We love our metal here at Metal Injection… but we dig movies too! Welcome to Cinema Fix, a movie guide tailored for the metal faithful. Sit back and relax after a long week of work and/or blast beats and enjoy one of our prestigious film selections. This week’s pick is:
Lords of Chaos (2019)
A grisly/hilarious black metal bio pic.
Øystein Aarseth is a driven young guitarist. Under the pseudonym, Euronymous, he and his band Mayhem develop a fervorous cult following; first in their native Norway, then around the world. Euronymous and co. are pioneers of a new, salacious genre of music called: black metal. Taking the rebellious spirit and evil tropes of traditional heavy metal and infusing it with extreme speed, musicianship and ghoulish theatrics, Mayhem are simultaneously blessed with creativity and plagued with violence and tragedy. Members come and go, their vocalist Dead commits suicide, and their new bassist Varg Vikernes kick starts a ghastly competition with Euronymous over control of the True Norwegian Black Metal scene. After a string of church burnings and a gruesome murder, Euronymous must decide if he wants to continue this heinous game of one-upmanship for underground credibility, or be true to himself and get out while he still can.
Why it’s metal:
It’s fucking Mayhem. Based on the 1998 book of the same name, Lords of Chaos is the long awaited cinematic [non-documentary] adaptation of everyone’s favorite black metal extremist’s origin story. With Jonas Åkerlund, acclaimed film/music video director [re: Metallica, Satyricon, Rammstein, etc.] and OG member of Bathory at the helm, the story of Euronymous and Varg’s deadly pissing contest for the ages is handled with a fellow metalhead’s understanding. Akerlund’s depiction of these well to do Norwegian lads going off the fucking deep end is equal parts terrifying and hilarious. This makes sense because some of the crazy shit they do is gross, just as their asinine logic results in comedic gold. If you’re unfamiliar with Mayhem’s insane rise to prominence/infamy in the early 1990’s, here’s a brief spoiler-ific rundown:
-Euronymous wants Mayhem to be the evilest band on the planet.
-Their singer Dead blows his head off. Euronymous capitalizes on this.
-Varg Vikerines is a psychotic Nazi who wants to out evil Euronymous, so he burns down churches. Euronymous capitalizes on this.
– Varg stabs Euronymous to death and goes to prison.
This all happened before the release of their debut album. Mayhem’s story is the definition of absurdity and Åkerlund treats it as such.
Lords of Chaos is basically three acts: the early years with Dead, the Helvete days/Varg’s pyro quest, and lastly, the murders and media frenzy. Act 1 features the most music and is easily the “metal” part of the film. The hesher parties, the corpse paint, watching Mayhem progress from shitty garage band to pig head throwing icons, it’s all immensely satisfying. Rory Culkin’s narration is a minefield of exposition in the first act but when Varg enters the equation in act 2, Culkin begins to truly shine onscreen, transforming Euronymous from a heavy metal caricature into a charismatic and likeable asshole. Emory Cohen does a remarkable job as the film’s big bad/pathetic wolf, Varg. He goes from beta-male black metal poseur, to musical powerhouse and downright deranged rather seamlessly. The dynamic between these two characters is what drives the film and it all comes to a head in the third act. You need to empathize with Euronymous and want Varg’s stupidity to be rewarded at the end, if not, the film’s bloody conclusion might come off as cold and sterile since, spoiler, we [the metal audience] all know what’s coming.
Luckily, Culkin and Cohen both nail their performances and help Åkerlund’s film earn that human response, despite some of the Norway’s Dumbest Criminals type lolz Varg pulls and the graphic violence that screams: to hell with all these maniacs. They say truth is stranger than fiction, that’s Mayhem’s relationship with Lords of Chaos. The film isn’t perfect and can pull in different directions at times, but look at the goddamn source material! Besides, when it clicks it’s entertaining as hell and packed to the brim with metal iconography.
Watching the real Attila Csihar’s son play his dad recording “Funeral Fog” in the studio is worth the price of admission/streaming alone. That’s some meta, Ice-Cube, Straight Outta Oslo awesomeness right there.
Mayhem – Freezing Moon [Live in Leipzig]
For obvious reasons
Related: Read our interview with Lords of Chaos director Jonas Akerlund