Lords of Chaos: history or sentiment

Alamo Drafthouse screens black metal biopic

Lords of Chaos, a film directed by Jonas Åkerlund, follows the life of Oystein Aarseth (Rory Culkin) throughout the rise of his band Mayhem, the opening of his record store, the creation of his label, and his eventual fall from grace. Mayhem helped found true Norwegian Black Metal, an extreme subgenre of metal. 

One thing apparent in Lords of Chaos that does not appear in other musical documentaries, such as Bohemian Rhapsody, is a recurring shift between light-hearted comedy and intense imagery. While this isn’t a bad thing, the balance takes a toll on the emotions and leaves the watcher stunned. 

Illustration: Alex Gomez · The Sentry

The film does a good job at demonstrating how an innocent start could crash and burn. The horrific death of their lead singer, Pelle Ohlin (Jack Kilmer), better known as Dead, kicks off the popularity of their band but also their slow decay. 

The film centers around Varg (Emory Cohen), and, from the start, it’s obvious that he will do anything that it takes to avoid the title of poser. His constant attempts to push boundaries cause Aarseth to want to compete with him, which ultimately leads to murders and church burnings—anything to top the last extreme stunt. All of the deaths were portrayed in long, drawn-out scenes, forcing the desire not to look. 

This movie doesn’t really go too much into the history of the black metal movement nor their motivations, and that aspect of the movie felt a little off. The bands passionately used the one thing that would scare Christians off due to their anger.

The slow fade of Paganism in Norway caused lashing out. That’s why church burnings, upside-down crosses, and the occult imagery that people fear have come to symbolize black metal. While the movie does address the burning of the churches and scaring people, it doesn’t go any deeper than that. They could’ve explored the origin and the rebellious nature of the movement.

As the story continued and the characters’ facades broke, the movie brought in a different perspective. They did a good job creating haunting and memorable scenes that tug at the heart, such as Aarseth’s PTSD flashbacks to Dead’s death while getting his hair cut by his girlfriend. They reveal gentle Aarseth, fed-up with the role of ringleader, having to not care about the evils in the world. The movie culminates in an Arseth and Varg that will remain in the viewers’ minds long after the movie ends.

Whether intentional or not, the Lords of Chaos timeline portrays two different perspectives: the first part of the movie seems to comment on how society sees the black metal movement while the second half comes closer to the band’s reality. 

The movie is certainly entertaining. Previous knowledge of the black metal movement didn’t take away from the gruesome, heavy tones within the story. Moviegoers can find tickets for Lords of Chaos exclusively for the Alamo Drafthouse theater on Colfax Avenue.

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