The (Other) iTunes $0.99 Movie of the Week: ‘Lords of Chaos’

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Every week, the folks at iTunes find a movie they like and make it available to rent for the low, low price of $0.99. I’m here to tell you whether that film is worth your hard-earned dollar.

Ok, the featured $0.99 movie this week is a little documentary called The Dawn Wall. It looks to be harrowing piece of work about human perseverance. At least that’s what the trailer is making it out to be. If that sort of story is your bag, I’m sure The Dawn Wall is more than worth a dollar. As for me, I was simply looking to add something a little bit different to my viewing this week. And I found exactly what I was seeking with iTunes’ indie $0.99 pick. So …

This week, Norwegian youths take things way too far in their desire to create, “true Norwegian black metal,” in Lords of Chaos.

I Thought You Were True Norwegian Black Metal

Norway. 1987. In a small suburban village outside of Oslo, a young metalhead calling himself Euronymous has a singular dream: create heavy metal music harder and darker than any metal that came before it. In service of said dream, Euronymous recruits a crew of like-minded teens to his would-be scene. Soon, his band Mayhem is wreaking havoc on the streets of Oslo. But as the movement grows, the group’s reckless acts begin to blur the lines between artistic expression and secular anarchy. And then Varg shows up. Welcome to the bonkers/barbarous world of Jonas Åkerlund’s “based on a truth and lies” drama Lords of Chaos.

We Have to Take This to the Next Level

Ok, let’s take a moment to address that “based on truth and lies,” because those words are the actual tagline of the film, and the validity of Lords of Chaos has been questioned by any and everyone involved in the real life events (those still amongst the living, at least). So, what we can tell you about Euronymous and his pals is that, as much of their bizarre and bloody tale as is known, there’s just as much of it that isn’t. As such, Åkerlund’s film – adapted from a book by Michael Moynihan and Didrik Søderlind – has no choice but to dwell often in the gray areas in between fact and fiction. As it turns out, this story proves particularly well suited to that approach.

At its core Lords of Chaos is, after all, a rather simple tale of wild fictions being transformed into unconscionable facts, thus spinning the age-old adage about fact being weirder than fiction on its head and back again. So before we get too deep into the matters at hand, what we know of the case is that in 1987 Øystein Aarseth (soon to rename himself Euronymous) started a band called Mayhem. In order to drum up interest in the band and the subsequent movement, his bandmates and their band of black metal scenesters undertook a rash of publicity stunts that would end up shaking Norway to its very core.

Of course, those stunts started small with satanic graffiti and spooky face painting sufficing. Like an evil seedling, they quickly grew into unhinged live shows complete with severed pigs heads and onstage self-mutilation courtesy of Mayhem’s o.g. frontman Pelle “Dead” Ohlin. It’s in the wake of Dead’s suicide that Euronymous spins a ghastly fiction that pushes the black metal movement further into the darkness.

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In that darkness, the lines between “act” and “fact” spun quickly out of Euronymous’ hands, and (driven by a machismo fueled sense of one-upmanship) blurred in ways that just seem too outlandish to be believed. To the shock of the nation, the black metal doctrines quickly became a reality for many of its followers, leading to a wave of violent acts, church burnings, and even a pair of grisly murders. For some (especially Mayhem’s extremist bass player Varg), that vision of Hell on Earth was bliss. For Euronymous, the publicity that came with the madness was worth it, even if the heat was proving a little too much to handle.

For his part, Åkerlund takes the side of too much and too far in regards to the story. That has a lot to do with the fact that the Lords of Chaos director – who came of age as a drummer on the Swedish Death Metal scene in the late ’80s and early ’90s – had a front row seat to some of the events depicted here. Once he’d seen how far the Norwegians were taking things, he left the scene for good, and started making movies instead. Still, Åkerlund’s insider POV brings a startling prescience to the unholy action at hand, with the director presenting each gruesome act in vivid, often horrid detail, and presenting the perpetrators with an unsettling mix of reckless malevolence and staggeringly shortsighted youthful naiveté.

If Åkerlund makes one serious tactical mistake in presenting this tragic tale of artistic ambition run amok to the screen, it’s in casting mostly American actors in the leads (Rory Culkin, Emory Cohen, Jack Kilmer, and Sky Ferreira among them). Though said actors themselves deliver solid work across the board, Lords of Chaos obviously loses a certain degree of authenticity behind their decidedly English accents … even if the stranger than fiction aspects of the story almost encourage such a narrative diversion.

In the end, how you react to Lords of Chaos will largely depend on how you react to those actors, and all the church burnings, and all the Satan worshipping, and all the masochistic acts, and all the truly vile acts of violence, and, well, you get the idea. Lords of Chaos is not easy to watch, but if you can stick with it, you’re likely to find it an intriguing document of a patently bizarre and utterly terrifying moment in the history of music.

Lords of chaos

Worth It?

You bet. To be absolutely clear, Lords of Chaos is not for everyone. Hell, even people familiar with the insane true story that inspired the film are likely to hate it. But if you can get past the film’s penchant for melodrama (and overlook the fact that all of those North American accents), there’s a lot to appreciate in Åkerlund’s meticulously unwieldy approach to a genuinely complicated narrative. Lords of Chaos is certainly not a great movie, but it never fails to be an intriguing one. That alone should make it worth your dollar this week.

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