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Directed by Jonas Åkerlund

Teenager Øystein Aarseth, also known by the moniker, Euronymous, has big plans for his band Mayhem, the first true Norwegian black metal band. Needing a singer to complete their lineup, Euronymous, Hellhammer and Necrobutcher enlist the vocals of Swedish singer Pelle Ohlin aka Dead. Adopting corpse paint, satanic expression and extreme live show acts involving pigs heads and self-harming, the band gain notoriety within black metal circles and are destined for big things, that is until the death of their singer. Instead of mourning for their friend, they use his death to build upon the mythology of Mayhem but this attitude spirals out of control when they invite Varg Vikernes into their inner circle, resulting in church burnings and murder.

Directed by Bathory drummer turned mega-successful music video director, Jonas Åkerlund, and inspired by the 1998 book of the same name, LORDS OF CHAOS is a semi-fictionalised account of the rise and fall of Norwegian black metal band Mayhem during the 80’s until 1993. Opening with the band’s humble beginnings rehearsing in a basement, the film follows their turbulent journey that involves suicide, murder and church burnings, told from the perspective of the band’s guitarist and creator Euronymous, focusing on his relationship with vocalist Dead and, in the latter years, with Burzum’s Varg Vikernes.

Rory Culkin stars as skinny guitarist Euronymous, a talented young man who is determined to make a big name for himself and his band. By perpetuating satanic expression, his extreme views attract the interests of Pelle Ohlin (Dead), played by Jack Kilmer, who brings an even darker edge of death to their music. The combination of Dead and Euronymous becomes such a powerful thing to witness and the future looks positive for the band as they finally have their satanic sound conjured from the depths of hell. Unfortunately for Dead, life doesn’t appear to be what it’s cracked up to be and he commits suicide at their shared home where Euronymous later discovers his body. Ever the determined musician, Euronymous spies this as a chance to further the Mayhem legend and uses Dead’s corpse and his bloodsplattered brains as cover art for Mayhem’s next release.

Leaving the band’s farm house in the sticks, Euronymous moves to Oslo where he opens up a record shop named Helvete (translates to ‘Hell’ in English) that becomes his base, not just for music but also for his close knit group of like-minded, black metal friends. It’s here where he crosses paths once again with Varg Vikernes, kickstarting a friendship and working relationship that will change both their lives.

Euronymous’ relationship with Varg (Emory Cohen) is a tormented one from the start. After initially insulting Varg’s Scorpion badge after he approaches Mayhem after a gig, Euronymous takes him under his wing after hearing Varg’s impressive music from his one-man band, Burzum. Releasing the music under his label Deathlike Silence, Euronymous appears to be helping Varg out but at the same time looks to exploit him. With Varg seemingly wanting to please Euronymous and itching to prove himself as on the same page as, if not moreso, than the rest of the members of Euronymous’ inner circle, aka’ the Black Circle’, Varg goes on to do what Euronymous only talked about – burning down churches. However, ever the promoter and looking to retain control on all things around him, Euronymous takes credit for inspiring Varg to torch the buildings and asks him to join Mayhem as the bassist; a perpetuating cycle of Euronymous trying to keep one above Varg as Varg attempts to become bigger and greater than him, to improve his status and eventually break free of his grip. This toxic relationship eventually comes to a head and both Rory Culkin and Emory Cohen put in performances of a lifetime as the duelling musicians in a shocking, bloodthirsty finale.

Although a drama, LORDS OF CHAOS is not for the feint of heart. Graphic depictions of self harm, suicide and murder are present throughout the film with minor scenes of animal torture (not real!) more commonplace at the beginning of the movie. It’s gritty, dirty and as dark as you would expect for a depiction of these events, even if artistic licence has been used at times; a fact that is made clear at the beginning as the film says it’s based on truth and lies. Utilising police reports, photos, recordings and speaking with people close to the band at the time has helped to craft this movie to make it as authentic as possible in places. For instance, some of the clothes being worn by Jack Kilmer as Dead can be seen worn by the singer himself in actual footage of Mayhem’s rehearsal in Ski in 1989. Similarly, certain photos that were taken back in the day of the band members have been recreated through scenes in the movie to give the film that extra touch of realism.

Gripping, shocking and utterly relentless, LORDS OF CHAOS is one hell of a movie. They say truth is sometimes stranger than fiction and you’d think that the strangest things in this movie would be made up but that’s the thing – most of it is actually true! Of course, like any dramatisation, things in this movie might not be necessarily correct, but those wanting to know more about the events around Mayhem might want to check out the documentary When The Light Takes Us or Mayhem documentary Once Upon A Time in Norway.

Skilfully shot and executed with outstanding performances from the entire youthful cast, LORDS OF CHAOS is one journey through black metal you’ll likely never going to forget.

Rating: ★★★★½

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About Bat 4431 Articles
I love practical effects, stop-motion animation and gore, but most of all I love a good story! I adore B-movies and exploitation films in many of their guises and also have a soft spot for creature features. I review a wide range of media including movies, TV series, books and videogames. I'm a massive fan of author Hunter S. Thompson and I enjoy various genre of videogames with Kingdom Hearts and Harvest Moon two of my all time favs. Currently playing: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Yakuza Zero and Mafia III.

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