Playing tight - getting a feel for good timing
One of the most ominous musical phenomena, which terrorized an entire nation and was founded in the late 80s to early 90s in Norway and is commonly known as Black Metal. Arson, suicide and even murder have been synonymous with the genre since its inception but what about the music itself and those who conjured it back in the day? Countless myths and stories have been woven around this extreme branch of traditional heavy metal, most notably around the individual motivations of the enigmatic main players who went on to form the so - called Black Circle in Oslo. This particular Black Circle represented a kind of secret club house where only the chosen few were granted entry. This is the foundation for Jonas Åkerlund ´s film Lords of Chaos from 2018.
Åkerlund himself was an active part in the first wave of Black Metal by being the session drummer for Swedish veterans Bathory, who alongside Venom from the UK are hailed as pioneers of the entire genre, giving a sense of authenticity from the filmmaker´s side. Authenticity is often the focal point of Black Metal, especially the discrepancy between factual and perceived authenticity. This strife would culminate in the clash between the heads of Norwegian bands Mayhem and Burzum, Euronymous and Varg Vikernes, which would end in tragedy.
A flood of rumors permeates the origins of Norwegian Black Metal due to the fact that it is steeped in all sorts of human tragedies. The movie is loosely based on Michael Moynihan and Didrik Søderlind´s eponymous bestseller, Lords of Chaos. The book received relatively severe negative press from the original Black Metal community, who deemed it sensationalist and accused the authors of downright lying and twisting the events. This is where the film shines, because it focuses on the essential: The people behind the costumes and make up.
It is already shown in the title cards in the beginning of the film, which state that the following events are both inspired by truth and lies. This is a smart move from the director´s side, because it helps him avoiding unfounded criticism for perceived inconsistencies. The hordes wearing ghastly pale make-up, armed with swords and torches, came out of nowhere and were supposed to terrorize one of the most prosperous nations on earth in the early 90s, and all this was done on behalf of the devil, apparently. Who were the people behind the atrocious actions? Lords of Chaos offers an explanation.
The film starts in the early 90s in the rehearsal room of the still unknown band Mayhem and keeps the focus on the band's head, Øystein Aarseth, better known by his pseudonym Euronymous, based on a demon of Greek mythology, over a rough the two-hour runtime.
He is portrayed in the film by Rory Culkin, the little brother of none other than Macaulay Culkin, Kevin McAllister from “Home Alone”. In general, several roles in the film are filled with relatives or progenies of well-known actors: Jack Kilmer, the son of Val Kilmer, plays Per Yngwe "Dead" Ohlin, the notorious first frontman of Mayhem, and Valter Skarsgård from the famous Skarsgård acting dynasty, miming Bård "Faust" Eithun, one of the convicted murderers within the Black Circle.
Some comic relief characters become necessary whilst dealing with such a grim subject, since a pinch of humour makes all the suffering and madness a bit more digestible and it softens its severity. For if this particular story is put under scrutiny, a tragedy of youthful recklessness unfolds.
The young Euronymous tries everything in his power to start his great career as a Norwegian rock god. The characteristic cold and creepy tremolo riffs that highlight Black Metal's dark atmosphere are due to Aarseth, who should play them first in this ferocious style. After initial difficulties, a young Swede, who calls himself "Dead", joins the band Mayhem as a singer, whose inhuman presence and shocking live shows quickly garner the band some recognition in the rising underground.
But "Dead" is mentally scarred by an incident in the schoolyard, in which he was clinically dead for a short time and ever since then he was more connected to death than to life, which he illustrated on stage, in which he mutilated himself in front of everyone's eyes and wore clothes that he previously buried for two weeks.
At that time they met the shy and slightly defiant Kristian from Bergen, who could not get any respect from Mayhem. This clumsy character in Lords of Chaos is becoming Euronymous's arch enemy because he identifies too closely with the satanic themes of the texts and wants to follow empty words with tangible actions. And so it comes to pass that he renames himself Varg, the Norwegian word for Wolf, and begins his individual campaign of terror, which will soon echo through Oslo.
The line-up with Dead doesn't last, because shortly after the band succeeds in gaining greater popularity, he commits suicide in a shed with a shotgun, which is graphically displayed in Lords Of Chaos to the tiniest detail. Eurynomous then establishes his own label, Deathlike Silence, alongside a record store and tries its best to appear as evil and mysterious as possible, especially in front of the members of the newly created Black Circle in the basement of the store. Then the news spread about an old church that burned to the ground.
Shortly after, Varg emerges as the perpetrator and is initiated into the underground society. Soon he joins Mayhem as a new bass player, and a relentless rivalry develops between him and Euronymous over who is the truest black metal player in Norway.
This childish rivalry results in a terrible tragedy and had already encouraged some lost souls to do evil in the name of Black Metal, in order to finally be someone standing for something.
Lords of Chaos often looks like an elaborate music video, which shouldn´t be too surprising, because director Jonas Åkerlund directed dozens of high-profile music videos after his personal Black Metal career. Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Madonna, Rammstein and the list goes on with well-known stars with whom he collaborated in his illustrious career.
Accordingly, the level of contempt from the original members of Mayhem was high when it was announced that the film would be released. It is this militant elitism that continues to make it difficult to gain access to this music and is in itself an indication of internal stagnation and a lack of self-reflection.
Music contains so many exciting and immersive sounds from different areas, and even the initially highly primitive Black Metal has developed into a legitimate art form over the years, whose sonic spheres contain all the emotions of the human spectrum and grow beyond the youthful perpetrators.
The best creative decision Åkerlund makes in Lords of Chaos is to portray the bands almost embarrassingly human and thus centers the story around Mayhem and Burzum as a cautionary tale against youthful recklessness and boundless prosperity.
On the one hand, at the time of the events, the people involved were still partly adolescent, and are decently played by their respective actors; on the other hand, Norway is regarded as one of the most prosperous nations on the planet, and in a place where everything seems to appear safe and sound, a huge sea of disappointment and melancholy is bubbling deep inside, which erupts if it is not being taken proper care of.
Was this feature able to shed some light into the darkness for one or the other, or were you already aware of this dark time in recent music history? No matter which answer applies to you, music-related content is presented here on mukken.com on a daily basis, and the output is constantly growing. Because mukken was designed by music fans for music fans, and the sheer endless wealth of information about all music topics naturally also finds its way here. More features about movies? No problem, check out the article about This Is Spinal Tap, for example, or the Stooges documentary Gimme Danger by indie legend Jim Jarmusch. Bands and artists are also not neglected in the feature area, nor are technical contributions about producing, mixing and mastering. Enter the multifaceted world of mukken!
Originally published on October 12, 2022, updated on February 3, 2023