By David Dent
Anyone who has seen Aaron Aites and Audrey Ewell’s 2008 documentary Until the Light Takes Us will already be familiar with the extraordinary story of warring Norwegian black metal musicians Øystein ‘Euronymous’ Aarseth and Varg ‘Count Grishnackh’ Vikernes. The absence of Euronymous in the doc, except for archive footage, can be explained by the fact the Count stabbed him to death as the finale of a bitter feud over who was more evil.
Jonas Åkerlund’s factional retelling of this story – with actors playing the parts – does at least give us the chance to reach our own conclusions about Euronymous’s rather self-centred motives by having him central to the movie (the doc relied on testimonies from friends and of course the Count, whose account of events was somewhat biased by his decision to take the metal leader’s life).
“Based on truth, lies…and what actually happened” states the title card at the beginning of the movie, which recalls Michael Winterbottom’s never-let-the-truth-get-in-the-way-of-a-good-movie 2002 biopic of the late Tony Wilson, 24 Hour Party People. The first part of Lords of Chaos is nearer This is Spinal Tap in its occasionally hilarious rendering of the coming of age of Euronymous’s band ‘Mayhem,’ taking a more sinister turn in one of the most graphic self-harm scenes I have witnessed in the cinema; the death by suicide of original lead singer Pelle ‘Dead’ Ohlin (the aftermath of which Euronymous photographs, and which eventually becomes the cover photo for the ‘Mayhem’ album ‘Dawn of the Black Hearts.’
The arrival on the scene of non drinking, non smoking but all hating Varg is a direct challenge to the crown of Euronymous’s ‘creator of Norwegian black metal’ title. Initially Varg is unsure of where he is on the metal spectrum – he wears a ‘Scorpions’ patch, much to the hilarity of the other band members – but soon appropriates the black metal trappings and ends up beating Euronymous at his own game in a series of escalating stunts, including church burnings. It’s this one upmanship between the pair that make up most of the film, which at two hours could have done with a little trimming.
Åkerlund’s career as the creator of dozens of music videos certainly qualifies him to depict the rivalries between musicians, which Lords of Chaos is very effective at depicting. He’s less sure of the more dramatic interactions between say, Euronymous (well played by Rory McCulkin) and his girlfriend Ann-Marit (singer turned actor Sky Ferreira). Filmed in Norway, but mainly using American actors, this gives the film a slight staginess that never stopped you thinking you were watching a biopic; a feeling exacerbated by Euronymous’s (presumably from beyond the grave) narration.
While enjoying parts of this immensely, I was left asking myself why Åkerlund chose this particular story which, despite the odd death here and there, leaves the feeling of having watched a group of sulky post teenagers going about their rebel-without-a-cause business.
Lord of Chaos is released in the UK on 29th March