fri 10/07/2020

Blu-ray: Lords of Chaos | reviews, news & interviews

Blu-ray: Lords of Chaos

Blu-ray: Lords of Chaos

Jonas Åkerlund's bloody, unpleasant, yet sometimes humorous account of heavy metal's darkest true story

Euronymous (Rory Culkin) and Dead (Jack Kilmer) hunt cats. No, really.

“All this evil and dark crap was supposed to be fun,” complains exasperated Norwegian black metal overlord Euronymous, played by Rory Culkin, as his world spirals out of control in a cataclysm of murder, suicide and church burnings. The true events that inspired Lords of Chaos are some of the most bizarre and twisted in the history of popular music. Fun they are not. Freakish, depressing and horrific, certainly. Strangely, however, the film is, upon occasion, very funny.

Director Jonas Åkerlund is primarily renowned as the man behind ground-breaking pop videos (notably for Madonna, Lady Gaga and The Prodigy). However, his origins lie in the Norwegian metal scene (he was in the band Bathory) and, set mostly in the early Nineties, Lords of Chaos follows the story of Euronymous (Øystein Aarseth), his band Mayhem, his friendship and eventual rivalry with Varg Vikernes of the band Burzum (played by Emory Cohen – Homer from The OA), and the catalogue of disaster that ensues.

Lords of ChaosDrawn loosely from the book of the same name, the film tells us at its start that it’s “based on truth… lies… and what actually happened”. The events portrayed are contentious (as, incidentally, is the fact Åkerlund chose to do the whole thing in English, an odd decision). We follow Euronymous as he goes from happy-go-lucky headbanger to ostentatious reveller in “evil”. He’s aided on this journey by making the supremely damaged Dead (Per Ohlin – played by Jack Kilmer) Mayhem’s lead singer. The latter is obsessed with death, breathing fumes from rotting animal corpses in paper bags before going onstage, and his eventual suicide is the fulcrum which sends things completely off the rails.

While most metal fans and musicians enjoy its adolescent focus on demons, death and gore as a transgressive cartoon, this film shows what once happened amongst a cultish collection of young men who felt an onus to take it absolutely seriously, then follows the schism between those who do and those who don’t. It’s a bleak tale of male one-upmanship that's ridiculous yet dreadful. The Black Circle Euronymous founds, a coterie of metalheads based in the suitably Satanic-looking cellar of his record shop, pressure each other to commit increasingly unpleasant acts in the name of their unhinged idea of authenticity.

Lords of Chaos contains almost unwatchably graphic stabbings and self-harm. Åkerlund takes any glamour out of that. Better still, he sends it all up – and this is where the humour comes in – by allowing it to play out against the steady, bland backdrop of the nice, middle class Scandinavian milieu from which all the protagonists hail. The comedy is in the detail, such as when a journalist and a photographer are made to take their shoes off in the hall before meeting Vikernes, who’s clumsily trying to emanate gravitas in a preposterous, paganist-Nazi throne-room he’s put together.

The acting is solidly believable, throughout, with Rory Culkin’s Euronymous increasingly sympathetic as he realises the mess his fantasies have led him to. The climax of the film’s central feud, when it comes, is supremely gruesome and awful, but at the film’s close the viewer is left thinking, to paraphrase the journalist referred to above, “What fucking idiots!” And that’s surely the point, well made.

Extras include interviews with Åkerlund, actors Sam Coleman, Jason Arnopp and Arion Csihar, and the introduction Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth gave the film when introducing it at London's Rio Cinema.

Below: watch the trailer for Lords of Chaos

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