Original Title: Lords of Chaos
Country: Sweden, Norway
Director: Jonas Åkerlund
Genre: Biography, Drama
Lords of Chaos was directed by Jonas Åkerlund and released in 2018. It portrays the birth of Black Metal, focusing on Mayhem and its founder Øystein Aarseth known as Euronymous.
Lords of Chaos
Hello, there! I’m dos Santos, welcome to Ulven Reviews.
In the last review, of The Promise, I said I liked uncomfortable music, this review of Lords of Chaos will show just that. More specifically, my love for Black Metal and its subgenres. But let’s begin with the movie’s plot.
Øystein “Euronymous” Aarseth (played by Rory Culkin) is both the narrator and the leading character of the movie. One of the first things we see is a photo of Euronymous with his parents and younger sister, this information will be important later on.
Euronymous played guitar in a band he formed with two friends. Jørn “Necrobutcher” Stubberud (played by Jonathan Barnwell) was the bassist, and Jan Axel “Hellhammer” Blomberg (played by Anthony De La Torre) was the drummer. But they still needed a Front Man.
That is where Per Ohlin (played by Jack Kilmer, son of Val Kilmer, by the way), stage name Dead, enters. Often called Pelle, the Swede became obsessed with death after a near-death experience.
With the addition of Pelle, Mayhem was formed. The band began doing concerts and gaining notoriety. Their performances had a very dark aesthetic, with pig’s heads on spikes and Dead cutting himself.
Before the band could record a studio album, Dead committed suicide, a very graphic and gruesome scene.
Later they meet Varg Vikernes (played by Emory Cohen). He and Euronymous constantly antagonize one another, in what becomes the central conflict of the film.
I said in the All Eyez on Me, and Boyz n the Hood reviews, that during my adolescence, I listened to a lot of Rap. I began with the commercial rap of the early 2000s, like Chamillionaire, then West Coast Gangsta classics, and some independent artists as well, like Dubb and Dre Vishiss.
After my phases with Chicano Rap, then some particular Horrorcore Rap, in college, I get into some Classic rock and Heavy Metal. Around 2012 I discovered the Swedish band Ghost and then descended further into darkness.
My Black Metal journey didn’t start necessarily with the traditional bands. I began with Deathspell Omega, Urfaust, Peste Noire, Bathory, Burzum, Nargaroth, Lifelover, Silencer.
Later, similar to what I did with cinema, I started using lists to get to know the genre deeper, since its roots, to the current scene. I never went so deep into any musical style.
I was focused on the music and the feeling of the songs while still avoiding Nazi Black Metal (NSBM). It’s not easy. The scene is plagued by Nazism, elitism, xenophobia, homophobia, white supremacy, and a bunch of far-right garbage of this kind.
I’m aware there’s Communist, Anarchist, and Anti-Fascist Black Metal, but the scene is much more related to the far-right. This means the wanna-be Satanists of Metal and the Fundamentalist Christians are in the same political spectrum.
Now, in 2020, I probably wouldn’t get into Black Metal knowing the scene is plagued by the far-right, but in 2012 it didn’t have the same importance it has today. Since then, many countries had a rise of neo-fascists occupying critical administrative posts and even being elected presidents. Some examples are Viktor Orbán in Hungary, Matteo Salvini in Italy, Luis Fernando Camacho leader of the Coup in Bolivia, and the genocidal maniac Jair Bolsonaro and his cult in Brazil.
With the world we have today, the music we listen to is also a political stance, it might be ineffective, but still important for its meaning. I believe in the plurality of ideas, but there’s no place for far-right extremists in any civilized society.
The name of the genre originated from the second album of the Thrash Metal band Venom. Other of the genre’s early influences were Hellhammer/Celtic Frost, Sarcófago, Bathory, Samael, and others.
Lords of Chaos director, Jonas Åkerlund, played drums for Bathory from 1983 to 1984. Later in the same decade, he directed the first video of Swedish Doom Metal band Candlemass, for the song Bewitched, featuring Mayhem’s Pelle Ohlin, before he joined Mayhem.
After these influences that I mentioned, came the Norwegian scene, known as the Second Wave, with bands such as Mayhem, Burzum, Darkthrone, Gorgoroth, Emperor, and many others. One of my favorites of this time, with less notoriety than the others, is Arcturus.
Now, I won’t talk so much about the events that were already presented in the movie. Instead, I’ll brush on some of the events that didn’t make to the film’s portrayal.
Pelle moved from Sweden to Norway only to be Mayhem’s vocals, so he couldn’t speak Norwegian. He only communicated with his bandmates in English. He was introverted and bullied, especially by Euronymous, and was about to quit the band and get back to Sweden to study art when he committed suicide.
Talking about bullying, from what I read through the years, Euronymous was somewhat of a shitty person. In no way this justify his brutal murder, but I just want to point out that he was probably a little different than the one in the movie.
Another person who’s iffy, to say the least, is Varg Vikernes. However his music is my favorite from the second wave of Black Metal. And my favorite from Black Metal in general, together with Grand Belial’s Key, also an iffy band with anti-Semite tendencies.
When I was seeing the film’s technical info on IMDb, I saw the title of one of the user’s review “No Citizen Kane, But Quite Accurate”. I didn’t read the actual review, only the title, but I loved this description.
Lords of Chaos depicted well enough the most notorious events of the Second Wave of Black Metal. Something the film captured well, is that the characters were young and immature boys. They made a name for themselves and committed crimes in a story that ended up tragic, but still, the fact remains that they were really young and kinda dumb.
That beginning with the photo of Euronymous and his family demonstrates this aspect. He was a young man, with a typical family, who had financial help from his father to conclude his projects. He founded Mayhem at 16 and died at 25, and in these few years, he developed a whole musical genre. It’s quite impressive.
Independently of the undeniable achievements of those who became known as The Black Circle, the naivety of the characters makes the film more plausible, staying away from an unreal bad-ass caricature of those young men.
The director Jonas Åkerlund took some artistic liberties with the plot, and of course, that made the purists angry. A lot of people have a romantic idea about this period of Black Metal and get mad if anything goes against this fetishized view.
Varg is one of those people, he couldn’t stop talking about how the movie is inaccurate and such. One of the things he got mad was the fictitious character Ann-Marit (played by Sky Ferreira), Euronymous girlfriend. Because according to Varg, Euronymous was a closeted-homosexual, so he couldn’t have a girlfriend.
By the way, two days ago, 17 of May, was the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia. So, shout out to the LGBTQ+ Community.
Back to Euronymous, I don’t know if he was gay or not, but I think Vikernes is the kind of person that thinks saying someone is gay is offensive. It seems he wanted to mock Euronymous and bash the movie at the same time, but I don’t know that for a fact, I’m just speculating.
The movie is somewhat dark, as one would expect considering the topic of it, but not that much. The film has many fun moments, like parties, concerts, recordings, sex, and also has a lot of funny moments, especially regards Varg’s stupidity and awkwardness.
A lot of the humor with Varg’s character is thanks to Emory Cohen’s performance. I knew him from Derek Cianfrance’s A Place Beyond the Pines from 2012, and in Lords of Chaos, he cemented his prestige in my mind. Amazing actor.
The rest of the cast is really good, as well. Sky Ferreira and Valter Skarsgård (who plays Faust) are very positive, and Rory Culkin and Jack Kilmer even better. There is some satisfactory presence from Anthony De La Torre and Jonathan Barnwell, and, as curiosity, Arion Csihar playing his father Attila.
Just as a side note. Attila is a live performer for the amazing Drone/Doom Metal band Sunn O))) (pronounced “sun”), it worth giving a try. Also, this is not the last time I’ll be talking about this band in the channel. Subscribe and wait for it.
The cast and acting are very satisfactory, but as I mentioned before, part of it is thanks to the believable characters. They aren’t always likable, and even have some very fucked up flaws, but still manage to make the audience have enough empathy for them.
A problem I had with the film is the fast pace, and I didn’t feel too much the magnitude of the events. With the necessity of presenting several incidents, there were too many montages, personal drama, and not much focus on music.
And since we’re talking about music, the score is obviously outstanding. I read in an interview that the only rights Åkerlund wanted for the movie, was the rights for Mayhem’s songs. My favorite is Freezing Moon, present in the movie, so I was very satisfied in this regard.
As usual, the thing I liked the most about this movie was the visuals. Beautiful cinematography, the burning of churches being a particularly gorgeous sight. The slightly desaturated colors are perfect, matching the cold feel of Black Metal but with enough color to look part of reality.
The production design is flawless, with a very accurate recreation of the notorious original locations of events and perfect make-up and costumes, that completed the characters. When comparing the real people with their movie’s counterpart, we can see the meticulous characterization that was made.
The special effects are also something that was very on point. There are some very graphic, gory scenes and it’s absolutely well-made. The best example is Pelle’s suicide, horrible, but very detailed and high-quality.
As a last note, I would like to say I didn’t watch any interview with the people involved, commenting on the film. I might do it later, but I didn’t want their opinions to affect my reaction until I finished writing about it.
Lords of Chaos is a solid movie from my perspective. I understand it might be a completely different experience for someone with no previous knowledge of the story or who don’t like Black Metal. Maybe, Lords of Chaos for these people is like Bohemian Rapsody was to me, a mediocre movie about a band.
The story of the birth of Black Metal is full of tragedy, crime, and stupid decisions. The flaws of the movie were not a big deal, and it had a lot of fantastic technical qualities, so I’ll give it 8 Moons.
That’s it for now. See you in the next review. Bye!