New Mayhem biopic “Lords of Chaos”: like “Bohemian Rhapsody,” with more cannibalism and church burnings

Lords-of-Chaos-poster

I have to admit, when I saw the trailer for Lords of Chaos, the new fictionalized portrayal of black metal legends Mayhem, I got pretty excited. Visually the film looks great; it’s based on (and named after) one of the best books about the Norwegian black metal scene; and it was directed by Jonas Åkerlund, who in addition to directing to some of my all-time favorite weird music videos (including this one for Rammstein) has as much extreme metal cred as any filmmaker in the business — he was the drummer and a founding member of Bathory, a Swedish black metal band that was a prime influence on Mayhem and the entire Norwegian scene. And I love that — if the trailer is to be believed — the film doesn’t lose sight of the fact that, for all their later grandiose talk of Satanism and musical purity, the people who started this scene were initially just a bunch of party-hardy kids drinking beer and playing metal in their parents’ basements.

Lords of Chaos opens in American theaters today, and reviews so far are, to put it kindly, mixed. The film has a 75% on Rotten Tomatoes, which isn’t bad, but the music press has been particularly harsh in its assessment, which doesn’t bode well. (Several current members of Mayhem apparently hate the film, too, for what it’s worth.) This review by Stereogum’s Patrick Lyons is particularly damning. If Lyons is to be believed, the film lets its characters off the hook way too easily for their violent, nihilistic and ultimately fascist world views — while at the same time doing a lousy job of accurately capturing what Norwegian black metal actually sounded like, which is weird considering Åkerlund’s bona fides. Rolling Stone also came down pretty hard on the film, though I find their criticisms a bit more suspect; the writer devotes almost an entire paragraph to dismissing Euronymous’ use of the phrase “True Norwegian Black Metal” as unrealistic, when anyone who’s read anything about Mayhem knows that this is exactly the sort of pompous locution he loved to use.

Anyway, my feeling for now is that I’m going to reserve judgment until I’ve actually seen the film — and maybe once I do, I’ll post a review here sharing my thoughts. It’s certainly true that telling the story of Mayhem in a way that’s accurate but doesn’t glorify all the awful shit they did is going to require a delicate balancing act — one that I’m not sure a guy like Åkerlund, who’s a brilliant visual stylist but not the most seasoned feature-length storyteller, can pull off. If the film sets up founding guitarist Euronymous as a sympathetic anti-hero and murderous, church-burning bassist Varg Vikernes as the cartoon villain — which it sounds like might be the case — then that’ll be disappointing. But it could also be a fascinating depiction of how easy it is for confused young people to make the leap from rebellious behavior that’s mostly symbolic — which, let’s face it, every confused young person in human history has done — to behavior that’s actually dangerous and destructive. There’s a good cautionary tale in the history of Mayhem — I hope Lords of Chaos tells it.

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Here’s a video of Mayhem’s Euronymous playing drums in the experimental band L.E.G.O. in 1986

Mayhem
Early Mayhem (left to right): Manheim, Necrobutcher, Euronymous

Back when they were still all just kids, Mayhem guitarist Euronymous and then-drummer Manheim had a short-lived side project called the Langhus Experimental Grave chamber Orchestra, or L.E.G.O. for short. The project has achieved somewhat mythic status among black metal fans, mainly because as far as anyone could tell, they only performed a few times and never recorded a note. On his blog back in 2009, Manheim casually mentioned that someone had videotaped one of their shows, but no copy of that videotape had ever surfaced online or elsewhere. Until now.

Today, a Mayhem fan by the name of Finn Håkon “Snærkpung” Rødland finally posted the long-lost video on YouTube for all to see. It’s only 10 minutes long and mostly just features Manheim playing guitar with his back to the audience while Euronymous makes a valiant attempt to play drums, but it’s a pretty fascinating document of the band’s early history nonetheless. They were so young! And—let’s be honest—they’re painfully shy, awkward performers. It’s hard to believe one of them would go on to become one of the most influential figures in heavy metal history.

Manheim’s 2009 description of this performance, which was apparently their first as L.E.G.O., provides some context for what we’re seeing:

“We needed to give the concept we were talking about a name, and having had a few drinks, Metallion (from Slayer Mag) had a moment of clearness when listening to our strange talk. Like an almost dead person suddenly springing into life he opened his eyes, put his finger up in the air and declared ‘A fly’s death!’ We immediately loved the idea, and decided to arrange the piece according to a fly’s life from birth to death.  I do think Metallion almost immediately went back to sleep, but we stayed up building the concept.

“One day we held the concert and it is on video tape. Probably it is out there in the internet cloud. I remember playing the violin for the first time in my life that evening. It was a wonderful way of showing the agony a fly must feel when it is reaching its time of death. :-)”

So there you have it: The life and death of a fly, as reenacted by a couple of 18-year-old metalheads who were also listening to a lot of experimental and avant-garde music by artists like Conrad Schnitzler and Diamanda Galas. Turns out there may have been more things influencing the Norwegian black metal scene besides Venom records and Satanism.

Weird Interview: Teloch from Mayhem

Teloch

Listen, we do OK in the readership department, but Christ knows, we’re no Metal Injection. We probably don’t even have as many readers as Hell Furnace. So when we hit up Mayhem‘s label, Season of Mist, to see if we could interview the band around the release of their latest album, Esoteric Warfare, we weren’t really expecting a response. But dip us in honey and feed us to the bees, cuz the Season of Mist folks not only wrote us back but hooked us up with Teloch, the band’s still-sorta-new guitarist. We’re not worthy!

Teloch answered all our questions via email, which is admittedly lamer than phone or Skype or in-person…but, it does give us the opportunity to tell you this: Teloch uses emoticons. He gave us the fucking winky sign at the end of this thing! And he didn’t even put devil horns on it! This changes my entire impression of black metal forever.

Anyway, we got the interview back a few days ago but decided to wait until Friday the 13th to post it, on account of it being the day of ultimate evil and all. Teloch answered all our questions except one that was specifically about Euronymous, which is fair enough, I guess. Nobody likes to talk about the dead guy they replaced.

Oh, did I mention that Esoteric Warfare is out now? Yep, it finally dropped on June 10th here in the States and everywhere else on June 6th. If your life seemed a little more miserable than usual this week, it’s probably because there was just a little more darkness in the world. You can stream the full album exclusively on Terrorizer…another site that probably gets more traffic than ours. Bastards.

Weirdest Band: You’ve worked with drummer Hellhammer for many years on other projects before you joined Mayhem. How did the two of you first meet?

Teloch: We first met when we where doing a warm-up gig for Mayhem with Nidingr [Teloch’s previous band]. But it wasn’t until later we started hanging out.

WB: What was your first-ever show with Mayhem like? Where did you play?

T: It was strange, we played here in Norway at a place called Jessheim, where Mayhem had played a gig maaaany years ago. Of course since it was my first gig with them there was some nerves involved, as it always is performing the first gig with a new band.

WB: Were those early Mayhem records an influence on your band, Nidingr?

T: Haven’t really thought about it before but I’m pretty sure it was one of the influences, together with the rest of the Norwegian Black Metal bands, but we have never tried to sound like Mayhem, that’s for sure.

WB: How does Esoteric Warfare compare to the rest of the Mayhem catalog?

T: It’s hard for me to say, ’cause the only Mayhem albums I have listened to top to bottom is Mysteriis and Ordo, the other albums went completely under the radar for me. Also I have only listened to the songs they wanted me to play live.

WB: What guitars and other gear (pedals, effects, etc.) did you use during the recording of Esoteric Warfare?

T: LTD EC-1000 and a cable straight into Engl Powerball 100 and Powerball 1 and 2, no pedals or effects…we added some effects in the studio later, reverbs and delays.

WB: The first song released, “Psywar,” talks about how modern society brainwashes people into submission. Is that what the title of the album is referring to: that our governments have declared war on people’s ability to think for themselves?

T: In a way, it’s more like there is this constant secret war in the world all the time. Also it’s about mind control and military control, secret societies.

WB: What do you think about the black metal scene these days? Are there any bands doing work you admire?

T: I have no idea, I don’t follow the scene at all and have no idea what’s going on. I would say there is probably nothing worth following, since most albums released is shit.

WB: What do you think about bands like Deafheaven and Amesoeurs that use elements of black metal but mix with them different styles like shoegaze and punk? Do you appreciate bands that like to experiment with black metal, or are you more of a purist?

T: Don’t know the bands you mentioning and have no idea what shoegaze is, but sounds like a fucking mongoloid looking at his shoe for no reason. People can do what the fuck they want, I really don’t care as long as I don’t have to listen to it, really. To me, when you say experiment and black metal together in a sentence, it’s no longer black metal. To me black metal has strict rules and codes to follow for it being black metal, but that’s also the reason why I quit playing/listening to black metal years ago, not that fond of rules, especially when it comes to music, it constricts you. But that’s just my opinion, and it’s not important.

WB: Mayhem’s early history has been sensationalized in the press. Do you find that some of the band’s fans are more into the mythology surrounding Mayhem than the actual music?

T: Yup, and looks like it’s going to be like that forever. A solution would probably be if the other members stopped talking about the old days and start focusing on what’s in front of them. 😉

Hear a new track from Mayhem: “Psywar”

Mayhem

Here’s a factoid that’s gonna make some of you feel really fucking old: It’s been 30 years since Norwegian black metal legends Mayhem slouched out of the frozen woods of Norway and into our cold, black hearts. 30 years! And they said it wouldn’t last. Especially after the lead singer committed suicide and the guitarist got murdered. But when you basically invented the entire black metal genre, murder and suicide kinda go with the scenery.

Anyway, to celebrate 30 years of making the world a darker, more depressing place, the remnants of Mayhem are releasing their first new music this year since 2007’s Ordo ad Chao. The new album’s gonna be called Esoteric Warfare and you can hear the first single, “Psywar,” in a YouTube video below. Fortunately, it’s a lyric video, because otherwise there would be no way to figure out what the hell Attila is saying.

Heavy as fuck, am I right? My altered persona definitely just got triggered. Now pardon me while I go break stuff.

OK, I’m back to let you know that “Psywar” will be released as a single on Season of Mist on April 25th (April 29th here in America, because we suck). It’ll be on limited-edition vinyl in different colors with different artwork, all of which you can pre-order here. Looks like the red and grey vinyl are already sold out but the black is still available, because even in black metal circles, colored vinyl is still cooler than black.

Esoteric Warfare drops May 23rd (May 27th in the U.S.). It’ll feature the surviving “classic” Mayhem lineup of Necrobutcher on bass, Hellhammer on drums and Attila Csihar on vocals, with the new addition of Teloch standing in for the late, great Euronymous on guitar. Will it live up to the legend? Probably not, but who cares? As long as it means they’re bringing their severed pig heads to a theater near us soon, we’ll take it.