Lords of Chaos is the shocking true story film based on the Norwegian black metal scene from director Jonas Åkerlund. Starring Rory Culkin, Emory Cohen, Sky Ferreira and Valter Skarsgard, the film is available now to watch On Demand. Here is my review:
In 1987 Oslo, 17-year-old Euronymous becomes fixated on creating “true Norwegian black metal” with his band Mayhem. He mounts shocking publicity stunts to put the band’s name on the map, but the lines between show and reality begin to blur. Lords of Chaos is based on the 1998 semi fictional book of the same name by Michael Moynihan and Didrik Søderlind.
And the award for most STABBING in a major motion picture goes to… LORDS OF CHAOS – the most evil and stomach churning depiction of metal musicians ever made. Director Jonas Akerlund was a drummer in the early 80’s for Swedish metal icons Bathory, but he’s since become one of the most accomplished music video directors of all time. His direction on Lords of Chaos is the most bold and divisive work of his career and it is a film that will have have people talking for years to come.
Rory Culkin (yes there’s another Culkin brother and he’s GREAT) plays real life Mayhem guitarist and founder Euronymous, an artist notorious and essential to the Norwegian Black Metal movement of the late 80’s. Most metal fans know the story of Mayhem and what happened, but let’s avoid all spoilers and just say that there will be blood and lot’s of it for those unfamiliar with the shocking and vile true crime incidents which preceded the band’s DEBUT album in 1993. I had read all about the church burning and murder from magazines growing up so Mayhem always scared the shit out of me. I was personally never into the black metal scene and still prefer the folk metal that comes from Norway instead, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the movie in any way. Mayhem is by far the most evil and controversial metal group in the history of the genre, so if you’re not familiar with what they did – don’t google it, just strap yourself in and watch Lords of Chaos if you’re up for one helluva disturbing ride.
Culkin’s portrayal of Euronymous is all in the actor’s eyes. He’s always quiet and calm no matter what kind of shenanigans are going on around him, but you get a lot of indication where his head is at whenever Akerlund focuses on his eyes. It’s creepy but I found myself knowing exactly where this guy’s head was at whenever someone mentioned that they did something horrific in the name of TRUE BLACK METAL. Culkin plays the Mayhem guitarist as not a sympathetic character by any means but he manages to humanise him just enough that you’re still disturbed by the time credits roll. If I had any sort of criticism of the film, it would be that there aren’t really any characters you “like” so it’s hard to watch at times, especially when Akerlund depicts the crimes that some of these people committed.
The violence feels REAL and it is ROUGH. People slash their own arms, people are stabbed – A LOT – and I mean a shitload of stabbing. When somebody gets stabbed, they don’t die right away, they suffer and they try to get away, not before they’re stabbed again and again and again. You feel every single jab of the knife in these sequences and it is more than uncomfortable. None of the violence in Lords of Chaos is glorified and if anything Akerlund’s direction lends more towards this biopic discovering itself as a horror film in disguise rather than a true crime drama. There’s a suicide scene in this movie that will haunt me for a long time and that’s saying something considering I’ve seen a lot of screwed up shit in my life.
Now, if you’re a fan of the band Mayhem and their legacy, you’re going to eat this movie up all day long. Akerlund faithfully covers the major true crime beats of what happened back in Norway and you will see all of the shocking violence in full, un-glorious detail. Something I wanted more of — was the aftermath of the crimes though. I would have loved a good 10 minutes of trial recap, anything – but the film kind of ends abruptly after the final murder occurs and that’s too bad because what followed is kind of crazy too. But this film isn’t about that — it chooses to spend screentime with Mayhem, Burzum, Emperor and all of the infamous members of the inner Black Metal Circle that Euronymous founded in the basement of his record shop called ‘Hell’ and how they lived their lives in a country that was not prepared for their art.
What really freaks me out in the wake of watching this film, is the fact that two of the musicians who committed murder, that they show vividly in this movie, are walking around free and still performing music RIGHT NOW (or releasing YouTube videos dismissing this very film etc)… 15 years in prison? What the hell is going on with the Norway justice system? (Note – someone famous who was imprisoned will say this movie is bullshit and that they acted in self defence etc — so who knows what really happened? – go watch his YouTube videos to see for yourself – they’re very intriguing).
Lords of Chaos is not a film about repercussions or even really understanding the motives behind the arson and killing, it’s about how far people will go to honour their craft (in this case – black metal) to see who could be the most evil, or at least, appear to be the most evil. It became a dangerous game of young men trying to outdo one another to see who could become Norway’s most infamous black metal pioneer.
If you like Mayhem’s music, you’ll get plenty of it and there’s even a live-show sequence so you can get an idea of what drew people into their cult-like atmosphere. Lead singer ‘Dead’ (yes his name is Dead and Val Kilmer’s son Jack plays him) — slices his own arms and lets his blood soak the frontrow during their concert. If you think that’s bullshit, I’ve seen people do this in other bands, so trust me when I say — people are more than willing to go that far when it comes to creating shock value in order to build their brand up.
The cast is truly wonderful and in addition to Culkin’s film-stealing performance, you’ll get memorable performances from Emory Cohen who plays Varg Vikernes aka Burzum, plus; Valter Skarsgård (YES, ANOTHER SKARSGARD BROTHER!) is fantastic as Faust aka the drummer from Emperor. I don’t know what kind of world we live in but I applaud whoever greenlit a biopic about the horrifying Black Metal scene in Norway… I still can’t believe what I saw and it’s been days since I’ve watched Lords of Chaos. I’m a huge metal fan, so I love seeing bold projects like this come together so well, but I do fear that most of the mainstream audience will be repulsed by the graphic kill scenes here and that’s too bad, because Lords of Chaos is officially essential viewing for anyone who considers themselves a metalhead.