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Lords of Chaos
Jonas Akerlund 2019 film Lords Of Chaos, inspired by the book of the same name written by Michael Moynihan and Didrik Soderlind, takes a look at the birth of the Norwegian black metal movement that began in the mid-eighties. Tired of his life in conservative Norway, a teenager named Oystein Aarseth (Rory Culkin) decides to start the most extreme metal band on the planet. Now calling himself Euronymous, he teams up with Jan Axel Blomberg, who dubs himself Hellhammer (Anthony De La Torre) and Jorn Stubberud, who takes on the name of Necrobutcher (Jonathan Barnwell) and starts the band Mayhem. It takes them a little while but soon they find the perfect lead singer in the form of a Swedish import named Pelle 'Dead' Ohlin (Jack Kilmer).
The band quickly makes a name for themselves thanks to their dramatic stage presence and their extreme behavior. Euronymous begins to take his black metal ideology quite seriously, while Dead clearly suffers from depression. When he shoots himself and Euronymous finds his body, he takes some quick photographs noting to the others that it'll make a great album cover. As Mayhem's notoriety grows, a hanger-on named Kristian Vikernes (Emory Cohen) takes an interest in the band. When Euronymous' record store, Helvete, becomes a hot spot in the Norwegian underground music scene and his record label, Death Like Silence, starts to take off Kristian starts to call himself Varg and hands Euronymous a demo tape for his one-man band self-recorded project, Burzum. They hit it off and become friends. Euronymous, who hooks up with pretty blonde photographer Ann-Marit (Sky Ferreira), signs Burzum and brings him into Mayhem as their new bass player, but soon turmoil from within the ranks of Mayhem and other parts of the black metal scene starts to take its toll. As Varg decides to take things to the next level and start burning historic churches, tensions rise and, as Euronymous' narration in the film tells us, it does not end well.
Don't go into this film expecting the most accurate depiction of Mayhem's backstory. Akerlund quite literally prefaces his film with a text screen that notes that the film is 'based on truth and lies,' and it's clear that some creative liberties have been taken with the ‘facts.' The best example being that Ann-Marit never actually existed and the pictures she takes in the movie were actually taken by Varg! There are also liberties taken with the chronology of the church burnings and quite a few other details laid out in the movie. That said, none of this takes away from the film's entertainment value, which is delivers in healthy, and sometimes very gory, doses.
Akerlund does a solid job with the pacing in the picture. At almost two-hours in length it never feels overly long. It mixes humor and drama and genuine horror together quite effectively and it is well shot. It uses music very well and the choices for the soundtrack are solid. There's a fair bit of Mayhem's own material here but so too are there selections from Accept, Dio, Bathory, Sodom, Tormentor and others. At one-point Euronymous even plays a track from Tangerine Dream's soundtrack for the Tommy Lee Jones starring The Park Is Mine. At any rate, it all works quite well. There are a couple of over-edited flashback sequences that feel unnecessary and are a bit jarring but otherwise the production values here are good.
As to the performances, Culken and Cohen do the bulk of the heavy lifting as so much of the film revolves around their relationship. They're both very good here, with Culken doing the arrogant and aloof thing very well and Cohen complimenting things with a performance that is more brooding and fanatical. Supporting work from Sky Ferreira is pretty decent and Anthony De La Torre and Jonathan Barnwell are also quite good. Special mention should also go to Valter SkarsgArd who plays Bard Guldvik 'Faust' Eithun, the drummer for Emperor. Without going into spoilers, he's got a very memorable and unsettling scene in the film that he plays very, very well.
Lords Of Chaos arrives on Blu-ray from MVD framed at 1.85.1 widescreen using an MPEG-2 encode and it looks decent enough, but is hardly perfect. There are some mild compression artifacts and black levels tend to waver a bit. Fine detail can look excellent in some scenes and a bit soft in others. Close up shots show things off best, but contrast is a little uneven. Shot digitally there's obviously no print damage to note nor is there anything in terms of grain to discuss. Skin tones look ok and color reproduction seems pretty solid. Not an amazing transfer but not a complete disaster either.
English language tracks are provided in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo and…. Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo. The packaging and menu offer a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound track but we don't get that, we get two identical 2.0 mixes. Obviously, a lossless option would have been preferable here and a surround option certainly would have opened things up a bit. We didn't get that. The 2.0 track that is here is fine, but it isn't always perfectly balanced so be prepared to grab the remote now and then, because when the music kicks in very loudly. There's also a quirk with the optional English subtitles where sometimes they'll appear on screen so quickly that you can't actually read them.
Extras are limited to a trailer for the feature and ten character-centric promos spots for the film, each running less than thirty-seconds each. Menus and chapter stops are included and the release comes packaged with a slipcover. As this is a combo pack release we also get a DVD version of the movie.
Lords Of Chaos is likely to irk some black metal purists but if you approach it as a piece of entertainment rather than a historical documentary it works. A few stylistic choices seem unnecessary but the performances are good, especially from Culkin and Cohen, and the movie manages to work some effective humor into its narrative alongside the stronger and darker content. MVD's Blu-ray release is light on extras, offers a so-so transfer and disappointing audio. This is a movie worth seeing, but the presentation leaves room for improvement, but this is at least recommended to those with an interest in the material until a better release comes along.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.