04th Jun2019

‘Lords of Chaos’ Review

by Chris Cummings

Stars: Rory Culkin, Emory Cohen, Jack Kilmer, Sky Ferreira, Valter Skarsgard, Anthony De La Torre, Jonathan Barnwell, Sam Coleman, Wilson Gonzalez, Lucian Charles Collier | Written by Jonas Akerlund, Dennis Magnusson | Directed by Jonas Akerlund

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I’d been eagerly awaiting Lords of Chaos after first hearing about the adaptation a good while ago. I was a big fan of the book (and I still am, I read it every few years) when it was released and spent many years in my late teens and early twenties listening to the deepest and darkest of black metal. I was a fan, and to this day I still enjoy some of the black metal bands I listened to back in the day but lean towards those without the messages of racism and other isms and ignorant views for obvious reasons. I have never limited myself with the music I listen to. I listen to folk, rock, death and thrash, blues and even some country music. It’s one of those things I refuse to limit myself to. Perhaps the antithesis of true black metal culture.

Directed by Jonas Åkerlund, once a drummer for Bathory, and director of a bunch of videos for bands and musical artists over the years, and with a screenplay penned by both Åkerlund and Dennis Magnusson, Lords of Chaos takes on a story that is hard to tell to a mainstream audience. There are certain things that general cinema-goers might not accept, and this film covers many of those themes. Anti-religious messages, suicide, graphic gore and underground music. It’s a hard-sell, then… but if you move past that, or if that’s something that you are perhaps a fan of seeing anyway, then this might just impress you if you let it.

I was very familiar with the Lords of Chaos book and the story of the infamous True Norwegian Black Metal scene, so that things that happened were things I knew were going to happen, but I do think the filmmakers handled them well. The portrayals of the characters has had mixed responses from those within the Black Metal industry, and fans alike, but personally I was okay with them. I mean… this is a movie, it’s not a documentary film, and with so little involvement from those involved in the scene, there’s only so much a director and a writer can do.

It follows the growing black metal scene in Oslo in the early 90s, and specifically the band Mayhem, lead by the charismatic Euronymous (Rory Culkin), who intends to change the face of metal. Things are taken to extremes, and as band members change for grizzly reasons, Euronymous is introduced to Kristian ‘Varg’ Vikernes, who becomes a member of Mayhem. Vikernes also has his black metal project Burzum released on Euronymous’s record label. Things become darker and darker, with growing tensions in the band and extremes being taken to become known as “truly evil” by the media.

There have been many complaints that Lords of Chaos is innacurate and tends to focus too much on the scenes of violence and cruelty and less on the music itself, but I feel like there is little that I know about from the book and other documentaries that cover the happenings of the scene in the early 90s that is covered wrongly here or depicted incorrectly. I mean, it’s a movie and designed to be more palatable for audiences to some degree, but I feel like enough is done to ensure the true story is covered. I can’t say whether the characters themselves are depicted 100% accurately, though from interviews, YouTube footage and news stories over the years, I feel like the depictions are pretty close. I mean, sure… they don’t share every single one of the odd and often sickening views of many members of the Black Circle (the inner-circle group that gathered in Euronymous’s record shop back then), but they do show elements of these characters that seem fairly close to what I’ve seen and heard since the 1990s.

There’s certainly some tongue-in-cheek elements here, a vivid sense of humour at play in the narrative, but at the same time they talk about death, murder and violence, like it’s just a normal general conversation that buddies have. The film might be a touch one-dimensional if it took away any element of humour and went for pure morbid fascination of the subject. It isn’t perfect, though. It’s hard to be in this case I’d say, and the film suffers from not having a great deal of music going on (though that was to be expected due to most black metal bands refusing to be part of film or television releases) and it could be argued that due to the violence and dark tone, it all becomes a little much.

Really, Lords of Chaos shows how ugly, morbid and violent this whole scene was, featuring some graphic and drawn-out scenes that managed to make even my, a long-time horror lover, stomach churn. I don’t want to spoil things for those of you who are yet to see the film or hear the story, but I urge you to keep in mind that this isn’t a music biopic, but rather a crime-horror flick based in and around an underground music movement. Read the book, check out other documentaries that cover the history, and see the movie. I’ve seen it on three occasions now and I thought it did a good job. Some disagree. That’s fine.

Lords of Chaos is set for a UK Blu-ray release, courtesy of Arrow Video, on July 22nd.

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