*contains spoilers and confronting images
Enter at your own risk! The movie Lords of Chaos (2018) was released a couple of years after a conversation I had with a Christian friend. I told him, when we were talking about heavy metal music, that I heard there was a Scandinavian black metal band that went around burning churches.
“Really?,” my friend almost gasped. “They actually burned churches?” He delivered the last part of the sentence as if he felt sorry for them along with a measure of shock.
I forgot about it until Lords of Chaos arrived at my local music and movie shop and I was interested enough to buy a copy. I didn’t know the Norwegian black metal band Mayhem were Satanists, or at least paid lip service to Satanism. I guess if you burn down churches, you’d have to have some predilection for the dark side. Personally, I’m not a follower of Satan, except for the occasionally devilish turn of phrase.
The story of Lords of Chaos is based on both truth and lies according to a disclaimer at the beginning of the movie. The true story of the founder of Norwegian black metal is followed quite closely in the movie. It is about a band that focused on their “dark, evil music”.
The film is narrated by that founder who goes by the name of Euronymous, who is played very well, and even sympathetically, by Rory Culkin (1989-), who is the younger brother of Home Alone’s Macauley Culkin (1980-).
Euronymous took his name from the Greek demon of rotting corpses of the Underworld. And we gather from the movie that he was more interested in the glamour associated with bands rather than the actual evil of practising Satanism associated with black metal. His real name was Orstein Aarseth (1968-1993 murdered).
Euronymous was prone to speak misanthropically: “I hate people. I don’t want them to have a good time. I’d like to see them rot under a communist dictator.” He was a former Norwegian Communist youth group member.
Whether Euronymous’s obsession with Satan was a wholesome or unwholesome one is left to conjecture. If there can really be an objective basis when talking about this subject. But he was hardly hardcore to the point of human or animal sacrifice. Certainly, he is quoted further in the press as saying: “There is nothing which is too sick, evil or perverted.” Meanwhile, former Mayhem drummer Kjetil Manheim described Euronymous as “health oriented…. A nice guy, a family guy.”
But he acted overly like the Godfather of Norwegian black metal, which he credits himself as having apparently created, something supported in the film Lords of Chaos.
I haven’t read the 1998 book which the movie is based on and don’t pretend to listen to or know much about black metal or even death metal. All I’ve got is an Ozzy Osbourne best of CD in my car.
That the real Euronymous was always taking credit for things made him enemies which included fellow Norwegian black metal musician and eventual bandmate Varg Vikernes (1973-). Vikernes, who is portayed in the movie as a Nazi and ultimately a self-styled seeker of attention or fame, probably still has his fans long after his release from jail for the murder of Euronymous.
The real Varg was an Iron Maiden fan at twelve and a big follower of J.R.R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings, taking his stage name from The Two Towers and his band name Barzum or “darkness” from the Black Speech inscribed on one ring. But I don’t know what I’m talking about as I have never read Lord of the Rings. I could barely get through The Hobbit. Give me instead a good movie like Lords of Chaos.
And so back to the movie and its premise of Satanists who burn down churches while selling records and occasionally murdering people on the side. It’s directed by Swede Jonas Akerlund (1965-), whose 2003 movie Spun was unfairly dismissed by critic Leonard Maltin as “so scummy it’s hard to find anything redeeming.” Perhaps he was offended by the sight of Mena Suvari (1979-) on the toilet – I mean she had nothing on actress Tallulah Bankhead who would pee in the nearest sink.
Akerlund, who was in his own black metal band in his youth, has created a great movie with Lords of Chaos. It’s a fan movie, sympathetic to Euronymous who he must revere as a black metal fan and musician himself. The film even uses several songs from Akerlund’s former Swedish black metal band Bathory in the movie. That band’s contribution to the formation of Scandinavian black metal cannot be denied as they were around the same time as Mayhem.
Call me colour deaf but for those into black metal, I’m sure the soundtrack for Lords of Chaos is a rich and rewarding experience, especially considering it appears to be a mainstream Hollywood product. I’d devote more time to that genre of music on my headphones but don’t want to go prematurely deaf… But I digress!
In the film, Culkin’s Euronymous is followed from when his band Mayhem formed as he dresses in black from head to toe with long dyed dark hair.
His first claim to fame is when his bandmate Per Yngve Ohlin (1969-91 suicide) whose stage name was Dead commits suicide. Dead is played by Val Kilmer’s son Jack Kilmer (1995-). Dead’s suicide in the movie, like when he slashes his wrists on stage during a concert, is one of the most confronting scenes in cinema. Oh, the effects these days! I held my hands up to my head in horror as Dead slashes his wrists longways, then his throat, before writing a note: “excuse all the blood let the party begin dead”. Then for good measure he blows his brains out.
The notoriety that Euronymous sought in terms of fame, he cultivated from that incident by taking photos of Dead’s body posed with the gun and knife he used to kill himself. I’m even afraid to suggest from looking at the photo that he also scooped his brains out. This isn’t suggested in the movie.
In the movie, they are shown as friends as they hole up in a ramshackle house in the Norwegian countryside but other band members said they got on each other’s nerves and were not really great friends before the Dead’s suicide in the flophouse.
The movie is written by Akerlund and another Swede Dennis Magnusson, who has done a lot of teevee work. Since Spun, Akerlund has concentrated on what he is known best for and that is directing music videos for pop, rock and metal stars.
The core group that surrounded Euronymous, for all their smashing cars at night and vandalising city streets, crying “Hail Satan”, apparently were really just rich kids whose passion for black metal was indulged by their parents. Certainly, in the case of Euronymous his father bankrolled his record shop and Varg doesn’t seem to work for his spartan apartment or his credit card.
The film also shows a couple of band members who quit along the way because of the excesses of Euronymous and his apparent Satanism. He keeps Dead’s photo on display in his record store. He has also made medallions apparently from the skull fragments of Dead’s skull blown away by the gunshot.
Euronymous isn’t a murderer but got involved in the church burning by Varg who wanted more notoriety. He was more or less dared, according to the movie, to do it in front of his friends which he has nicknamed The Black Circle and meet in the basement of his record shop. Lest The Black Circle lose ‘faith’ and respect for Euronymous – burn a church.
Varg has already burned down a church once he has gravitated into Euronymous’s world. He, initially, thinks Varg is a great and pure Norwegian black metal musician.
But even though Varg burned the first church, Euronymous took credit for the idea. Such is legend.
“He made us all look like f#*king boyscouts,” narrates Culkin before he takes on the challenge to burn a church of his own with Varg. And: “We finally did it,” Culkin says after the deed is done.
And it’s as though it’s a competition between Euronymous and Varg… music, girls and general evil…”How many f#*king girls can one f#*k!,” exclaims Culkin about his ‘friend’ Varg’s exploding creativity and libido.
He has no choice but to make him bass player of Mayhem to rein him in. Previously, Varg was working for Euronymous’s record label under his band name Burzum.
Varg reacts by saying: “We should burn one down together”. Meanwhile Mayhem’s drummer increasingly rolls his eyes at the pair’s behaviour.
Varg likes the sacrificial altars of old – Odin and Valhalla – and not the Christian ones that replaced them. These are young men barely out of their teens or still in them. Are they merely overaged delinquents who carry on their quest under the banner of the devil? Or are both of them caught up in the making of their own legends in what is now a part of the founding doctrine of Norwegian black metal?
Again, listening to Mayhem and the associated acts is not akin to burning down churches and murdering people yourself. You don’t even have to admire these people to listen and enjoy their music and associated acts. Often the lyrics are so obscured by the voice in death metal that they seem meaningless and the rest is thrashing genius to some. Maybe there are no lyrics at all and it’s perhaps a Satanic speaking in tongues.
Varg believes his own legend is obscured alongside Euronymous and eventually as their paths, dare I say, cross for that last time – the myth is finally forged.
But before that, there is the first murder of a homosexual in a park. It is also horrific and what is most disturbing is the casualness in which the crime is committed by one of Euronymous’s friends who is a co-worker in his record shop.
“We should celebrate. Let’s burn down a f#*king church,” says Varg as Euronymous is almost incredulous at first but goes along with it anyway.
Does Euronymous die at the hands of Varg because he got in too deep with the creation of his own legend, losing sight of reality? Even if his worst crime is to burn down a church – his was in the end guilt by association. It didn’t help that Euronymous takes credit for inspiring the murder as well, and as usual.
“We’re in this together,” says Culkin’s Euronymous to Varg in a solidarity that doesn’t really exist.
According to the film, when their actions appear in the media it all made Euronymous uneasy and paranoid…
“All this evil and dark crap was supposed to be fun,” says Culkin about the mess he’s in. But he is in this mess because he crossed the line and interfered with Dead’s corpse, arranging the scene for photos which he had taken with a disposable camera that he went to buy after finding Dead’s body. He inspired the Black Circle in some way as a result… It also drew the interest of Varg.
“You want to be a stupid ass celebrity rock star,” says Varg, played by Emory Cohen (1990-), who begins the film with an almost benign nerdiness but changes into something cold and monstrous. It’s probably ironic that for a Jew, Cohen makes a great Nazi. It is also a slap in the real Varg’s face by the director by having a Jew play him – he killed his hero after all!
The scene where the basically insecure Varg meets with the press to tell all of Norway of the crimes is well handled in that it shows Varg performs in vain. He is a phony. He maybe great in the studio – “touring is for poseurs” – but in the movie as played by Cohen, he’s just an average church burner, until his final infamy for murdering Euronymous.
The climax is, of course, explicit, right down to the knife in Culkin’s skull. As the sentence for murder was a little over 20 years in Norway, Varg has long been released and was last heard of producing children in France.
Mayhem’s first and only album was several years in production. It features both murderer and victim playing together and was released in May 1994 a little under a year after Euronymous’s killing. The book followed.
Mayhem and company’s cult got sealed by an article and interview with Euronymous in Kerrang! magazine, which is devoted to hard rock and metal. Of course, Euronymous took credit! It was apparently the near final straw for Varg.
I invited my Christian friend to watch Lords of Chaos and although he thought he would have nightmares for nights to come, this is what he said: “I liked the fact it showed he came from a normal family and, you know, look what happened to him…”
“…Once you’re in that lifestyle, it just gets worse and worse until bit by bit you can’t get free of it. It was graphic… it definitely shows the influence of demons in people’s lives. If it’s true, they really need our prayers.”
“Even if they start off as poseurs, they get sucked into it and the uniqueness of it but then it opens doorways for demons to get in.”
“I think every mature Christian should watch it as it just shows what it’s really like out there.”
Lords of Chaos helps define the myth of Norwegian black metal and the delinquents that helped form it. Euronymous, otherwise, liked to go to his parent’s home to have spaghetti bolognaise for dinner. The myth is a mass of murder and suicide and church burning along with some really good music if it is your scene.
But, ultimately, I guess whether you’re a Christian, or whether you worship the dark one – or even if you worship an odd sock in the corner of your bedroom, you’ve got to ask yourself one question and that is, deep down: “Are you really happy?”
As I said enter at your own risk.