Lords of Chaos, 2018.
Directed by Jonas Åkerlund.
Starring Rory Culkin, Emory Cohen, Jack Kilmer, Valter Skarsgård and Sky Ferreira.
A teenager’s quest to launch Norwegian Black Metal in Oslo in the early 1990s results in a very violent outcome.
The black metal community can appear, to onlookers, a quasi-circus act. A subculture of disgruntled teenagers and young adults donning the corpse paint, obsess over the dark arts and make “scary” music videos in snowy, Scandinavian forests. The po-faced delivery can be odd. One need only look at Gahhls’s response in the documentary Heavy Metal: A Headbangers Journey to understand how po-faced the whole thing is.
However, to those who are within the community, and for those who were around when the Mayhem explosion happened, many know that the showboating Satan worshippers take much of this very seriously. What’s interesting about documentaries like Until the Light Takes Us is that they offer viewers a greater understanding about this community, and understand that some are dangerously unhinged. Lords of Chaos had the opportunity to present a dramatization of the early days of Norwegian black metal, and the devasting effects of black metal radicalism. Alas, what is left is a strange compromise of part-true to the source material and part-safe indie fare.
The opening tells the audience that the film is based on truth and lies, and it’s somewhere in the middle that reality lies. Narrated by Euronymous (Rory Culkin), Lords of Chaos details the formation of Mayhem, the infamous suicide of their first vocalist Dead (Jack Kilmer), and the tumultuous relationship between Euronymous and Varg (Emory Cohen), and it’s in there that the audience is to be invited to understand what really happened.
Immediately the film provides the audience with an insight into our characters sheltered lives. Euronymous has his sister help him dye his black, his band practices in the basement and the opening of his record store and record label is all funded by his parents. His bandmates and friends all live in relative comfort. Varg has his mother pay for the recording of Burzum’s first album. This is a tableau of privileged Scandinavians who are angry at something, but their comfort won’t allow them to vent.
This is where the film begins having bizarre tonal shifts. When the black metal macabre iconography and growing radicalisation unfolds, the film is unsure whether to play it for laughs or to offer some insight. The moments of their privilege countering their anti-establishment rhetoric is by-in-large played for laughs. The look is silly. However, beneath the macho-bullshit was a cultural shift from talk to burning down churches and murder, all in the name of black metal.
The subjective narration of any movie can be a great opportunity to explore different perspectives. Euronymous is our narrator but is never utilised to the fullest potential. There are interesting music-video style shots showcasing Euronymous’ psychological torment, but nothing more. Instead, the film moves through the beats, providing only a semblance for reflection, and moves on to the next step. A whole era that is boiled down to a series of moments that is unsure whether to ridicule or revile its subject.
Where the film does excel are the performances. Hearing American accents in a film set in Norway is not off-putting in the slightest. Cohen does a fantastic job at portraying Varg as an unhinged intellectual who never got the memo. A confused character who adheres to many ideologies that contradict modern thought. The saddest is Kilmer’s portrayal of Dead. Slumping and lumbering his depressed being through the film.
However, all the members (bar-Dead) are depicted as fools, wisely telling the audience that they need not revere these characters, but never does the film dig into the senselessness of the whole thing. Varg’s confused and often contradictory, ideology is played for laughs. Lords of Chaos offers an insight into a disturbed chapter in music history, but never really gets under the skin. Those already familiar with the subject need not apply.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★