In the United States, the subculture of black metal is often associated with devil-worshipping antics and various forms of reactionary moral panic. Abroad, however, the spooky sub-genre of rock music has a far bloodier history. The hyper-violent legacy of Norwegian black metal has been analyzed in the cult favorite non-fiction book "Lords of Chaos: The Bloody Rise of the Satanic Metal Underground" by Michael Moynihan and Didrik Søderlind. Music video director Jonas Åkerlund, drummer of the beloved metal band Bathory, has recently adapted the notorious tome into a movie starring Rory Culkin, Emory Cohen, and pop singer Sky Ferreira — but the new film was met with opposition during its creation. So why was this project so controversial, and how accurate is the movie to the actual crimes they're based on?
The crimes that inspired "Lord Of Chaos"
According to the "Lords of Chaos" book, a small sub-culture of artists and musicians inspired by the dark aesthetics of bands like Black Sabbath, Coven, and Black Widow began forming in Scandinavia the early 1990s. These groups took the themes and motifs of metal music to even further extremes: Band members were regularly seen engaging in self-harm on stage and frequently proclaimed their allegiance to both dark, supernatural forces and far-right, fascist political organizations. Then, the behavior of these adherents took a sharp turn for the criminal when they began attempting to burn down churches in a series of arsons from 1992 to 1993.
The violence reached a zenith on August 21,1992, when Bård Guldvik "Faust" Eithun of the band Emperor murdered a homosexual man in the Olympic Park in Lillehammer, for which he was sentenced to 14 years in prison. Only a year later, Øystein "Euronymous" Aarseth, a figurehead of the scene, was murdered by Varg "Count Grishnackh" Vikernes of the band Burzum. Vikernes was sentenced to 21 years in jail for the killing and his connections to the fires set in religious buildings.
Why "Lord of Crimes" is causing controversy
Rory Culkin stars as Euronymous in Åkerlund's film, which depicts the rise and fall of some of the key figures in this movement. The movie also shows the suicide of Mayhem band member Per Yngve Ohlin (aka Dead) and the callous way Euronymous handled the death, along with the knife fight that ultimately would take his life.
Talk of a "Lords of Chaos" movie has circulated since 2009, when Japanese director Sion Sono, best known for his controversial horror film "Suicide Club," was attached to the project, according to Screen Daily. The details of how that project was abandoned remain unclear, but filming on a "Lords of Chaos" movie began anew in 2015, with entirely new names: It was Variety that announced that Åkerlund was now set to helm the movie.
However, the production wouldn't go smoothly despite getting a new director. Vikernes, who has since been released from prison, was vehemently opposed to a "Lords of Chaos" movie and would not approve the use of his music in the film, according to a YouTube post he made in 2016. He continued to voice his opposition to the film in 2018, as he disapproved of how he was portrayed as "power-mad."
Meanwhile, members and former members of Mayhem decried both the film's content and how it was made, and even worked to prevent the film from ever being released.
"They contacted everybody behind our backs, our crew members, all kinds of people associated with us in a very sneaky way," former Mayhem member Necrobutcher, who had left the band due to their Euronymous' disturbing behavior, said in an interview with Rolling Stone. "It's the wrong approach. You make a movie of a band? The first people I would contact would be the band and ask for permission to use their music. Don't come afterwards because we won't authorize it."
“I think all that know Norwegian black metal well know that the book was crap, and we are all skeptical and negative about it being made into a film,” Snorre Ruch of the band Thorns concurred.
How accurate is the "Lord of Chaos" film?
Whether or not the "Lords of Chaos" film accurately depicts the events that transpired in the black metal scene is hard to say, considering many of the personalities involved dispute the accuracy of the book on which the film is based.
Genre experts like John Zani, host of "Never Stop The Madness," a black medal radio show, cautioned audiences that the film "felt like a skimmed wiki page... over-dramatized entertainment, and not a fact-based history lesson," but lauded some parts of the movie.
"The church burnings are shown for what they were, using real news footage in later scenes to show the actual destruction," Zani told Oxygen.com. "The murders and suicide are honest, displaying how brutal yet unimaginable it all was, Magne Andreassen’s relentlessly careless murder most especially. Dead’s slow and cruel suicide provoked audible gasps from the audience. Unfortunately only part of his morbid suicide note was shown, 'Excuse the blood,' failing to mention the remainder became lyrics for Mayhem’s (and Typhon’s) infamous song ‘Life Eternal.’"
"There seems to be quite a bit of pushback from black metal purists," Robert Pasbani, the editor of popular rock news site Metal Injection, told Oxygen.com. "Because Varg called it 'character assassination,' and because the trailers showed that this is American actors interpreting a Norwegian film — that was enough for a certain portion of the black metal fan base to dismiss the movie without watching it."
"The director ... worked with the families of Mayhem's Dead and Euronymous to make sure things were accurate, and he did eventually get the rights to Mayhem's music to be in the film after bassist Necrobutcher was initially hesitant to be involved. Also, Mayhem vocalist Attila's son appears in the movie — so clearly, the people this is based on (other than Varg) are fine with it. I feel metalheads as a whole are curious about the movie, and I am sure once the film is available in wider distribution, even the elitists will be curious enough to check it out."
Although Pasbani did ultimately enjoy the film, he feared that some depictions of the political allegiances of its protagonists were perhaps dangerous.
"[The movie] portrays Varg as the only one of the crew who isn't a 'poser' and who doubles down on this ideology," said Pasbani. ["But] Varg has made no secret of his nationalistic viewpoints and part of me worried that somebody could watch this movie and find themselves seeking out this ideology. Ultimately, Varg is painted as the villain in the film, but to a young kid watching, is that enough? I don't really know if I'm pearl-clutching or it's something doable, but it seemed the director was not too concerned about it."
The film has, perhaps unsurprisingly, garnered mixed reviews from critics.
"Åkerlund deserves kudos for going beyond the tabloid-ready scandals and looking for whatever meaning may lie behind them," wrote IndieWire critic Michael Nordine. "'Lords of Chaos' is frequently unpleasant but oddly compelling — not least because Åkerlund ensures that the film never takes itself as seriously as its subjects did."
But LA Times critic Robert Abele had a much harsher take.
"It’s all fun and games until someone loses a soul," Abele wrote. "Åkerlund likes the immediacy of an awful act, and he shows a greater degree of cinematic intensity in depicting gruesome stabbings than in the intricacies of a rock sound, indicating Åkerlund believes a music movie isn’t as thrilling as a horror biopic."
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