We will probably never know the full Mayhem story. Even if you could remove all of the lies, the truths still make one hell of a story. Their first album, ‘De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas’, featured the lyrics of someone who died by suicide before the release (Dead), the guitar of someone murdered before the release (Euronymous), and the bass of someone (Varg Vikernes) who murdered the guitarist. Not to mention the fact that Euronymous took pictures of Dead’s body for an album cover and the multiple church arsons.
This story from the late 1980s and early 1990s has stuck with a lot of people. It’s certainly stuck with director and ex-Bathory drummer Jonas Åkerlund, who is the only person to successfully make a movie about the band. Åkerlund firmly believes that rather than evil nihilists, the founding Mayhem members were disturbed kids, and that’s the way his new biopic, Lords Of Chaos, portrays them. “If you Google some of these names, all you see is monsters and bad people and fires and dark voices telling the story about the monsters and demons in Norway, while this movie has a little bit more of a human side where we actually see these young boys. The characters in this film were children; very young children. I truly do not believe that they had any political agenda or any religious agenda at the time. I think eventually as the years passed, some of the surviving characters fine tuned the reasoning for it and became more extremist. I may be wrong. This is part of my truth, or rather my lies, to take this position. In the movie they were pagans and they were Nazis and they loved Stalin and they loved horror movies and they loved black metal music and they had pictures of Satan on the wall, and that kind of proves to me that there was no proper agenda there.”
Indeed, Lords Of Chaos sometimes paints the characters (Rory Culkin as Euronymous, Emory Cohen as Varg Vikernes, Sky Ferreira as Ann-Marit, Jack Kilmer as Dead) as bumbling poseurs trying to one-up each other with shocking acts for marketing purposes. “The way I remember it, we had a lot of fun. A lot of the humour in the film is coming from the way I remember that time. It was kind of silly because we were so serious.” This viewpoint didn’t go down well with everybody, Åkerlund says. “A bunch of other people were scared or worried that this movie was going to reveal some secrets or recipes or whatever it is they’re worried about with the whole black metal scene. My view on this is that black metal became commercialised years ago. I didn’t do that. They did that to themselves by doing all these interviews and all the documentaries and selling merchandise and touring and being on social media. The mystique around black metal disappeared years ago. It has nothing to do with this film.”
As an atheist who never got into the darker side of black metal – namely, Satanism – Åkerlund prefers to be the observer, reflecting society’s darkness back to itself. “I think real life stories are important to us. I think they are important to remind us of what’s going on in the world and remind us that it could happen to you and remind us that it could be happening around the corner. This story happened up in Norway, but we’ve seen this story many times before – The Snowtown Murders being one of my favourite movies. It’s a very similar type of story, when very young people do crazy things. I bet you now as you and me speak some kid is doing something really stupid and killed somebody right now. Sometimes they just stay with you and become more famous than others. This specific story; it stayed with me. It beats me why. I don’t really know why; and then I started to realise that this story has stuck with a lot of other people.”
Åkerlund is well positioned to tell the story. Born in Sweden, he played in different bands in the early to mid-80s, including as a drummer in influential black metal band Bathory. He abruptly left the music scene to focus on film editing, which took over his life. “Making this movie has really nothing to do with my metal background or the fact that I still like that kind of music,” he says. “I think I was more hooked on the story that stayed with me and these young characters and the emotional aspect and the sad aspect and the craziness of the story,” he says.
Addressing reports his movie got Mayhem or the deceased’s families offside, Åkerlund says, “A lot of the stuff that’s been written (about the movie) is not even true. I’ve been having support from Mayhem and Euronymous’ parents and from Pelle’s (Dead) brother Anders from day one on this movie. I couldn’t make this movie without their support. They all read the script. Necrobutcher (bass) is a great guy and he’s been so supportive. Euronymous’ parents have been incredible that they took time to read and that they gave me the rights to the music. And there’s a lot of rumours about other music I never even asked for or other people I never reached out to. That’s fine. I understand. If somebody out of the blue made a movie about me… I get it. I also really want to be respectful for the people that were touched by this and were involved in this. Obviously, I have to set down my foot and say that I’m making a movie and it’s my movie and it’s my perspective, but I also want to respect some of these people. They get reminded of something that maybe they don’t want to be reminded of.”
Another potentially hot-button topic was choosing an American cast. “I wanted to make the movie accessible to a bigger audience and wanted to have the freedom of choosing English speaking actors. Surprisingly enough, I haven’t really met anybody or read anything that had a real problem with it. It may be a little different when we get the Norwegian and Swedish release – then they might see it a little different. It was never an option to have the American actors having a Swedish or Norwegian accent. It was like ‘either I do it in Norwegian or Swedish, or I do it in English.”
Part of his vision for the film was that the props and action had to be old school – everything from the wigs to the actors learning their instruments to the murder scenes, which were shot with rubber prosthetics and blood pumps. The church burnings were the same. “We actually built miniatures. It’s pretty well done because you can’t really fake fire because fire becomes like Godzilla if you make it too small, so our miniatures were still 20 metres tall and real churches are like 40m tall, so they were still pretty massive. We built the facades on an airfield in Budapest and we shot the interior and some of the exterior on the real church and then we burned the façade. The other white church that we burned at the beginning of film was actually a little church we bought from another production and we changed the colour of it. It’s just like a shell; just walls. We filled it with wood and then we did gasoline and a match, and we were running for it,” he laughs. “It was very old school. No safety. I mean we had a fire truck there, but it was pretty old school the way we did it. It was fun but I looked at it and I was like, ‘this is probably going to burn for at least a half hour, it’s kind of big’. It burned down so quick and we had planned to move the cameras around to get several different angles, so we had to move those cameras so fast. We only had two of them. There was even some dialogue in front of the church, so we had to hurry up.”
More than 25 years after the story unfolded, Åkerlund reflects on how difficult it was to get the project green lighted and how proud he is to finally see the film released. “You can pitch it and people go, ‘wow, great’, and some people have heard of it and they see the pictures and love it and they’re like, ‘I really believe in the project’, but nobody wants to sign the cheque,” he laughs. “I’m very proud of the movie and especially now after having a chance to sit with the audience and watch the movie, it’s been absolutely incredible – to feel the energy and feel the tone and talk to people afterwards.”
Lords Of Chaos had its Australian premiere at Cinema Nova, Melbourne, on November 25, 2018. Now it will screen widely across Australia for one night only on Friday, February 22, 2019.
For cinemas, ticketing and full details, visit here.