It’s always interesting when a film is announced or still in pre-production and everyone is up in arms about it. I guess the most common time is when it is a remake and people who treasure the original hate the fact it is being made, the recent one of Suspiria (Luca Guadagnino 2018) being a prime example. Lords Of Chaos has been vilified high and wide for a different reason and that is because it centres on nefarious real life events that are connected with a near tribal sub-culture of those within the black metal music community. If you are reading this, on this particular site you are possibly part of that scene and hold the music very dear and are not the vanilla audience that know nothing about it and look upon this as a mere film. It is probably a passion, a way of life even and something you feel very much a part of and hate the idea that someone is out there to capitalise on it. I am sure the names Euronymous and Varg Vikernes and the bands Mayhem and solo project Burzum are not something you need a crash course in. You know all about the church burnings that accompanied the rise of the second wave of black metal in Scandinavia, the brutal murder of Euronymous, the suicide of singer Dead and the stabbing to death of Magne Andreassen by Emperor drummer Bard Faust. This has all been well documented by the book that Lords Of Chaos takes its name from by Michael Moynihan and Didrik Søderlind, a controversial enough tract itself. The chances are you have also seen and heard reactions by those involved within the Norwegian black metal scene itself and their thoughts about it. Many have prevented the filmmaker from even featuring their music so don’t be expecting a soundtrack full of Burzum, Darkthrone and Emperor although Mayhem did a sudden about turn and allowed theirs to be featured along with music by Tormentor previous band of current singer Atilla Csihar (played by his own son in the film) and everyone else from Celtic Frost, Dio, Sodom, Sarcofago, Carcass and Sigur Ros (sadly no Scorpions).
Then there’s the connection of the director Jonas Åkerlund to events and true he was in Bathory for about ten minutes but then went on to flirt with the mainstream as video director for music by Madonna, Paul McCartney, Blink 182 and The Prodigy; his work on their Smack My Bitch Up proving that he was not afraid to get grimy with scenes of degradation and violence. But for many he is an outsider looking in with no right to tell this tale. The actors also have been somewhat controversial especially Emery Cohen portrayal of Varg whose well renowned racist ideology has obviously seen him not exactly happy about being played by someone Jewish. The irony of it is quite fascinating in itself and more than welcome from anyone who finds his political beliefs utterly disgusting.
I think that many people who do love black metal will see this film, if you treasure something you have to really and indeed practically everyone I know seemed to have done so before I even went to a press screening of the film. Watching it is something people will do, paying to do so however is a different matter perhaps and I would not be surprised if Arrow films are aware of this actually putting screenings on in London for a very reasonable £5 admission and having them introduced by Thurston Moore seems like a perfect way to get bums on seats. Those who are not black metal devotees themselves and who decide to go to see the film with a bag of popcorn as pure entertainment be warned you may well be in for a shock. Åkerlund does not hold back in the slightest with the violence and gore and considering how brutal these events were he has done them justice. At the screening I attended there was a person passing out just after Dead shuffled off this mortal coil and at festivals in London and Glasgow they had further pass outs and even had to stop the film for half an hour to clean up puke and attend to someone else was similarly affected.
I was prepared to a large extent and knew watching the film was going to be an uncomfortable experience on many levels as it is a tale I knew so well having followed it at the time it broke, obviously loving all the music to this day and following what has been done by the survivors to the present time. It also no doubt helped that I had seen Akerland’s 2019 film ‘Polar’ too and was convinced that he knew all about directing scenes of violence and black humour after that particular experience. Ok so I am getting to the elephant in the room and saying that in its grim way and appreciating that this is a hard watch, I really enjoyed Lords Of Chaos on the whole as both an extreme cinema fan and one of the subject matter itself. I couldn’t help watching and thinking that in essence it is a modern day tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. Sure it’s ruffled feathers and it is likely to have hipsters swarming to see it from their loft-house apartments but they already infiltrate gigs of late and is it really going to make a huge difference to the scene and those currently performing in it? Do the horrified opinions of some German musician thinking he is kvlt and true deriding it really count and does anyone truly give a fuck? The tricky thing is watching this on a purist level and one for sheer entertainment value.
There are plenty of levels the film can be enjoyed upon. For a start the acting is excellent, especially that of the very disturbed Per “Dead” Ohlin portrayed by Jack Kilmer, a very good job has been done to get the look of the characters right too even if Varg is not the Aryan ideal he no doubt romanticises over. The direction and editing are very strong, the attention to detail is fantastic which you will certainly notice as some famous photos are literally captured and instantly recognised as they flash upon the screen. The church burning scenes are incredibly well done and dare I say brought a glow of anarchic religious defiance to this particular viewer, watching them really did ignite my passion. You could sit there with a notebook ticking off what is right and wrong and sure Varg states the murder of Euronymous was much more defensive than the aggressive way it is portrayed here but at the end of the day only those that were truly there know exactly what happened.
It’s not for me to do a hard sell on the film, it’s up to the individual to make their own mind up but I will personally be buying Lords Of Chaos on Blu-Ray to watch again and sit on the shelf with the many other films I already own from Arrow. Mayhem via Attila have decried it a “big fuck-you” and that’s a fitting way of summing things up, as after all isn’t that the very nature of the beast?