I have to confess I love a good music biopic, films such as Control, about Ian Curtis of Joy Division and England is Mine, which depicted the early musical life of Steven Morrissey are two of my recent favourites.
Lords Of Chaos, the 2018 film from Swedish director Jonas Akerlund is a very different type of rock pic altogether, partly fictionalised it details the formative years and ultimate implosion of Mayhem, one of the original Norwegian Black Metal bands.
Black Metal, for those not in the know, is a niche genre of heavy metal music known for expounding themes of Satanism, anti-establishment angst, misanthropy and extreme pessimism; the idea behind it was to be as transgressive as possible, to push every boundary and break every taboo.
It is probably no accident that it began to take form in the 1980s in Northern Europe, which was at the time a bastion of conservatism, especially the strait-laced and somewhat repressive societies of Sweden and Norway.
The film centres on a group of young headbangers in Oslo who live for only for metal music, partying and to “freak out the squares”.
Beginning as a garage band Mayhem, under the leadership of guitarist Øystein Aarseth, known by his stage name Euronymous, became the centre of the tiny Norwegian metal scene. Lords Of Chaos does a fantastic job of replicating that late 1980’s vibe, it is highly detailed in its depiction of the era’s D.I.Y alternative music scene with it’s cobbled together albums, photocopied fanzines and record shops where kids gathered and formed their cliques.
Searching for a lead singer the band advertise in the underground music press and the fateful meeting with now deified Swedish frontman “Dead” kicks off a chain of events which are legendary among metal fans.
This is not a film for the squeamish, it is incredibly violent and disturbing, as a colleague of mine said, there is not one pleasant scene in the whole film, but the subject matter is based on real events, albeit embellished.
It is not spoiling things for anyone if I reveal that the band begins to disintegrate after the horrific suicide of Dead, who was actually a severely mentally disturbed young man named Per Yngve Ohlin; add to that a senseless murder committed by one of their inner circle and the malevolent influence of new member Varg Vikernes and the descent into insanity seems inevitable.
This was not Sex Pistols or even G.G Allin level sadomasochism for the sake of art, Mayhem spiralled into paranoia, brutality and outright terrorism, this is beyond dispute since the surviving members and their friends still talk openly about it to this day.
Lords Of Chaos is a timely film given its graphic depiction of how groups of young men can push each other to extreme behaviour in the name of their own strange, nihilistic worldview; sub-cultures are part and parcel of every White society but their tendency to become insular and dogmatic, then spawn petty tyrants and unthinking lackeys needs to be impressed upon the younger generations.
This type of rigid adherence to purity within the underground clique and the desire to preserve the group creation for an elite membership should always ring warning bells; most of the time it simply leads to the inner circle becoming insufferable bores, but many a time the darkness creeps in and bad things happen.
Metal fans are, on the whole, the most lovable, intelligent and easy-going people around but stories such as that of Mayhem and some of the more gruesome “Satanic murder” cases which came out of the United States in the 1980s have long tainted their image.
Lords Of Chaos is a hard film to get through but it superb in many ways, Akerlund is known more for directing music videos and his expertise in that area shows in its beautiful cinematography and artistic design.
There are a few gripes with the content, especially the portrayal of Varg Vikernes who is still very active and well known in the metal underground, neo-pagan and White Nationalist circles. He doesn’t shy away from his role in the bloodshed and insanity within the Oslo scene but of course he has his own side of the story and I wonder if casting an overweight Jewish actor in the role of Varg and writing his character as the villain wasn’t a middle finger from the director to the real man due to his outspoken pro-indigenous European views.
The 2009 documentary Until The Light Takes Us is a much more fleshed out exposé of Norwegian Black Metal, Varg Vikernes is interviewed at length and people who were actually present in Oslo at the birth and death of Mayhem give their opinions.
I would recommend Lords Of Chaos because it is a very well made film, it is superbly written and acted but just realise that not all of what you watch is the literal truth, it is also one of the most devastatingly violent films I have seen in a while, so be warned.