Witness the birth of True Norwegian Black Metal and its most notorious practitioners in the vision of award-winning director Jonas Åkerlund, despite the annoying fact the entire movie is spoken in English.
“A teenager’s quest to launch Norwegian Black Metal in Oslo in the early 1990s results in a very violent outcome.”
That’s how the producers of the good movie Lords Of Chaos, which was screened at several film festivals in 2018 and released in theaters on February 8 and on demand on February 22 this year, are promoting their version of the birth of True Norwegian Black Metal and its most notorious practitioners, those being Kristian ‘Varg’ Vikernes (also known for his revolutionary one-man project Burzum), Pelle ‘Dead’ Ohlin and, above all, Øystein ‘Euronymous’ Aarseth, the founder of and central figure in the early Norwegian Black Metal scene, the co-founder of the Norwegian Black Metal band Mayhem, and the founder and owner of the Extreme Metal record label Deathlike Silence Productions and record shop Helvete. All of them were members of one of the most infamous bands of all time, Mayhem, being part of a militant cult-like group known as the “Black Metal Inner Circle”.
If you’re a longtime fan of True Norwegian Black Metal, there’s nothing new to you in the movie that you don’t already know, but it’s still interesting to see how director Jonas Åkerlund, a Swedish director and drummer known for music videos like Madonna’s Ray of Light, Rammstein’s Pussy and The Prodigy’s Smack My Bitch Up, and a member of Swedish Black Metal institution Bathory from 1983 to 1984, portrayed all the trademark chaos, rebelliousness and violence of the Norwegian scene in the 90’s. Featuring Rory Culkin (yes, he’s the younger brother of Macaulay Culkin) as Euronymous, who did a great job trying to humanize such distinct character of the Black Metal universe, Emory Cohen as the untamable Varg, Jack Kilmer as the disturbed Dead, Sky Ferreira as Euronymous’ girlfriend Ann-Marit, and Valter Skarsgård as Emperor’s drummer and convicted murderer Bård Guldvik ‘Faust’ Eithun, as well as Anthony De La Torre as Jan Axel ‘Hellhammer’ Blomberg and James Edwyn as Kjetil ‘Manheim’ (considered by many the true founders of Mayhem in 1984, when the band was still named Musta), Lords Of Chaos is far from being a masterpiece, but it’s still a very entertaining movie that provides (to a certain point, of course) a very good view of how Black Metal changed the lives of those reckless kids that had a fairly decent life in Norway.
Despite the real Varg being completely against Lords Of Chaos, even stating in a 2016 video that Mayhem, Burzum and Darkthrone all denied the movie rights to their music, the movie is indeed a compelling ride that transforms Mayhem’s iconic guitarist Euronymous into a normal person like any of us, focusing on his fears and personal strugles as a young guy living in Norway, having won the jury prize best film award at the Molins de Rei Horror Film Festival in 2018 and being nominated to several other awards worldwide. However, if there’s one thing that really bothered me throughout the entire movie was the fact that all actors in the film speak in English (and with their American accents) all the time, despite the movie being entirely shot is Oslo, the capital of the beautiful Norway. In my opinion, they could have selected a few good Norwegian actors and done the whole movie in Norwegian to give it a much more realistic vibe, as it was sometimes pretty inconsistent and cringeworthy (at least for me) watching people in Norway, with the TV, newspapers and everything else in Norwegian, speaking like if they were all born and raised in Los Angeles or New York. That small but important detail doesn’t necessarily ruin the movie, but whenever you watch it I’m sure you’ll also have that feel that you’re watching a “Black Metal edition” of Beverly Hills, 90210 being aired on a Tuesday at 3pm on a random public access TV channel. I understand the use of English was somewhat essential for reaching a broader audience and having better support to promote the movie, but I still think the Norwegian language would have made the entire movie a thousand times more entertaining.
Apart from that language issue, Lords Of Chaos is extremely well produced, presenting a fantastic photography, including some stunning scenes from Norway’s unique nature and landscapes and, of course, strong colors and imagery to represent the main characters’ depression, madness and fears, and the story flows smoothly with very few plot holes (and historical inaccuracies) until the end. Furthermore, it’s nice to see how human all those musicians were, despite the fact many of their fans like to idolize them (as we pretty much do with any member of our favorite bands no matter which type of music they play). For instance, in one of the first scenes of the movie, we can see Euronymous, Dead and the others partying outdoors like any regular teenager, listening to some ass-kicking, old school metal hymns, having a lot of beer and trying to impress the girls around them. No murder, no arson, nor anything like that, only kids enjoying life and trying to find their place in society. As simple as that, just like many, many Black Metal bands reviewed here at The Headbanging Moose who focus on their music rather than on violent or illegal activities.
In addition, although Jonas Åkerlund stated in a 2018 interview that he used little Black Metal in the movie in part because “it’s kind of painful to listen to black metal music if you’re not used to it or don’t love it,” there’s still a lot of good Black Metal and other types of extreme and not-so-extreme music played throughout the entire movie. While watching it, get ready to bang your head and raise your horns to classics such as Funeral Fog by Mayhem, Inri and Satanic Lust by Sarcofago, Fast as a Shark by Accept, Stand up and Shout by Dio, Born for Burning, Sacrifice and The Return of Darkness and Evil by Bathory, Outbreak of Evil by Sodom, Serpent Eye by Cathedral, and Exhume To Consume by Carcass, among several others. Not only that, there are obviously some very entertaining scenes where both Mayhem and Burzum are either rehearsing, recording in the studio or playing live, which by the way is one of my favorite musical moments of the movie, with Mayhem’s chaotic sound mixed with the bloody and demented performance by their frontman Dead being the undisputed depiction of True Norwegian Black Metal.
Anyway, the main topic presented during the whole movie is obviously the extremely delicate relationships between Euronymous and Dead during what can be considered the first phase of Mayhem (until the always perturbed Dead loses it and commits suicide by blowing his brains out with a shotgun, with Euronymous taking a picture of his deceased friend and turning it into the disturbing cover art of their 1995 bootleg live album Dawn of the Black Hearts), and especially between Euronymous and the one who would become his arch nemesis in the end, the beyond controversial Varg. I mean, Dead was absolutely nuts from the very beginning, and apparently he’s always been like that due to a very tough childhood where he was bullied and beaten all the time at school, and Euronymous was just a regular musician until turning into a Black Metal beast with excellent sales, marketing and promotion skills, but the transformation of Varg from a chubby guy who liked Scorpions into a total lunatc who would reach the point of burning churches in the name of Black Metal is simply fantastic. For instance, pay good attention to the whole scene where Varg invites the press to his “lair” and tells them his name is “Count Grishnackh”, among other ridiculous comments and statements he makes. That’s hilarious and could have easily been included in any American teen movie.
And Jonas Åkerlund keeps humanizing all characters the entire movie, showing how Euronymous got some money from his father to open Helvete and start his record label, how Varg got money from his mother to help record a Mayhem album (and kept asking Euronymous for that money to pay his mom back), and how Faust couldn’t stop watching horror movies, which was one of the reasons why he got so interested in killing someone, or as he said, in piercing a knife through someone’s body like in the movies. And unless you come from a different dimension and knows absolutely nothing about True Norwegian Black Metal, you’ll be relatively shocked with how things turn at the end of the movie when Varg, feeling betrayed by his former friend Euronymous, who according to Varg himself turned his back not only to him but to the “Black Metal Inner Circle” and to the entire scene to focus on his musical career and on his girlfriend, decides to put an end to their relationship for good (or I should say not good at all). Let’s say Euronymous was what Dani Filth, from Cradle Of Filth, and Nergal, from Behemoth, are nowadays, an excellent performer and musician with a normal life backstage, which somehow sparks a lot of rage from the ones who consider themselves “true Black Metal fans”, got it?
There are many interviews and videos online where Jonas Åkerlund, Rory Culkin and Emory Cohen discuss Lords Of Chaos, like this one with BUILD Series NYC, and you can also find more information about the movie directly from their Facebook page, Twitter and Intagram. However, I highly recommend you avoid all that before watching Lords Of Chaos (don’t even watch the trailer below), as a few of those interviews and videos might “ruin” some important parts of the movie for you. Put differently, turn off the lights and light up some candles, turn off your smart phone, put on your most diabolical metal shirt, grab a beer or some red wine, and dive deep into the beautiful but somber Norway together with Euronymous, Dead and Varg, and become a “lord of chaos” yourself. You’re going to love this movie or completely hate it, but at least give it a try and then see what you think about it.
Best moments of the movie: Every scene where Euronymous interacts with either Dead or Varg is excellent. Rory Culkin, Emory Cohen and Jack Kilmer do a pretty solid job playing those three iconic characters.
Worst moments of the movie: As aforementioned, the fact that all dialogues are spoken in English and not in Norwegian, despite the entire movie being set in the beautiful Norway and based on Norwegian characters.
Released in 2018 Gunpowder & Sky/Arrow Films
Directed by Jonas Åkerlund
Rory Culkin – Øystein ‘Euronymous’ Aarseth
Emory Cohen – Kristian ‘Varg’ Vikernes
Jack Kilmer – Pelle ‘Dead’ Ohlin
Sky Ferreira – Ann-Marit
Valter Skarsgård – Bård Guldvik ‘Faust’ Eithun
Anthony De La Torre – Jan Axel ‘Hellhammer’ Blomberg
Jonathan Barnwell – Jørn ‘Necrobutcher’ Stubberud
Full cast & crew