February 8, 2019 Lords of Chaos (Movie Review)
Jonas Åkerlund may not have been taught in film schools like his fellow Swede Ingmar Bergman, but music lovers will know his work well. The man has been directing music videos since the late 1980s, doing work for The Prodigy (‘Smack My Bitch Up’, 1997), The Cardigans (‘My Favourite Game’, 1998) and Ozzy Osbourne (‘Gets Me Through’ 2001) among others. His feature films have had a similar edge to them, such as 2002’s Spun and 2009’s Horsemen, but now he gets to combine music and cinema with an adaptation of Michael Moynihan and Didrik Søderlind’s book Lords of Chaos.
Written by Åkerlund and Dennis Magnusson (Let the Right One In 2008, King of Devil’s Island 2010), the film- like the book- covers the rise and fall of Norway’s first Black Metal band Mayhem. It describes how Euronymous (Rory Culkin: Signs 2002, Scream 4 2011) formed the band with Necrobutcher (Jonathan Barnwell: Midsomer Murders series), and Manheim (James Edwin: Pao series) in the 1980s.
Then they meet Hellhammer (Anthony De La Torre: Johnny Gruesome 2018, Vida 2018), Dead (Jack Kilmer: Palo Alto 2013, The Nice Guys 2016) and the notorious Varg Vikernes (Emory Cohen: Brooklyn 2015. The QA series). What could have been a humble rise of a new band in a new genre becomes a tale of murder, suicide and arson. Opening in theaters in New York and select locations on Friday, February 8th before moving on to Los Angeles and elsewhere on the 15th, it might not be the common choice for Valentine’s Day, but will it bring a lump to the throats of even the hardest of Metal fans? Or will it go down as well as Daphne & Celeste at the Reading Festival?
Okay, that does sound like a flippant way of describing things. Mayhem’s tale is an ultimately sad story of death and destruction than some Metalocalypse-esque jaunt. However, the film contrasts its moods. One goes in expecting a Heavy Metal intro, and they get stock footage of Norwegian towns, people and culture as Culkin’s Euronymous narrates proceedings. It would seem like a tourist video if it did not have an edge to it (“My home country…Grey, boring, seal-clubbing and a very high suicide rate”.)
It is not all doom and gloom, least not for its suburban, teenage beginnings. If anything, it cuts through the growly façade and puts a human spin on the band. If it is not through the group getting up to petty teenage vandalism, it is them changing drummers through two jump cuts. Though the film makes sure its subject matter sticks out from the crowd, being the only metalheads in a world of near-’90s neon tracksuits and old Volvos. The contrast adds to the light tone, even when things take a turn once Kilmer’s Dead comes into the picture.
Dead rarely speaks yet comes off as the most enigmatic. Prior to his arrival, Mayhem look like any aspiring Metal band at the time. But once Dead arrives, he brings in the face paint, the growly vocals and the brutal image that defined the genre. His dedication spurs the others- particularly Euronymous- into going that extra step beyond their rivals, becoming ‘True Norwegian Black Metal.’ Yet the film does not flinch from the fact that Dead had problems that got the better of him, nor from Euronymous’ reaction to it.
The Lords of Chaos book described Euronymous as “stern and serious, sometimes with pomposity verging on the theatrical,” which Culkin does well portraying on camera. He takes his craft seriously, and wants to take it to the limit, or at least look like he is doing so. The man wants the band to look legit and be treated as seriously as he treats it. Through him they would be at the top of the tree and in a league of their own (“It’s MY band, and it’s coming out on MY label”). Yet his dedication to metal keeps him from stopping the ride when it starts escalating out of control. Culkin does a good job expressing this, where his eyes and looks suggest doubt and worry, despite his words voicing approval of the carnage. For example, Cohen’s Varg starts off as a relative newbie, spurred on by Euronymous’ standards before he goes well beyond them.
Lord of Chaos provides plenty for the audience to chew over as it goes from ironic humor to dark terrorism, all with visual aplomb. Euronymous’ paranoia is accentuated through quick cuts of newsreels, while Dead’s obsession with death comes through with convincingly-gross animal corpses and blood effects. The film also earns kudos through its set design and editing, as certain places are made to look as era-appropriate as possible. For example, one party has a character shooting the scene through an old school VHS camcorder, so it cuts to a VHS-quality cam’s eye view during the scene.
Is there anything that spoils this party of darkness? Well, Sky Ferreira (The Green Inferno 2013, Baby Driver 2017) does well as photographer Ann-Marit. However, her role feels undercooked. She has an arc of sorts, going from skeptic to lover, and she and Culkin make for a sweet on-screen duo for their time together. Yet despite her having a nude scene and a sex scene, the film shows more passion in Euronymous and Varg’s antipathy towards each other than it does for his and Ann-Marit’s relationship.
Despite that, Lords of Chaos has a lot going for it. It tells a compelling story from the ream of facts from Moyniham and Søderlind’s book, with a little artistic license to aid the drama. That is not to mention it has some fine acting, and a pretty good soundtrack to boot. It should be a treat whether one’s a metalhead or a plain old film fan. Just be prepared for the nastiness. As such, Cryptic Rock gives the film 4 out of 5 stars.