If you grew up around, in, or were part of the metal scene in the early nineties, you almost certainly know the story of the formative years of the Norwegian Black Metal scene. You know about Mayhem and the suicide of their frontman Dead, you know all about Burzum and the Inner Circle that centred around the infamous Helvete in Oslo, the church burnings, Faust stabbing a man to death and Varg ‘Count Grisknackh’ Vikernes murdering Oystein ’Euronymous’ Aarsteth; all of which helped to stoke the fires of the mainstream hatred of, and led to the scene becoming the locus for the global animosity toward, black metal. But how much do you really know? How much of what happened during those all-too brief years is fact and how much was fiction exaggerated by scene gossip? Lord of Chaos, the book written about those turbulent early years, by Michael Moynihan and Didri Soderlind, set out to separate the truth from half-baked fantasy, whilst it’s regarded as being an accurate document of the period, people and scene, it was missing the voice of the man who was there in the beginning and was arguably the most important figure in the scenes early history, Oystein Aarseth. By the time it was written Euronymous was dead, stabbed to death by Vikernes in a petty argument in the cold corridor and stairwell of a Norwegian apartment complex.
Lords of Chaos the film directed by former Bathory drummer Jonas Akerlund sets to redress that balance somewhat by telling the story from the perspective of Mayhem’s second fallen son, Oystein ‘Euronymous’ Aarseth. Played by Rory Culkin, Euronymous isn’t a particularly likeable character, at least he isn’t the beginning, and as soon the opening credits have finished rolling, warns the viewer that what they’re about to experience is his story and that “It will not end well”. Ostensibly, Lords of Chaos is a story of people desperately trying to find out who they are by pushing the boundaries of the only art form that they’re intimately aware of, and deeply entrenched in, to its absolute limits and beyond. It’s a story of complete dedication to the purity of creativity and the remorseless pursuit of an individual vision that gets twisted and bent out of shape by compromise and the clashing perspectives that clawed away at the original concept when “outsiders” inevitably became involved. And it’s the story of the constant competition and incessant game of one-upmanship between Aasreth and Vikernes, that ultimately led to one of them losing his life and the other spending a great deal of his in gaol.
Focusing on Mayhem and Helvete, Lord of Chaos portrays Euronymous quest for ‘pefection’ and his desire to obtain what it is unobtainable as his central driving force, both of which eventually led to him untimely demise,, as he burns through ideas without giving them form, leaving that part of the equation up to others, before stepping in and taking credit for the actions of the dysfunctional, disenfranchised souls that were drawn to him like moths to a flame. Straddling the edge of madness in a maelstrom of discordant creativity, Euronymous toyed and played with the concept of evil, before he finally came face-to-face with its true avatar, human nature, embodied by Vikernes. While Lords of Chao’s central story is a strangely enjoyable tale of fringe culture and the forces that were responsible for bringing it into being, Akerlunds film is somewhat marred by its inclusion of the very real, sickening and homophobic murder of a gay man by Faust and Vikernes odious acceptance of, and devotion to, fascism. Sometimes the truth really is far more horrific than fiction. Ultimately though, Lord of Chaos soars thanks to its cast, most notably Rory Culkin’s mesmering, hypnotic and heartbreaking performance and Jack Kilmer’s haunting and harrowing turn as Dead, a man beset and plagued by clinical depression and mental illness. Welcome to Hell… Tim Cundle
Lords of Chaos hits cinema screens on March 29th.