Queen City Nerve

Charlotte's Cultural Pulse

VisArt Diaries: ‘Chaos’ in the Cave
Adapting black metal

By Joshua Robbins

March 5, 2019

One of the many things I’ve ranted about in this column, but maybe not often enough, is the back room theater in Visart Video. On a weekly basis, and for less than $5, you can watch an often hard-to-find and potentially yet-to-be-released film in an intimate setting. The theater seats around 20 people when it’s full. Visart hosts a regular series called Cult Movies in the Cave, while the space is also used for stand-up comedy events, so how’s that for variety? The film events are often hosted by Charlotte Film Society, a local name we trust for their amazing taste. On top of the low ticket prices, you can buy concessions for way less than any other theater.

Josh Robbins

That being said, this week’s installment will be a bit different than most; more of a review than my usual spiels about shopping for throwback flicks. I was fortunate enough to attend a Cult Movies in the Cave screening of Jonas Akerlund’s Lords of Chaos, a film that highlights the 1990’s black metal scene in Norway and across Europe.

The movie focuses on the relationships between members of the bands Mayhem and Burzum, to encapsulate it in the most basic sense. Interestingly, the director was briefly a member of proto-black metal band Bathory from 1983-84 before moving into directing music videos like Madonna’s “Ray of Light” and The Prodigy’s “Smack My Bitch Up,” then films like Spun, Horsemen, and 2019’s Polar.

There’s so much to unpack here. The movie has the same issues as any film that’s adapted from a book. There’s a lot of details left out for the sake of runtime and creating a narrative focus that will work cinematically. If you aren’t a fan of black metal, I’d say still watch the movie because it’s really painted more as a human story, in the same way you can enjoy a sports movie even if you don’t care about the specific sport. But if you leave the movie having questions, the book is there to answer all of them and a lot more.

Personally, I read the book many years ago, and was often confused with the relationships and trying to keep Norwegian names straight, so the movie really simplified it and helped me visualize a lot of what the book would dive very deep into. The book is journalism, while the movie is sensationalism.

The 1998 book, Lords of Chaos: The Bloody Rise of the Satanic Metal Underground, spends a good portion of its 400 or so pages speaking about the relationship between Euronymous (born Oystein Aarseth), Varg Vikernes (born Kristian Vikernes) and the birth of black metal as we know it. The book also weaves in the history of metal, proto-black metal ala Venom and Bathory, and the importance of norse mythology in European culture while also shifting into Satanism and its impact in heavy metal culture. The movie spends most of its time from the viewpoint of Euronymous, using him as the narrative foil thrusting the story along. But by doing so he tends to be an unreliable narrator, since it focuses on his feelings about particular events.

I could go on forever about the differences between the book and the movie, but the main point is this: Don’t look for Lords of Chaos to serve as a complete document. Tons of context is completely left out in order to keep this at a reasonable 118-minute runtime. Extreme metal fans will most definitely have plenty of issues with the film, especially since it plays a little loose with the history at hand. It also tends to paint a lot of the subjects in a darkly comical light, and at times appears to be poking fun at how seriously Varg and Euronymous took themselves.

Still, director Jonas Akerlund treats the subject with relative respect while doing a decent balancing act to cater to an audience who may not know anything about the material. Almost anyone off the street can enjoy the film for what it is: a thriller with darkly comedic undertones. And that is no small feat for a film starring American actors Rory Culkin and Sky Ferreira. It can be a little off-putting at first to witness an all-American cast and having to accept them all as Norwegian or Swedish.

Putting that aside, I did find this movie very entertaining. It’s not a perfect movie, by any means, but that’s not really the point of Cult Movies in the Cave. I also can’t imagine extreme metal fans being happy with whatever you put in front of them, so I think my relative distance from the genre was a serious advantage.

Overall, if I were to rate Lords of Chaos out of 5 stars, I’d give it 3. What I would ultimately recommend is watching the movie, and then if black metal still interests you enough, pick up the book. By the end of it, you won’t have any questions and the film will have helped illustrate all of the “characters” the movie broadly outlined.

And yes, go watch a movie in The Cave at Visart, you can’t find a cheaper ticket in town and, of course, you’re supporting a local small business.

The next Cult Movies in a Cave screening will feature the 1983 film Angst on March 19, 8-10 p.m.; VisArt Video, 3105 Eastway Drive.

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