Movie Review : Lord of Chaos (2019)
Director Jonas Akerlund has been pretty busy this year, with the release of Mayhem biopic Lords of Chaos and Netflix original Polar. Both came out a couple weeks apart, last winter. Before that, Akerlund hadn’t directed anything more serious than a music video in seven years. That’s because he’s not very good at making feature films. He’s been directing since 1988 and the only film he’s really known for is Spun, a 2002 indie crime drama with a strange sense of humor. After watching Lords of Chaos, I can only hope movie execs stop funding Jonas Akerlund’s films altogether.
This movie is lazy, lurid and straight up disrespectful.
Lords of Chaos is based on a 1998 true crime book which chronicles the rise of religious and political extremism among young black metal musicians. The movie adaptation is basically a visual speed run of all the Mayhem-related anecdotes everybody knows: Dead (Jack Kilmer)’s inhaling of dead animal’s scent before shows, his Live in Leipzig performance, his suicide and subsequent album cover photoshoot, the church burnings (of course), Faust (Valter Skarsgard)’s murder of a random man, Varg Vikernes (Emory Cohen)’s murder of Euronymous (Rory Culkin), it’s all in there… and little else is.
I’ll separate my laundry list of complaints about this movie in two separate sections. First, the non-Mayhem stuff:
- It’s narrated by someone who died in 1993.
- Because of that, Lords of Chaos can’t ever seem to decide whether Euronymous and his inner circle were good-natured brats or homicidal maniacs. The first person, tongue-in-cheek tone takes huge assumptions as to who he was and doesn’t convey the seriousness of the events. We go from brats drinking and fucking while listening to Accept to church burnings and murders without giving a sense of scope.
- Nothing is ever explained. Everything just happens. It’s basically just a series of shockingly violent scenes. There’s no explanation whatsoever on who Varg is or why he does what he does. That’s the interesting part.
- Same goes for Faust. He just appears at some point and murders someone. If you don’t already know who the fuck he is, it doesn’t carry any weight outside of shock value. He stabs someone like…37 times and does little else. His scenes could’ve been cut from the movie and given to extent the Dead section, which is way more interesting. Dude is introduced and dies within the first twenty minutes of Lords of Chaos.
OK, it was not quite non-Mayhem stuff. But the movie is about them. I’m a huge fan of the band and I thought Lords of Chaos was extremely disrespectful to their legacy. It twists and turns their story in order to give as little context as possible. This is for my fellow Mayhem fans:
- Maniac doesn’t even have a character in Lords of Chaos. He’s not even mentioned. It’s like he never existed, although he was a member of the band from 1986 to 1998. Oh and he was (arguably) their best singer. I understand not putting Messiah in. But giving characters to Faust and Fenriz and not to Maniac doesn’t make any sense.
- Attila Csihar has a character (played by his son), but he’s never introduced. He just appears at some point, near the ending. He has a smaller part in Lords of Chaos than John Corabi has in Mötley Crüe’s biopic The Dirt. That’s pretty disrespectful considering he’s their longest tenured singer and all.
- Dead’s suicide letter doesn’t contain key elements, including the lyrics to Life Eternal which he left for the band. It’s one of the most deranged and atmospheric Mayhem songs. The movie doesn’t even acknowledge its existence.
- The movie doesn’t celebrate their music at all. The band plays Deathcrush and Pure Fucking Armageddon in rehearsal. There’s a live performance of Freezing Moon. A studio rendition of From the Dark Past and that’s it. They obviously had the musical rights and focus on it as little as possible. Outside of the sheer fucking disrespect, the music is THE REASON WHY PEOPLE LIKE THEM IN THE FIRST PLACE.
- Perhaps what bugged me the most is that it doesn’t acknowledge that Mayhem persevered through extreme adversity. Necrobutcher and Hellhammer reformed the band and recorded material that changed the black metal game, including Wolf’s Lair Abyss in 1996. An insert at the end would’ve been enough, but Lords of Chaos doesn’t even bother.
The million dollar question is: would you like this movie if you’re not familiar with Mayhem? Well, it sure has shock value, but it’s not very deep. By inexplicably imprisoning itself in Euronymous’ first person perspective, Lords of Chaos forsake the idea of exploring the psyche of its most deranged characters. Sure, there are depictions of self-harm and very, very gruesome murder scenes but otherwise it’s just a bunch of young dudes fucking around in a record store. In the best case scenario, I can’t see it being more than passable. But I hated it. Outside of just me being a fan, Mayhem has a wild and fascinating history that deserves better than this half-assed biopic.