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Mar 25 2019

Review: Lords of Chaos

By guest contributor Samantha Craggs

Rory Culkin headlines the music bio "Lords of Chaos"

There's a scene inLords of Chaos,now available on VOD, that sums up the film in a nutshell.Euronymous (Rory Culkin),the lead guitarist of the black metal band Mayhem,walks into the bedroom of his depressed lead singer,Pelle,who goes by the name Dead.The camera pans over the mostly barren bedroom and shows us a dead cat swinging from the ceiling,apparently with a hook through its face.Euronymous tells us in an arch voiceover that Dead hates cats,just in case we didn't get it the first time.Dead is lying on the bed,and Euronymous wants to rouse him."Dead,"he says,looking out the window,"Cat."Dead sits up,excited,and the two go out into the woods with a shotgun to stalk and kill.

You get the feeling this scene is supposed to be comic relief...

So is the scene where Varg Vikernes (Emory Cohen),relishing his newfound fame,takes a girl from behind and then sits in the living room in a flimsy bathrobe.'Go away,whore,' he says.'I'm done with you.' Beat.Laughter?This didn't get a laugh from the mostly male audience when I sawLords of Chaos.But both illustrate aspects of metal culture - from Poison to Varg Vikernes - that have aged like milk: Women and animals are disposable punchlines.Isn't life grand?

None of this is what you might call unexpected.The Norwegian black metal scene has always been one where disenfranchised men with long black hair try to out-evil each other.In metal history,spooky and Satanic are a key chapter,from early Alice Cooper and on through Venom,who posed with giant snakes.Lords of Chaosportrays a world where the performative elements are lived and internalized,less a marketing ploy and more a hypermasculine arm wrestle.

In this world,empathy and relatability are weaknesses.The film follows suit.Each of the characters are vacant,and to a person,they're idiots.It may make for a believable portrayal of the church-burning scene,but it doesn't make for engrossing storytelling.If Satan-loving dudes in black makeup is what you're looking for,though,thenLords of Chaosis the movie for you.

The story is told through the eyes of Euronymous,a key player in the early Norwegian black metal scene.He was also,famously,the murder victim of Vikernes,which most people who pick out this movie will know.Vikernes was sentenced to 21 years for that crime,and for a series of church burnings.He served 15 years and is now out,living his life.

Euronymous does have moments where he shows a little depth,like brief scenes when he plays with his sister,but they're few and far between.Culkin does what he can with the roles as do a couple of other cast members,but their character work is restricted to subtle facial expressions.Mostly,though,this is a film without an 'in'.No one is even remotely relatable,and the actual music they make is an afterthought.As a result,it's a tale of people drinking among inverted crosses and roaring at children and old people.It's neither clever enough to be absurd nor empathetic enough to be good drama.We watch them like they're fish in a fishbowl.

Rory Culkin as Euronymous

The film is unnecessarily gory.Death scenes - and there's more than one - are long and drawn out.The victims flail and mumble,and turn circles,grabbing at the air.We hear each stab in vivid detail.We watch the perpetrators have plenty of time to think about their actions,and yet they do it,again and again.They're scenes of interesting actions - character motivation is shown through violence in this film - but without emotional payoff in the story,it's like a third person shooter with little narrative and a lot of blood splatters.Eventually,Euronymous becomes human,but it's about 20 minutes too late.

But it's worth noting that there are scenes that get laughs."Let's celebrate,"Vikernes says at one point."Let's burn down a fucking church."

At another point,after Euronymous attends a bonfire in full makeup,he schools one of his bandmates."This is not a joke,"he says."You are terror incarnate.And remember to get your poses right."

The movie was directed and co-written by Jonas Akerlund,who knows what he's talking about.Akerlund was an early member of the Swedish black metal band Bathory,and went on to become famous directing music videos like Madonna's "Ray of Light"and Prodigy's "Smack My Bitch Up"among many more classic or infamous examples.He also directed the feature filmSpun(2002),which included a naked woman tied to a bed and left there for hours listening to a skipping CD,also apparently so we can laugh at its absurdity.

Emory Cohen as Varg Vikernes

Akerlund has a unique eye.For black metal fans,the film and its soundtrack will be an orgy of references.For non-fans,it's a look at a culture most don't see too closely,from someone who's lived it.But mostly,Lords of Chaosis a bit like that scene inSpun.Brutal and sometimes interesting,but oddly vacant.

A better look at the scene comes fromMetal: A Headbanger's Journey,an underrated 2005 documentary by Canadian metalhead Sam Dunn.Dunn interviews Gaahl from Gorgoroth in a sort of dungeon atmophere,candles glowing,and Gaahl stares at him with a leveling look.

"What is the primary ideology,"Dunn stammers,"or primary ideas that fuel Gorgoroth's music?"

Gaahl takes a sip of his blood-red wine,and in a deep voice,gives the answer we all know is coming."Satan."

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