TFW for suicide, both ideation and a graphic depiction of the act.

LORDS OF CHAOS is a film that tells the story of Euronymous, Øystein Aarseth, and the formation of the “True Black Norwegian Metal” scene in Oslo led by his band Mayhem, the formation of the Black Circle, a group of friends who slowly become a minor cult of devoted followers, and the brutal consequences of his actions. The title card says it pretty plainly; that this story is the truth, lies, and what really happened, all things that are not the same. Through some brief narration, Euronymous lets you know that his story does not end well, a bluntly factual admission of his violent murder at the hands of a former friend.

Euronymous forms a metal band with his friends, Jørn Stubberud aka Necrobutcher, and Kjetil Manheim and Sven Erik Kristiansen aka Maniac in 1984. The film mostly concerns itself with the iteration of Mayhem that included Per Yngve Ohlin or Pelle aka Dead, their most infamous frontman and Swedish lead singer and, after Dead’s suicide, Kristian “Varg” Vikernes or Count Grishnackh, the founder and only member of Burzum, an influential black metal project, and a musician from an early age who first approaches Euronymous as a starstruck fan who Euronymous cruelly mocks for his mainstream metal tastes.

In art and especially music, particularly of the extreme varieties, punk, metal, and to some extent, hardcore rap, there is the concept of being real. It is based on the idea of the best art being made with the truest of intentions. It is a given that anyone who seeks or enjoys fame or wealth or any of the trappings of these things is a poser. Someone who is not dedicated to the art, someone who will not give their all to the music, who is not worthy. It is the reason why Iggy Pop and Henry Rollins are revered for the amount of pain they put themselves through to deliver performances that people had never seen before. In the case of Dead, Mayhem, and their true Norwegian black metal, a most extreme version of this belief is at work.

Rory Culkin in LORDS OF CHAOS

Dead applies for the job as lead singer for Mayhem by sending a package that contains a dead animal and his demo tape. The band member who opens the package is appalled, but Euronymous is delighted and immediately wants to listen to the demo. When he does, it is almost like he is a man in love. He immediately hires Dead and when Dead arrives, they move to a remote house to rehearse and live the music.

Dead introduces the signature black metal corpse paint to Euronymous and the band and after a successful gig that is recorded, they celebrate with their friends in typical metal fashion. Euronymous and Dead become close friends and it becomes more and more obvious that Dead is deadly serious. He seems to have a serious case of depression and mental issues. It is mentioned that he literally died after bullying and a beating that left him clinically dead for a few moments. Euronymous is a motormouth shit talker with a morbid sense of humor who just lets his id fly and does not consider the consequences much like other musicians like Marilyn Manson and Eminem. Things seem idyllic after a run through the forest that is filmed like a fantasy sequence of peace, but all is not well.

Things first get real when Dead commits suicide. This is shown on camera with no attempts to look away. He makes sure the job is done right and since he waited until everyone left the house, there is no question that the deed is done. When Euronymous gets home, he finds Dead dead in a most gruesome fashion. He then takes the time to get a camera and take photos of Dead’s corpse and the myth-making of Mayhem begins in earnest.

Rory Culkin in LORDS OF CHAOS

One key part of understanding what is going on in this story is to remember that these are young men, some still teenagers, bored, angry at their lots in life, frustrated, and perhaps not very bright. Norway,  Euronymous notes in his narration, is a country with one of the highest suicide rates, but that is not actually true. As the saying goes in Heathers, “Dear Diary, my teen angst bullshit has a body count. Everybody’s sad…but it’s kind of a weird kind of sad. Suicide gave Heather depth, Kurt a soul, Ram a brain! I don’t know what it’s given me, but I have no control over myself when I’m with J.D.! Are we going to prom or to hell?!” Euronymous himself seems to be an immature loner who cannot deal with his own emotions and gravitates toward mockery of any sincerely held belief. He and his followers take up any extreme belief, Satanism, evil, violence, but do not seem confident or sincere – other than their love of metal, in those beliefs. They do seem to do what they do, their mockery, their twisted sense of humor, and in Varg’s case, his arson, his racism, and disrespect for women, out of a need to feel superior, for shock value, and a growing competition, especially between Euronymous and Varg. It is a desperate search for an identity of some kind. When Varg starts burning churches, something that Euronymous offhandedly suggested, his first reaction is fear and then he claims credit for what Varg did, which inflames Varg’s already large sense of resentment towards his ostensible hero. The tragedy is that there are people here with serious mental issues and extremely malleable personalities who are listening to a callous joker who probably didn’t think that anyone would take his shit talking seriously. As the stakes get higher and the murders begin, Euronymous begins a relationship with a woman and starts to have a reckoning of sorts with his behavior and feelings. Of course, the irony is that his clumsy and earnest attempt to genuinely deal with the issue is what causes his death.

Rory Culkin does a phenomenal job as Euronymous. You can see the unsure boy occasionally peeking out and feel his fright at the sacrificial altar his own words and thoughts created. His genuine grief and his extremely odd way of dealing with Dead’s death are both apparent. Emory Cohen is both pitiable and scary as the initially goofy and eager, but increasingly dangerous and hostile Varg. There is a blankness and an emptiness inside him that gives you a better idea of how someone could do the things that he does to this day. Jack Kilmer is strange and alternately gentle and aggressive as Per aka Dead. You can see the vulnerability that probably led bullies right to him and the bizarre defenses that he built up against being bullied ever again including his incredible dedication to his frontman duties, he used to inhale the fumes from a bag that contained a dead crow to “get the smell of death”, and his fascination with death itself. Valter Skarsgård, yes –  another Skarsgård, and Sky Ferreira are both commendable in their roles as Faust and Ann-Marit, small amounts of screen time, but crucial in their actions that propel the story. Anthony De La Torre as Hellhammer is one of the few, other than Ann-Marit, with a strong enough personality and self-esteem to reject the unpleasant direction the band is taking. Wilson Gonzalez as Blackthorn, Varg’s hapless friend and minion, has a face that looks like what you imagine a Satanist to look like, but who is really a sweet and harebrained misfit. With their work, you can see the confusion, neediness, and sadness in the hearts of the evilest band in the world.

Jonas Åkerlund is the director of LORDS OF CHAOS, based on the text by Didrik Søderlind and Michael Moynihan. With this and Polar, I guess I am the Official Reviewer of Jonas Åkerlund (patent pending) films at Nightmarish Conjurings, but I digress. Jonas Åkerlund was the drummer for the extreme metal band Bathory, which was a precursor to Black Metal itself, so he has a feel for both the setting of the film, the lives of the people involved and the type of music that they made. While there was a previously announced adaptation with the director Sion Sono at the helm, which probably would have been another – but still very interesting type of rocket-powered trip to Hell, I think Åkerlund was the right person to direct this film. His sense of style, evident in Polar, is used incredibly well in LORDS OF CHAOS. His understanding of human behavior also is spot on. There are flashback sequences that are frightening like some of the best moments in horror without any supernatural trappings. I believe that LORDS OF CHAOS is a horror film, just one of the real-life variety. Åkerlund and the writer, Dennis Magnusson, have a real feel for and sensitivity to the story without leaving out the grim cackling laughter and Euronymous’ own lack of pity and contempt for fake empathy – read sentimentality – even to the end and even for himself. LORDS OF CHAOS is true metal, the most real kind out there. It is not there as a PSA against suicide or a very special episode of how metal or Satanism is bad, but perhaps a guidebook to why something like this really happened. Frankly, a true and unflinching understanding of these events is the one thing that might stop it from happening again.

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