Sundance biopic Lords of Chaos reveals the insecurity behind the crimes of Mayhem, Norway’s dark metal pioneers

By Jaime Winston

Lords of Chaos, Jonas Åkerlund’s gruesome biopic about Norway’s infamous and honestly quite innovative black metal band Mayhem, states that it’s based on truth… and lies.

As the film takes us down its bloody musical path, this becomes pretty clear.

Beyond scaring children and seniors, praising Satan and their casual late-night church burnings, the band comes off as a group of misfits going all out to convince each other, their fans and themselves that their dark-spirit image isn’t a façade, that they are not posers.

Mayhem guitarist Euronymous (Rory Culkin) introduces us to Norway in the ‘80s: quiet, boring, high suicide rate, burgeoning

Jack Kilmer, Jonathan Barnwell, Rory Culkin and Anthony De La Torre appear in Lords of Chaos by Jonas Åkerlund, an official selection of the Midnight program at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute. All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or ‘Courtesy of Sundance Institute.’ Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.

metal scene. When we meet Mayhem, they are searching for a singer that, like the other members, says “Fuck you!” when told to behave. The search ends with Swedish vocalist Pelle (Jack Kilmer), who goes by the stage name Dead and exhibits what seem like undiagnosed mental issues through hunting cats, wandering naked in the woods and slicing his wrists on stage. The story takes a darker twist with Pelle’s brutal suicide, which Euronymous uses to market the band. Later, running his own record label and store, Euronymous signs Varg (Emory Cohen) to a deal. But it doesn’t take long for Varg to start showing he’s more dedicated to acts of destruction than the guitarist/entrepreneur. To keep Varg in check, Euronymous asks him to become Mayhem’s bass player, and to save face, claims he was the inspiration for Varg’s antics and another band member’s crime. This doesn’t go unnoticed by Varg, and the rivalry between the two musicians turns deadly.

While moments like Euronymous’ daymares involving Pelle seem straight-up horror, others make the film feel more like a dark comedy, a mammoth leap from any true-crime profile you’ve seen the band members on in the past. In addition, Culkin’s quirky narration makes the story accessible to black metal outsiders who never heard of Mayhem.

If you’re a dedicated fan, you may leave the theater in cognitive dissonance after seeing Mayhem in a completely different light. Based on the book by Michael Moynihan and‎ Didrik Soderlind, some have even criticized the story over its accuracy. For all others, who don’t shy away from blood, so much blood, Lords of Chaos is a disconcerting ride that is hard to exit.

While the lineup isn’t the same, Mayhem is still causing mayhem.

Upcoming screenings:

Thursday, Jan. 25, 11:59 p.m., Park City Library

Saturday, Jan. 27, 10 p.m., Holiday 4, Park City

Ashley Szanter
Ashley Szanter
Ashley Szanter is a contributing writer for Salt Lake magazine as well as a freelance writer and editor. She loves writing about everything Utah, but has a special interest in Northern Utah (here's looking at you, Ogden and Logan).

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