Lords of Chaos brings the true story of an infamous Norwegian black metal singer to the big screen along with an ample dose of violence, sex, and betrayal.
The movie follows the life of Euronymous as he paves the way for a new genre of music in the late 80s and early 90s. He starts the band Mayhem as a teenager in Norway and eventually opens up his own record shop and starts a record label. In order to create a buzz around his music, he leads the charge in manufacturing controversy by encouraging and taking part in egregious acts, but things quickly get out of hand.
We sat down with Lords of Chaos director Jonas Åkerlund, Rory Culkin (Euronymous), and Emory Cohen (Varg) to discuss the film.
The Knockturnal: Jonas—as someone who was part of the black metal scene in the 80s, how would you describe how others within that scene or the general public view Euronymous and the “black circle” prior to his death?
Jonas Åkerlund: I was definitely there and I had moved onto filmmaking from playing drums in a black metal band. We knew about it and Pelle, who was a friend, moved to Norway and joined Mayhem. It was kind of like a big deal. It was a little weird that he did that.
Mayhem was kind of happening, and when Euronymous opened the store, it was like a place that everybody knew about and everybody talked about. Euronymous didn’t have a good reputation. He had a pretty bad reputation. It was a little bit of a weird war between the metal scene in Sweden and the Norwegian metal scene, which we only touch upon in the movie. I kind of knew all about it, and obviously later when all the stuff started to happen with the church burnings and the murders we took a big stand away from that.
Bathory, who I was playing with, was a big inspiration, we played around with symbols, and we had dark lyrics, and we liked the same movies, and we liked the same stuff. But we did know how to separate fantasy from reality, which obviously they didn’t.
The Knockturnal: And, for you, Rory and Emory, what was the first time that you became acquainted with the story of Euronymous and Norwegian black metal in general?
Rory Culkin: I was really young and I remember the burning churches on the news. That was my first introduction. It’s unfortunate, but that seems to be the idea.
Emory Cohen: Years before I even read the script, I think it was on Netflix. There’s the documentary called Until the Light Takes Us. I just put it on and just watched because I didn’t know anything about it Then a couple years go by and then the script comes.
The Knockturnal: Which friends or family or acquaintances of Euronymous or Varg did you meet with or have discussions with either prior to getting involved with the film or while you were making it?
Emory Cohen: We talked to Attila and Attila’s ex-wife who were both around during the time that Varg and Euronymous were around.
Rory Culkin: I found the woman to be more informative. Asking another fellow black metal musician “What was this guy like?”, he’s sort of standoffish—“You know, he was cool.” But asking the girl, she’d do an impression of him.
Emory Cohen: She told us some great stories. When they went to pick up Attila, they were all wearing this armor to look cool but they were driving this tiny car. So they get to the car and they all have to take off their armor to actually fit in the car.
She also helped clear some stuff up. We had always been hearing there’s lots of rumors, and it was good to actually be talking to someone who had some kind of opinions about it, but she was very honest about it. I felt like we trusted her.
I remember walking home that night and kind of feeling like—it was a week before we started shooting—and starting to feel a little bit readier. I remember thinking after that conversation, these characters spit vinegar when they walk. They’re jumping on stuff and screaming at old people. I think we were so focused on the music and all the other stuff she helped us remember that these were kids having fun, in some respects.
Jonas Åkerlund: I was also in contact with all the family members and all the surviving people way in advance to developing the script because I needed the rights to the music. Euronymous’ parents were a big part of that, which was a little bit of a challenge because they took a big step away from this years ago and didn’t want anything to do with it. So, that took a lot of time to get them to read the script and eventually be involved. Necrobutcher and Hellhammer have been really important for us to develop the film.
The Knockturnal: What about the Lords of Chaos book authors? Were they involved?
Jonas Åkerlund: No, they were not. Lords of Chaos the book—we bought it originally to clear the names in the film and we kind of fell in love with the title, which at the time I felt was a mistake because the title is very affected by people who do not like the book. But then we kept the title. It just felt like the right title.
Our research went way beyond the book. The book is there as one of our sources, but it was based on a lot of other stuff too.
The Knockturnal: What would you say is the largest impact that Mayhem or Euronymous has had on the music genre as a whole or the subculture?
Jonas Åkerlund: Quite big. Obviously, for black metal, the way they created it and found that sound. The look and the whole thing, and the corpse makeup and all that. Up to this day, there’s really no one that can compete with that. That’s still original and still the best I would say. The bands are better today. They play better, and a lot of things have advanced.
What they created is hard to beat. And the fact that they did it pre-Internet and became famous all over the world by sending cassettes and having a great logo and creating this mysterious thing that happened up in the North. It became an attractive thing for a big audience.
The Knockturnal: How do you hope that this film is received by both people who are fans of black metal and people who may be critics of the music or the culture around it?
Rory Culkin: There are cool elements about it like the aesthetics and the music and things but I just hope it doesn’t come across like we’re glorifying it or putting them on a pedestal.
Emory Cohen: I think that for us especially, as actors, we were trying to show really lost kids. We like music but we weren’t black metalheads coming into it. So, the black metal arguments about “well that didn’t happen, this didn’t happen”—it kind of doesn’t feel like our fight. I’m not trying to dispute or agree with anyone’s theory or story on it. We’re just trying to make a movie. Hopefully, it’s an enjoyable movie.
Jonas Åkerlund: We never made this movie for black metal fans. We always thought that this story would translate into a bigger audience. An approval from the black metal community is nice. And we already have it from a lot of them. But the main thing is that this story to me is way bigger than just that.
Emory Cohen: It also feels like from the black metal community, if someone hates it, it’s almost the highest form of praise.
The Knockturnal: How much would you say that black metal as a musical genre or the subculture impacted some of the decisionmaking of the characters in the film, and how much would you say it was impacted by personality or mental illness?
Emory Cohen: I think it was personality. You see it in the scene when Varg gets interviewed. I think that if you asked these guys what the hell they were talking about, they really didn’t know. And I think that they wanted to be provocative. They were the kids who would eat trash out of the school trash bin to get a laugh from friends. I don’t think they really understood what they were talking about. I see them a lot like trolls like people just talking sh*t.
The Knockturnal: Throughout the film, you could notice changes in Euronymous and Varg as people. Did you find anything particularly challenging about playing either of those characters?
Emory Cohen: There were certain things that I found fun. I wanted him to be a real goofball in the beginning. I can’t remember what the line is when I’m telling you [Culkin] the music was really good, but I heard my grandfather’s voice in my head being like “That was terrific!”
In terms of some of the changes, for me, it was more fun when we were friends than when we weren’t. It was more fun to play the fun. And then the aftermath—that’s always a little bit different. But the upramp was more fun. Because, you know, drinking beer and playing music.
Rory Culkin: It presents its own challenges. But it’s fun trying to be rockstars.
Lords of Chaos is currently in theaters in NY and select locations and will open in LA and additional cities on February 15th.
Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox