Within the many, many genres and labels attached to music, you’d be hard-pushed to find one more fascinating, and ridiculous, as Norwegian black metal. With its genesis forming in the mid eighties around classic British acts such as Venom and Iron Maiden, by the early nineties it had evolved into a circle of bands comprised of young men wearing corpse-like face paint, spouting rhetoric about terror and evil, and generally pretending to be Satanists. Ridiculous indeed.
The fascinating, and in fact frightening aspect was the murders, suicide, and a series of church burnings throughout Norway that attracted global attention. The story has been told before in both book and documentary form, and this biopic treats the source material with reverence. Director Jonas Åkerlund has a background in music videos, and he was the original drummer for Bathory, a landmark Swedish metal act, and as such has first-hand knowledge of the scene.
Knowing the facts to the story doesn’t affect the quality or shock value of Lords Of Chaos; Åkerlund builds his characters through a skilled cast, and, crucially, doesn’t take proceedings too seriously. That’s not to say there’s a wealth of humour; the violence shown is stark and graphic, and certain scenes (a suicide in particular) are difficult to watch. But it strips away the mythology that has formed around this dark period in music history to show what it really was: kids who were looking for direction, wanting to shock an older generation, and playing a dangerous game of one-upmanship which began to spiral dangerously out of control. Both Euronymous and Varg are shown coming from wealthy backgrounds, and when Euronymous opens his record store Helvete (‘Hell”) with a burst of frenzied soundtrack noise and leather-clad minions, a shot shows a congratulations card from his proud parents, who obviously assumed this was just a phase.
There are a couple of missteps, predominately in the casting of Sky Ferreira as a groupie and potential love interest for Euronymous, who seems to exist only to deliver a ‘follow your dream’ style speech — which appears to be a requirement for every movie that’s featured a struggling musician. And bizarrely, very little of Mayhem’s actual music features in the film. Maybe that’s due to copyright struggles or that the quality of the source material was poorly recorded, but it would have added that extra level of authenticity. But these are small niggles in an otherwise superb production. Åkerlund’s attention to detail is perfect, from every band T-shirt these metal maniacs wear, to actually building and recreating the churches that were burned to the ground across the country. In the end though, the real detail is in the fatal character of Euronymous, and Rory Culkin portrays him as a tragic figure who quite simply got into something he ultimately had no control over and no way to escape from. Apart from death. There’s a song in that somewhere.
29 Mar 2019