlt' mindset, and who hold Euronymous up as Satanic royalty, this vulnerability and all-too-human presentation is guaranteed to spark ire. But in truth, the acting overall was surprisingly solid for what could have been a cast of angsty kids from any other film about angsty kids. Åkerlund's background as the original drummer for the iconic band Bathory, themselves a key inspiration to Euronymous and black metal as a whole, comes through. From the clothing and posters, varied memorabilia, and general attitude in the film, it doesn't come off as contrived or the product of an outsider looking in. There is a genuine love for this underground subculture, as much as there is criticism, which at times reaches into satire territory.
Despite all the things arguably done right, Åkerlund seems to struggle with locking in a tone for the film. At times it is raw and steeped in the undramatic nature of reality, most notably in the murder scenes, while dream sequences feel like made for TV horror movie scenes that betray the realism of the film. Sky Ferreira's character as the semi love interest to Euronymous might as well not have been there, as she has little consequence in the scope of the story. There were many aspects to Lords of Chaos that felt like mere hints at tangential happenings and stories to be told, but by the nature of a feature film, a central narrative must be laid out, thus one could feel Akerlund's struggle to make a cohesive film, while also paying homage and attention to the plethora of figures and happenings in Norway at that time.
Looking past its relatively forgivable flaws, Lords of Chaos manages to present a surprisingly deep and genuine glimpse into the origin of true Norwegian black metal, in all its glory and horror, while still remaining an entertaining film. For the amount of deep cuts and little references alone, metal fans will find themselves watching more than once, and as much as it is a tragic story of death and crime, it is also a celebration of the most evil music ever made.
(Gunpowder & Sky)