‘Lords of Chaos’ is a flawed journey into the heart of the Norwegian black metal scene

Black metal is a huge part of what we do here, and had it not been for the bands that pioneered the sound nearly 30 years ago (THIRTY YEARS!), who knows where we’d be and what we’d be talking about. There is plenty of good and really, really bad that goes with the Norwegian black metal scene, and that’s the focal point of the film Lords of Chaos that just hit streaming services this week.

So, it was Saturday night, and I guess that makes it alright to dig into the film by Jonas Åkerlund (he was a founding member of Bathory who’s also made videos for prominent bands such as Metallica, Rammstein, and Candlemass). It has has angered people all over the world because black metal is never satisfied with anything at all. Based on the book of the same name (as suspect source material as one can find), the movie works to explain the creation of black metal legends Mayhem and the formation of the Norwegian black metal scene. Kind of. Look, there are artistic liberties taken with the story. Some are pretty out there such as Varg Vikernes (played by Emory Cohen, a Jewish actor who, I hope, was supposed to be a dagger in Varg’s cowardly ribs) being some scene kid who worshipped Euronymous (Rory Culkin, whose blatantly American accent is hard to handle at times) and was chided for his Scorpions patch. Actually, everyone has an American accent. Also, fuck you if you ever trash the Scorpions. But that gets things off to a weird start. Dead (played by Jack Kilmer, son of Batman) being the band’s first vocalist also is a lot to handle since it’s insanely not true (sorry, Maniac and Messiah!). OK, but if you’re not into the scene and are coming at this with no knowledge, I guess you won’t care about this.

Culkin as Euronymous also narrates the film, which is fine but not all that well done. The good part of the movie is that the visuals are stunning. The violence is so brutal at times it’s hard to watch. Faust (Emperor drummer and homophobic asshole) murders a gay man in Lillehammer who comes onto him,  and the scene is so violent, it’s difficult to sit through (as it should be). It’s also troubling the gay man is portrayed as a sleaze. Same with Varg murdering Euronymous at the film’s end (SPOILERSSSSS), which feels like it goes on and on and on, but I don’t mean that negatively. It does hammer home the fractured friendship, Varg’s utter paranoia, and the horrible final death blow to the scene’s heart. They even work in the final gasp of air once Varg slams the knife into Euronymous’ skull, which is right from Varg’s own account. Which is troublesome.

Jack Kilmer, Anthony De La Torre, Rory Culkin, and Jonathan Barnwell in Lords of Chaos

Obviously, I’m not recounting the whole story. You probably all know it. But I want to talk about a few things. First, the, live stuff is really well done. Whether it’s historically accurate or not, I don’t know. But fuck, it’s really good. Second, the studio scene of Mayhem recording “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas” is fun to watch, mostly to see Attila Csihar’s son Arion plays him to a T. Third, Varg is done totally wrong and is not nearly enough of a total fucking piece of shit asshole, which is why the source material is faulty. Yeah, he gets more annoying as the film goes on and he treats women like trash, but his Nazi antics are very downplayed. He’s garbage. But he’s almost made somewhat sympathetic. Oh, speaking of women, they’re used as trash piles, expect for Euronymous’ possibly imagined girlfriend Ann-Marit (Shy Ferreira, who does a great job with her swagger and emotion). Finally, and sorry to the goddamn edgelord assholes, but Euronymous mourning Dead is legitimately sad. It’s a heavy moment that’s treated with tenderness. It got me. By the way, Euronymous has falafel and Coke so many time it’s like, OK, we get the joke!

At the end of it all, the movie is fine. It’s totally flawed. No question. But the overall picture gets it kind of right, depending on emotion and visuals (oh my, the church burnings are gloriously done) and a curbing of the truth, which Åkerlund admitted he did from the start. End of the day, the movie should help celebrate the seeds of Norwegian black metal which, problems aside, it does. Yeah, bigger things happen after the movie ends, and a volume two could help flesh out the whole story. If you’re fretting black metal got commercialized, I’ve got some news for you. That happened a long time ago. It’s not perfect at all, and I’ve got a ton of issues, but the movie was way better than I expected. Doesn’t mean it’s great. It means we should celebrate black metal for what it is and what is gave us. Remember, black metal is a damaged thing, an artform that perhaps should be rejected on the archaic ideals it celebrates, but also be remembered for the artists who pushed it forward and expanded its sense of acceptance.

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3 thoughts on “‘Lords of Chaos’ is a flawed journey into the heart of the Norwegian black metal scene

  1. Pingback: Lords of Chaos (2018) – B&S About Movies

  2. Sam over at B&S About Movies brought me here. Both of your reviews nail down LOC and give me the “caveat emptor” I needed.

    I’ve surfed around and I dig the content. Good reads. I’ve bookmarked your site and will visit often, for sure.

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