Black metal is one of the most puzzling and antisocial music genres to exist on the face of this planet. Seemingly designed to be as harsh, tuneless and borderline unlistenable as possible, it makes one wonder ‘who in the name of the Dark Lord Satan would create this screeching noise and why?’ Lords of Chaos does its best to answer that question, and manages to be pretty bloody entertaining along the way.
Lords of Chaos is the true(ish) story of Euronymous (Rory Culkin) a twitchy but ambitious young man who forms a band called Mayhem in Norway in the 1980s. The band soon garners a reputation for being the darkest of the dark, particularly after the original lead singer blows his head off with a shotgun; and Euro uses this notoriety to open his own record store and start his own music label. Enter Varg Vikernes (Emory Cohen) a former Scorpions-loving poser now death-obsessed madman, who forms an uneasy and competitive friendship with Euronymous that begins with admiration, mutates into jealousy and ends in bloodshed. Plus a shitload of churches are going to get burned down before the credits roll on this bad boy.
Despite the grim subject matter, Lords of Chaos is actually quite fun for most of its runtime. Culkin’s wry, knowing voiceover gives some of the grimmer moments levity, and the interplay between the characters trying to outdo one another by being darker-than-thou is frequently hilarious. The self-proclaimed Black Circle are, essentially, a pack of cocky little pricks, but director Jonas Akerlund doesn’t attempt to lionise these long-haired doom groupies but rather lets their story play out with little judgement, just observation. Of course things do get quite nasty, particularly in the third act, which is to be expected. This isn’t a happy story and Euronymous warns us from the jump that “this will end badly.”
Performance-wise it’s pretty much a two-hander between Culkin and Cohen, both of whom manage to be at turns sympathetic and just plain pathetic. Sky Ferreira also shines as Ann-Marit, photographer and sometime groupie, giving empathy and depth to a role that could have played as thin and thankless in lesser hands.
Ultimately, Lords of Chaos is a bit of a niche proposition, taking a look into a world that most people neither know nor particularly care about. However, if you can get past that barrier to entry, there’s an intriguing and well observed exploration of a genre and subculture that is strangely insular and perversely fascinating. If that sounds like your jam then you and Lords of Chaos will get along like a church on fire.