Longtime readers of this site will know I’ve had issues with the biopic genre for a while. I’m a stickler for establishing a theme and feel and following them through the entire movie. The biopic genre a lot of the time seems to forget this and instead just brings us along on a ride of a person’s life without any regard for telling a good story other than the story of life. It’s not inherently a bad thing, but it keeps most biopics from being something great rather than something just good.
Lords of Chaos is a biopic that manages to tell a story of a musical genres birth, the downfall that birth brought to its founding members, as well as how bad things can go when a leader loses control. It’s in your face and it doesn’t care how much it hurts, it wants you to feel pain, and I love it because of that.
Lords of Chaos
Director: Jonas Åkerlund
Release Date: February 8, 2019 (Limited) / February 22nd, 2019 (VOD)
Right from the start in a voiceover, Euronymous (Rory Culkin) the lead singer of the black metal band Mayhem tells us that this is not a story that will end well, and Lords of Chaos wastes no time in showing us just how much pain it can inflict. What starts off with almost cliched edgy behavior by the initial members of Mayhem quickly turns dark after their lead singer Dead (Jack Kilmer) begins cutting himself on stage before ultimately killing himself which is shown in almost full detail. While I wish they had strung out Dead’s time in the movie, make no mistake Lords of Chaos is about the interaction between Euronymous and Varg Vikernes (Emory Cohen).
Varg who is originally seen as a poseur by Euronymous after an early Mayhem show returns a year later with his own produced music and is allowed to join the Black Circle. In this inner circle of the burgeoning black metal community, Varg listens to Euronymous talk about how change needs to come to Norway. The only problem is that Euronymous does only that, talk. What follows is a deadly game of one-upmanship to see who can be the most metal that ends with a national crisis and multiple deaths.
I could probably boil every movie down to this theme, but the whole perception versus reality theme feels very prevalent in Lords of Chaos. Euronymous has this perception of what he wants to do, but the reality is that he’s a talker and not a doer. Meanwhile, everyone around him believes his manicured perception of himself and begins to bring his reality into being, to horrifying ends.
That’s not to say that Euronymous should be liked, Lords of Chaos is filled with characters who should not be liked, but in that sense it’s refreshing. The only character who comes close to being sympathetic is Dead and he’s well…dead for most of the film. Even then he is only sympathetic in comparison to those he leaves behind. Lords of Chaos is filled with the horrors of what can happen when a group of young people is dedicated to fitting in with a rough crowd.
As can be expected when you’re dealing with the horrors of the human condition, there are some splashes of pitch-black humor sprinkled in amongst all the horror. It’s not often but it happens enough to keep the mood just a few ticks above misery which is almost necessary when you’re making a movie like this.
To say much more about the movie would do a disservice to the experience of seeing it. I, unfortunately knew a lot of what was going to happen in this movie because of its basis in real life but there were still some moments that caught me off guard and in those few moments, I felt like the movie had me exactly where it wanted me.
Overall this feels like a worthy follow-up to the 2005 documentary Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey in that it never strays from the mentality of a metal fan. Yes it’s a fictionalized retelling of the events around Mayhem’s rise and fall but the cracks between the truth are filled in with this air of “fuck you” and it feels so on brand that I’m glad director Jonas Åkerlund stuck to his guns.