Lords of Chaos is the bloody and twisted true story of the Norwegian death metal band, Mayhem. What started as male teen angst devolves into sadistic murder. Sociopaths with little regard for their homogeneous Christian upbringing escalate their rhetoric to violence. It is a cautionary tale of toxic masculinity. The film is unsparing in its brutality. It shows the red line crossed between macho talk and horrific actions. Lords of Chaos does muddy the message with constant voice over narration. It’s a poor stylistic choice that gets old quickly.
Lords of Chaos opens in late eighties Norway. Rory Culkin stars as Øystein Aarseth, a death metal guitarist with dreams of grandeur. He lives a comfortable life with his parents and sister. Jamming in the family basement while his mother makes lunch. He despises his upbringing, spouting satanic jargon and anti-establishment themes. It’s all for show, asking his sister’s opinion if his dyed hair is black enough. Øystein renames himself Euronymous. Then auditions lead singers for his band, Mayhem.
A true believer joins the band as frontman. Enter Dead (Jack Kilmer), a Swedish psychopath with a penchant for hanging cats and cutting himself on stage. His blood spraying antics and epic departure garners an underground following for Mayhem. Euronymous catches the eye of a lusty rock photographer (Sky Ferreira), and devout metal disciple, Kristian “Varg” Vikernes (Emory Cohen). Euronymous mocks Varg for his veganism and Scorpions patch, but wants his musical talent. Varg embraces anti-social paganism, transforming into a dangerous arsonist. While Euronymous is the ultimate poser, Varg spurns his dark thoughts into reality. Wanton lust, church burnings, and cold blooded murder becomes the setlist for Mayhem.
Lords of Chaos paints a sordid picture of ugly behavior run rampant. Director/co-writer Jonas Akerlund (Polar) was a young drummer in the eighties Swedish metal scene. He takes great care not to glorify Mayhem’s antics, but to excoriate them. They were misanthropic, misogynist cretins who revelled in debauchery. They cruelly tortured animals, drank themselves into a stupor, and lived in disgusting filth. But this was just the warm-up to their later activities. Ackerlund has Euronymous constantly goading, then capitalizing on his cohorts misdeeds. They were like lemmings, following each other of a barbaric cliff.
Lords of Chaos is not for the squeamish. The violence is realistic and visceral. Ackerlund doesn’t cut away from savagery. The cutting, stabbings, and gunshot wounds are a stomach churning, personal affront. This isn’t the torture porn that permeates B-movie horror. The characters descend into malice. It’s an evil journey that shows the worst of human nature. The sanctity of life becomes second to preposterous ideology. Akerlund’s tale becomes cautionary. The unbridled anger of hormonal youth channeled to the worst instincts.
Rory Culkin’s Euronymous has the vast majority of lines in the film. His voice over narration unfurling the plot like a Grimm’s fairy tale. This is a sign of script weakness and totally overdone. It detracts from the gravitas of the story, like a droning noise in your ears. Ackerlund doesn’t need Euronymous explaining every detail. Lords of Chaos is extremely vivid. The film would have been so much better without the narration.
Lords of Chaos is difficult to sit through, but worth watching. Euronymous, Death, and Varg were poster children for birth control. Their vile personalities were the result of unchecked sociopathy. They got what they deserved, but did a lot of damage along the way. Being a rebel doesn’t mean resorting to violence. Lords of Chaos is distributed by Vice Films.