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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Fly the really, really unfriendly skies: Black metal legend Euronymous could wind up on the side of a plane

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We’ve always said that if there’s one thing the airline industry needs, it’s more black metal. I mean, what image emblazoned across the tail fin of a Boeing 737 could possibly make travelers feel safer than the painted visage of Mayhem‘s murdered leader, Øystein “Euronymous” Aarseth, glaring down at the passenger cabin like a guardian demon from some especially cold, Norwegian circle of hell?

Thanks to an online poll currently being conducted by Norwegian, a discount Scandinavian airline (think Southwest, only the flight attendants have better cheekbones), the above scenario could actually happen. Norwegian is asking their customers to pick famous Norwegian people to grace the tail fins of four planes in their fleet, and currently, Euronymous is leading in the poll for the Oslo-based jet. If you want to get in on the black metal action, go here and cast your vote (the site’s in Norwegian, but the voting’s pretty easy to figure out).

Voters can submit their own candidates, but as far as we can tell, Euronymous was actually one of the famous people nominated by the good folks at Norwegian, which officially makes them the coolest airline on the planet. At least until Virgin steps up and puts Ozzy Osbourne on the side of one of their planes. No, wait, that still wouldn’t be cooler than honoring an avowed Satanist who was hacked to death by his own bass player.

Voting closes March 28th (aka this Wednesday), so get cracking. And a word of advice to Norwegian: If Euronymous wins, I wouldn’t puss out if I were you. Those Norwegian black metal people have been known to burn shit down when they get cranky.

(P.S. Big ups to Richard from Army of Gay Unicorns for alerting us to this story. You, sir, are the wind beneath our inverted-cross-covered wings.)

[Update: As of April 5th, Euronymous has sadly been removed from the list of candidates for tail fin immortality, at the behest of his family. If you black metal fans need a new online campaign to wage, I suggest lobbying the makers of Newcastle Brown Ale to make a limited-edition Newcastle Black Ale honoring Newcastle natives Venom. Get on it!]

Mayhem

Listen, I love banging my head and getting down with the sickness as much as the next hesher, but I gotta say, as far as the the dudes in Norway’s black metal scene are concerned, I’m out. I cannot hang with these motherfuckers. They’re like metal, gangsta rap, the Manson Family and a Lars Von Trier movie all wrapped up in barbed wire, dipped in shit, set on fire and stuffed like an apple of pure evil into the mouth of a rotting severed pig’s head. When it comes to metal, Norway don’t play.

 Read our interview with Mayhem guitarist Teloch (posted 6/13/14)

At the heart of the whole black metal scene—and if you’re not familiar, this long but very excellent article will get you up to speed—is a band called Mayhem, who have somehow managed to stay in business since 1984 despite enduring a suicide and a murder before they even released their first official album. The suicide happened in 1991 and involved an ill-fated lead singer named Dead who blew his brains out with a shotgun and left a note that read (roughly translated): “Sorry about all the blood, rock on.” The murder went down two years later and involved two members of the band—the victim, a guitarist named Euronymous, and the perp, a bass player named Varg Vikernes. That’s the dude’s real name, by the way. Euronymous’s real name was Øystein Aarseth, which is actually cooler than Euronymous. Apparently pretty much everyone in Norway has a name that sounds like they could be in a black metal band. [Correcton: Varg’s birth name was actually Kristian Vikernes. Which still sounds pretty badass.]

At this point, you’re probably thinking: Big deal! Singers are an emotionally delicate bunch who off themselves all the time, and I’ve wanted to kill that preening asshole of a lead guitarist in my garage band for years. Where’s the weird come into it? Well, stay tuned. We’re just getting to the good stuff.

First: It’s important to note that when Euronymous found Dead’s body (and by the way, when your lead singer decides that his stage name is gonna be “Dead,” that might raise a red flag, no?), his first action was not to call police or paramedics, but to break out his camera and snap a few pics. One of which found its way onto a “bootleg” Mayhem album called Dawn of the Black Hearts just a few years later. Wanna see it? Of course you do, you fucking sicko. Classy, right?

It’s also rumored that Euronymous and the rest of the band made a stew of Dead’s brains and turned fragments of his skull into necklaces, although that’s all probably just a rumor. Probably.

Next: It’s also important to note that when Varg Vikernes was convicted of murdering Euronymous, he was also convicted for his role in a series of church arsons, which were allegedly carried out by a band of black metal Satanists. One of the destroyed churches was over 800 years old. Like I said, Norway don’t play.

Oh, and this is a nice little detail: Mayhem’s first album after Euronymous’s murder, De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, still featured the bass tracks laid down by his killer. The band’s drummer, Hellhammer, had promised Euronymous’ family that he would personally re-record Vikernes’s bass parts, but he never did. “I thought it was appropriate that the murderer and victim were on the same record,” he later said.

You will not be surprised to learn that De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas remains the band’s most famous and most acclaimed album. That excellent article from the U.K. Guardian I mentioned earlier calls it a “creepy masterpiece.” How much of the creepy is from the music and how much from the backstory, I’ll let you decide.

What might be the weirdest thing of all about Mayhem is that a.) they’re still together and b.) no one in the band has killed himself or anyone else since (that we know of). Since Euronymous’s murder and the release of De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, the thing they’re probably most famous for is decorating the stage at their shows with severed pig’s heads, which they usually toss into the audience at the end of the night. One time they used a sheep’s head instead, which are apparently more dangerous than pig’s heads in projectile form, because this particular sheep’s head struck a kid in the audience and fractured his skull. Oopsie.

Here’s a 2004 live video of the band performing one of their best-known songs, “Freezing Moon” at some big outdoor festival in Europe, pigs heads and all. The vocalist in this particular clip is a dude called Maniac, who was actually kicked out of the band shortly after this show because he suffered from stage fright and had to get wasted before he could perform. The guitarist in the clip, a guy called Blasphemer (yeah, this band goes through a lot of singers and guitarists), allegedly fired Maniac after one particularly drunken performance by kicking him down a flight of stairs. Considering what some of the other guys in this band have been through, we’d say Maniac got off easy.

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