“I don’t want to see people respecting me, I want them to hate and fear.”
Hate and fear.
Truth and lies.
Order and chaos.
Music and mayhem.
Mayhem…violent or extreme disorder.
Mayhem provided violence and extreme disorder and so were true to their name and to their ideals.
Where those ideals led them was…nowhere good.
How could it?
The story of Mayhem, and the Norwegian Black Metal scene they created and led, is one that is as unpleasant as it is ridiculous, dark as it is ludicrous, terrifying as it is laughable.
Conflicts and contrasts.
Drawing on elements of the first wave of metal bands like Black Sabbath and, more importantly, the later, darker and more explicitly Satanic, sounds of Venom and others as well as a strange blend of atheism, Satanism, magic, Norse mythology and far right extremism Mayhem created something genuinely disturbing.
Lurking under the surface of all of this was the marketing genius/madness of Euronymous who, along with Mayhem singer Dead, realised that the secret to getting ahead was to build your own scene…like a struggling actor writing his own parts. With that in mind Euronymous couldn’t have believed his good fortune when Dead arrived from Sweden ready with serious mental health problems and a self-destructive streak that, ultimately, led to him taking his own life.
Prior to his gruesome suicide (is there any other kind?) Dead had self-harmed on stage so aggressively that folks in the front of the crowd would be covered with his blood. Throw in some fine stage craft like the made up faces and the clothes that he would bury between shows so that they smelled of death and you had a band better equipped to capture the hearts and minds of a certain type of young man than almost any other. Those young men are the boys who are drawn, in adolescence, to Dungeons and Dragons, Aleister Crowley, Tolkien, radical or dangerous ideologies and who, let’s be honest, are misfits. Poetic souls…with none of the emotional heft to create poetry and so they turn to darker things to give their lives meaning, to give themselves an identity.
When Dead eventually did take his own life it was, to be blunt, a bloody mess. Cutting his wrists and his throat before taking a shotgun and blowing off part of his skull. His body was found by Euronymous who photographed the body, made necklaces from fragments of skull and consumed some part of the corpse….allegedly. In truth only the photographing of the body seems to be true…an act which Euronymous explained in an interview with Swedish radio by saying “We are not normal people”.
From that point on the tale becomes, incredibly, darker still. A new face on the scene “Varg” (irony alert…his real name was Christian) arrives on the scene and slowly, but surely, reveals himself to be a talented musician. His music brings attention, and some level of success, to the record label that Euronymous has set up from his headquarters…a record store called “Helvete” (Hell).
From the bowels of that Hell Euronymous and his rag tag bunch of disciples begin to develop a shared worldview. A vision of a Norway that has been colonised by the Christian faith, where homosexuals pose an existential threat to their own view of masculinity, where occultism replaced traditional beliefs and, most worryingly, where death, violence and murder were placed on a philosophical pedestal. The group was small, no more than a handful of young, impressionable men, and slowly, but very surely, this worldview began to take on a more concrete form. In truth it was beginning to look a lot like a cult.
Out of this mad mix Varg decided to take action. That action was to burn down a Church.
We’re not in Dungeons and Dragons anymore.
The lazy, intellectually fuzzy, conflicting, mess of ideas and notions that the gang discussed under the influence of a charismatic leader and fuelled by alcohol and a commitment to the ideals of the group had now led to something much more serious. More Churches followed with members of the group worried about losing face and participating in these acts of wanton destruction.
Another member of the group also killed a gay man in a public park. A gruesome, violent and brutal slaying of a man. The reasons? He was there and he was gay. This wasn’t a man who was known to the group, this wasn’t a man who had been brought to their attention in any way…this was just the man in the wrong place and confronted by the wrong person.
Inevitably the group began to splinter with tensions between Varg and Euronymous reaching hysterical levels and, ultimately, reaching murderous levels of hatred and suspicion.
Varg murdered Euronymous by stabbing him to death…the fatal blow arriving when the knife was smashed deep into his skull. The blade was driven so deep that it took Varg some time and force to extract it from his one time friend and mentors head.
All of this is a matter of public record and so shouldn’t come as any surprise to anyone watching the film but what is most striking about the events as they are portrayed here is the ridiculousness of the people involved…at no point did I feel that I was watching evil people. Even when the Churches were being set alight or when innocent people were being murdered I didn’t see people who had sold their souls to the Devil. Instead I saw…little boys playing a game, daring one another, challenging their sense of machismo, trying to impress girls, incapable of extricating themselves even when they knew things had gone too far. That may be down to the choices made by the film-makers and the truth of the tale may be very different…I guess only the people involved really know.
Their are lessons to be learned from “Lords of Chaos”…about identity, belonging, belief, order, chaos, life and death. How successfully it delivers these lessons is difficult to say, the sorts of boys who ended up in the scene may well be thrilled by what is portrayed on screen where I was dismayed, upset and exhausted by them.