Based on the book of the same name, Lords of Chaos is a 2018 release that takes place in early 1990s Norway. Narrated by Euronymous the founder of Mayhem, the biopic details one of the most infamous musical scenes in history. Fast music, church burnings, and murder were have all been attributed to Norwegian black metal. But where does the truth end and the lies begin?
Norwegian black metal is an extreme offshoot of heavy metal. The metal of the 1980s Satanic Panic in America is mild in comparison. Think Slayer and Motorhead, except faster and less talented. This scene was known as much for its imagery as its music. Along with the normal aesthetic of Satanism and darkness, Norwegian black metal includes suicide and murder involving influential acts. It has definitely left its mark on music history.
Rory Culkin plays Euronymous, the guitarist of Mayhem. The story is told through his point of view and he is a very interesting character. Early in Lords of Chaos, the future black metal icon is dying his hair a deep black. He is in the bathroom of his parents house and sincerely asks his younger sister (she is probably around seven) if he looks evil. This one moment sets the tone for Oystein Aarseth (Euronymous) and the rest of the movie.
Lords of Chaos resides in an odd space that that recklessly weaves fact and fiction. Those who know the history of the scene and the people involved may be disappointed. In effect, the movie becomes a Satanic Bohemian Rhapsody. But where the Queen biopic leads audiences to believe they are seeing an mostly accurate retelling of the iconic band, director Jonas Akerlund’s movie tells everyone at the beginning what’s in store.
This explains any potential problems people may find with the movie’s tone. Euronymous is not giving a historical account of events as they occurred. He is telling the story of what happened as he sees it. Real life inaccuracies are irrelevant since the audience has been presented with an unreliable narrator. It makes sense the movie would jump back and forth from a bunch of kids partying and getting drunk to angry young men who think of burning down churches and committing murder.
The gradual change in black metal is chronicled well in Lords of Chaos. Euronymous is more smoke than fire, but still has the charisma to start an entire movement. When he meets a “poser” who takes his vitriol to heart, the audience sees a shift in the movie. The first act of the movie is about making music and scaring people. Doctrine is recited, but the look of fear in Euronymous’s eyes in some of his conversations with the lead singer of Mayhem, Dead, give a clue as to how genuine these Satanic pledges are.
When Varg enters the movie, there is a subtle struggle for power and the realization that Euronymous may be in over his head. He loves his Black Circle, to growl the names of things he loves, and to talk about how he wishes to bring down the government, yet he speaks to the mailman with respect. The audience is given this neat dichotomy of a leader who has devoted followers and who will take credit for what they have done, but may not actually wholeheartedly believe in what he is saying. This all leads to its logical ending.
The setting is perfect and the look of the film captures the time. Norway looks as dour as Euronymous and his friends say it is. The cast also look great. They capture they part scary, part ridiculous look that metal fans proudly wear. Whether a person likes the music or not is subjective, but it is seamlessly integrated into the film. Obviously, there is plenty of black metal, but it never overpowers what is happening. Everything in the movie is very European (until Culkin speaks).
Lords of Chaos is a very interesting movie. There are things about it that would hurt other biopics. The pace can seem all over the place and it glosses over important real life events. The use of an unreliable narrator may seem like a cheap trick in order to dramatize the story, but it works. Lords of Chaos is a interesting look at an odd part of heavy metal history.