There’s an undeniably appealing connection between heavy metal, Satanism, and horror. And no, there is in fact no connection between heavy metal and the Devil. But there’s a reason Black Sabbath and Motely Crüe were able to so successfully exploit Satanic references to the tune of millions. Though it’s not a horror movie, Lords of Chaos and its semi-fictional account of the Norwegian Black Metal scene trades on horror imagery. Part true crime drama, part thriller, and part dark satire, Lords of Chaos is now available on some VOD-streaming platforms. So is it ‘Devil horns’ out for this movie? Or is Lords of Chaos a poser?
The origins of Norwegian Black Metal in the early ‘90’s was marked by tragedy. Church burnings, suicides, and a murder – all of which became the subject of a semi-fictional 1998 novel, The Lords of Chaos. For the movie, Lords of Chaos focuses on Mayhem guitarist and founder, Euronymous. After the grisly suicide of their lead signer, Dead, Euronymous exploits his friend’s death to promote the band and Norwegian Black Metal itself. However, when bass player Varg arrives on the scene, a deadly power struggle emerges in the small Black Metal circle.
Lords of Chaos Too Unfocused To Harness Power of Its Subject Matter
Director Jonas Akerlund has all the right credentials for translating this story to a movie. For starters, Akerlund was once upon a time a member of Swedish Black Metal band, Bathory. Prior to directing feature films, Akerlund cut his teeth making music videos for the likes of Metallica and Rammstein. Yet in spite of these credentials, Akerlund struggles to find a clear focus for the story.
Tonally, The Lords of Chaos feels unfocused.
Among its problems, Lords of Chaos can’t seem to decide on a tone. Certainly, there’s shocking imagery to spare. Church burnings, animal mutilations, and Black Metal video editing lay the groundwork for what could have been an unnerving movie. In addition, Akerlund’s filming of the movie’s violence is stripped down and, as a result, disturbing. Dead’s’ suicide is filmed in an uncompromising manner, which should provoke a range of audience response. At times, Lords of Chaos feels like a spiritual cousin to the gritty Super Dark Times. Yet other parts of the movie seem more interested in plugging into the scene’s irreverent sense of rebellion while playing up more darkly comedic elements. Tonally, The Lords of Chaos just feels unfocused.
Lots of Chaos Can’t Decide What Story It Wants to Tell
‘I created Mayhem. What the fuck have you done. Poser.
What is Lords of Chaos about? At times, Akerlund and writer Dennis Magnusson’s movie feels like a darkly satirical examination of identity and subcultural legitimacy. Much of Lords of Chaos revolves around the power struggle and game of one-upmanship between Rory Culkin’s ‘Euronymous’ and Emory Cohen’s ‘Varg’. On more than one occasion, ‘Euronymous’ reminds us that he is ‘the originator of true Norwegian Black Metal’. It’s Euronymous’ opportunism and its contrast with with the over-zealous, true believer Varg, that forms the heart of the story. But then Akerlund characertizes Varg as a clumsy ‘wannabe’ barely capable of orchestrating a ‘reign of terror’. He’s more a ‘child’ playing at being a criminal than a dark presence. Not even the roots of the Norwegian Black Metal scene are well fleshed out for audiences.
Odd Casting and Musical Choices
Several other problems prevent Lords of Chaos from truly resonating. Despite its Black Metal roots, Icelandic alt-rock band, Sigur Ros, provides the movie’s score. Don’t get me wrong, Sigur Ros are a fantastic band and we get a richly atmospheric film score, but it’s completely at odds with the Lords of Chaos’ subject matter.
…it’s an odd casting choice for a movie about a Norwegian Black Metal band.
Rory Culkin is an underrated performer. As Euronymous, Culkin delivers a fine performance. First, it’s an odd casting choice for a movie about a Norwegian Black Metal band. Culkin doesn’t remotely sound Norwegian. Second, his character is inconsistently written. Is Euronymous a sleazy self-promoter to be detested? Or is he a naive figure worthy of sympathy? The Lords of Chaos can’t make up its mind, which results in an underwhelming climax. Ironically, Euronymous only gains the legitimacy he craved when he‘s killed for being a poser. That should be powerful, but it’s not.
Mayhem Never Quite Rules
The Lords of Chaos is many things. Disturbing. Frustrating. Uneven. But it’s always watchable. Still I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was disappointed. Given its subject matter, The Lords of Chaos had the potential to be a button-pushing classic. Ultimately, it never strikes a nerve in the same way other recent horror-metal films like The Devil’s Candy or Green Room.