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'Lords of Chaos' recreates the violent Norwegian black metal scene

Suicide, church burnings, and murder – true Norwegian black metal – the real life story behind Lords of Chaos is one that is almost too intense and bizarre to be true. 

Following the ultimately tragic life of Øystein Aarseth [stage name Euronymous, portrayed by Rory Culkin], and the destructive rise to infamy of Varg Vikernes [stage name Count Grishnackh, and an outspoken white supremacist juicily portrayed by Jewish actor Emory Cohen], the film is a spectacularly accurate, and at times shockingly violent recreation of the underground in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. 

Almost miraculously, it captures the cold grit and naive spirit of Aarseth’s band Mayhem and Vikernes’ solo project Burzum, while providing some refreshing, at times comedic, and ultimately disturbingly human insights into the surrounding group of troubled youths that spawned an extreme new sound, embraced evil, and changed not only heavy metal, but the greater world forever. 

“I did some test screenings of people that didn’t know anything about it already in the editing, and it’s actually amazing to see how the reactions are,” says Swedish-born writer/director Jonas Åkerlund of the film’s initial impact on non-metalheads. 

A film grabbing those beyond the metalhead cavalcade, it explores a small group of teenagers and young men that got so caught up in forming their own musical ideology and/or appearances, that not only did they start bands and record stores, but killed themselves, strangers, and each other, all while kicking off a large wave of mostly-successful arsons against dozens of Christian churches. 

Though these days Åkerlund has made a name for himself directing Grammy award-winning music videos for the likes of Lady Gaga, Madonna and Paul McCartney – he is “always metal”, having played drums for the highly influential proto-black metal group Bathory in the mid-‘80s.

“Even though I left Bathory for filmmaking, and filmmaking kind of took over my life, I never left metal – I never stopped listening to it, I never stopped reading about it, I never stopped hanging with my friends. I am very deep into the scene, and it has been a big part of my life always.”

In fact, his urge to tell this story has been growing since the events began unfolding.

“I remember one moment, when I saw the church burnings on CNN in America when I was there working, thinking that ‘this story is so interesting’,” Åkerlund says. “That was step one – before the books, and the documentaries, and everything came out. I was fascinated by this story, just following it in the news and hearing about it from my friends. 

“It kept growing on me over the years. I remember being … in Los Angeles trying to pitch this idea to different agencies, and not getting anywhere. But then about six years ago I took a serious petition to really try and make it happen, starting with writing the script myself.”

While there was initial controversy in the press over whether or not the ongoing members of Mayhem supported the film or not – particularly from bassist Necrobutcher – Åkerlund is calm in his reassurance that it wasn’t quite what the media made it out to be – confirming that Mayhem vocalist Attila Csihar was even portrayed in the film by his own son. 

“I’ve been in contact with [Necrobutcher], and he’s seen the movie twice now. I’ve been in contact with Euronymous’ parents, Dead’s brother, I’ve been in contact with the people that I feel I needed to treat with respect, and that I needed to make this movie,” Åkerlund says.

“I am not in contact with Varg, and as you say, he’s always going to have his firm opinion about it, so there is no reason for me to try and contact him to get him to tell me “no”, you know? But all the other people, I have been in contact with, they gave me the rights to the music very early on, and they read the script before we shot it. For me as a filmmaker, I have to find the balance between involving them, but not too much, because it’s not their movie, it’s my movie – but it’s their story.”

Lords of Chaos will be premiered as part of Monster Fest at Cinema Nova on Sunday November 25. Check out the Monster Fest website for more information.