By Austin Taylor
When Vice Films announced they were making a movie about the Norwegian black metal band Mayhem, most wouldn’t have guessed its genre would fall under “dramedy.” Considering the band initially gained notoriety with a revoltingly graphic album cover in 1990—featuring a photograph of their lead singer post suicide via shotgun to the head—one might conjure images of thriller or horror. Following the debut of the album cover rumors, often sparked by members themselves and later proven in the court of law, Mayhem’s notoriety spread like the fires of the ancient churches rampantly being burned in their Norwegian community. Lords Of Chaos features these myths without censorship, including members of the band wearing skull fragments of their dearly departed lead singer as necklaces, acts of animal abuse, senseless vandalism and, most horifically, brutal murder. It’s unclear what the producers were expecting would come out of this film but there’s nothing like Macaulay Culkin’s kid brother Rory to sprinkle some of that Home Alone 2 charm into one of the most sinister tales in contemporary music history.
Lords Of Chaos melds dark humor and dark music in a way that makes such a gruesome narrative barely digestible. It’s just enough to reach fringe mainstream audiences without repulsing them away within the first five minutes. Even so there were scenes that were so macabre and grisly it’s difficult to maintain eye contact with the screen. If death and gore isn’t your thing, you might want to skip this one.
The narrative closely follows the true chronicles of Mayhem founder Øystein Aarseth a.k.a. Euronymous and Burzum’s Varg Vikernes as they establish the black metal subgenre. In the film the duo quickly amasses a cult following, which fuels their egomania, initiating a gruesome game of one-upmanship of who can be the most fucking metal. The viewer quickly learns that being metal doesn’t just mean growing your hair long and wearing t-shirts with band names spelled in ornate illegible fonts. In one scene, “The Black Circle,” not being a poser involves burning down Christian churches for album art, murdering your best friends for clout and raiding your local butcher for pig heads to be used as stage props. The film does an interesting job portraying the nearsightedness of the group’s ideas on how to achieve absolute metal-ness. It illustrates the shortcomings of their ideology by juxtaposing the realities of their everyday lives with the vision of “metal” that they are hoping to project onto the world. Realities such as group members wealth upbringings. Including, Euronymous pulling a Volvo out of a pristine suburban driveway, hiding a bouquet from his parents during the opening day of his pretentious record store, or the fact that the record store was fully funded by them. The mystique of someone being truly black metal to the core quickly vanishes when you watch members of the band eat donair or practice their scowls in the mirror of their IKEA-clad apartment. Considering Mayhem invented black metal, you would assume the director (Jonas Akerlund) would make them endlessly cool, but it was refreshing to see this was not the case.
Regardless of your emotional connection to the band or knowledge of this page in metal history, the admirably concocted blend of solid casting and convincing acting, morbidly raw violence and comic relief keep this film engaging from start to finish. If you have any level of sentiment for the legends of Norwegian black metal or just want to see someone eat another person’s brains, Lord’s of Chaos will fit just perfectly into your Valentine’s Day plans.