Lords of Chaos (Movie Review)

Starring Rory Culkin, Emory Cohen, Jack Kilmer

Directed by Jonas Akerlund

The inner psychological workings that come with the fascination for black metal and similar types of Satanic sing-alongs are something that would more than require a spelunker’s helmet to get into the middle of. Are these maladjusted minds who worship a much darker deity, or are they simply looking for a release from the everyday repetitions that can cause one’s mind to spiral? Then there are those who simply love the cacophony of a freight train accident combined with blast beats and crushing riffs. In any event, director Jonus Akerlund’s bio-pic about the conception of one of the first ever black metal bands to infiltrate the masses’ eardrums – “Mayhem” – is a sad story that unfortunately is true to the actual events, yet extremely engrossing.

Lords of Chaos’ tale begins in 1990’s Norway, and the focus is set upon Oystein Aarseth, or more notably “Euronymous” (Culkin), a quiet lad from a small family who in his attempts to start a band decides it best to hold the idea up high to the devil himself and use Satan as a backbone. “We want people to listen to our music and commit suicide” is his mantra. His lead singer is known simply as “Dead” (Kilmer), and he applied to the band by sending audio tapes packaged nicely with dead animals affixed to crosses in the mail. He’s got a real hate-hate relationship with felines and loves to bury his clothes for a few days, then dig them up to wear onstage during a show…seems normal to me.

His fascination with self-mutilation is only secondary to his preoccupation with death itself, and when he inevitably takes his own life (in rather shocking fashion), Euronymous takes it as the opportunity to further enhance the band’s image (look it up if you don’t believe me). The next name of prominence to enter the band’s black circle is that of Kristian Vikernes or “Varg” (Cohen) as he came to self-name, and this slightly unhinged fella embodies the essence of evil that the band is looking for, until he begins to take things a bit too far all in the name of Beelzebub.

Burned churches and murder are on the slate of offenses for affiliates of the group, and while it all looked good on paper, it was causing a disharmonious rift between the band’s top two names, and the end result is one that is still talked about in metal circles even to this day. While the film certainly has its moments, it’s the incredibly strong character formation that is its binding element. As you watch the film, you’ll see where the lines can get blurred between actual art-making and strict commercialization which can cause fractures in the bonds of both friendship and business. Both Culkin and Cohen are masterful in their depictions of two warring (and unfortunately damaged) individuals, and after time the music is merely an afterthought to what should have been the main focus. It’s really a tragic tale of youth gone astray, and while the subject matter might be disturbing to some, the imagery contained within is definitely not for the weak of stomach – the film prides itself on shocking the viewer on more than one occasion, and one scene even had me at the “WTF?” level of consciousness.

Lords of Chaos is one of those films that will appeal mainly to lovers of the black metal scene, but Akerlund’s style of direction will open up the doors of the church so anyone can come inside to have a watch…just be careful because these places have the propensity to burn to the ground. One of the strongest films I’ve seen in 2019 by a long shot.

Lords of Chaos (2019)
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