CHAOS REIGNS

Long-serv­ing K! writer JA­SON ARNOPP lived through the tur­moil and tragedy of the early-’90s black metal scene. So much so that direc­tor JONAS ÅKERLUND asked him to take part in his forth­com­ing LORDS OF CHAOS movie. Here, they each take us be­hind the scene

Kerrang! (UK) - - The Inside Track - PHO­TOS: JONAS ÅKERLUND

Hello, this is Ja­son Arnopp from Ker­rang! mag­a­zine. I’m try­ing to get hold of Eurony­mous.” What’s hap­pen­ing here feels weirdly like time travel. I first spoke those words in Lon­don back in March 1993, when I phoned May­hem leader Eurony­mous from the Ker­rang! of­fice to in­ter­view him for what would be­come a cover fea­ture about the grow­ing ex­cesses of Nor­we­gian black metal. And now I’m re­peat­ing them 23 years later in No­vem­ber 2016, while sit­ting at a desk in a replica Ker­rang! of­fice which has been cre­ated on a film set in Bu­dapest.

For rea­sons best known to him­self, direc­tor Jonas Åkerlund per­suaded me to play my­self in his ex­tra­or­di­nary film Lords Of Chaos, which chron­i­cles the mad­ness that went down in the black metal scene in the early ’90s. This, de­spite the fact I have zero act­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and I am find­ing it sur­pris­ingly dif­fi­cult not to look at the cam­era while ‘per­form­ing’.

That orig­i­nal K! cover fea­ture drew in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion to the so-called ‘Sa­tanic Ter­ror­ists’ of Nor­way, partly thanks to the ou­tra­geous state­ments made by in­ter­vie­wees Eurony­mous and Burzum’s Varg ‘Count Gr­ish­nackh’ Vik­ernes. As you’ve read in our in­ter­view with Necrobutcher, at that time, May­hem’s trou­bled singer Pelle ‘Dead’ Oh­lin had al­ready died by sui­cide, Eurony­mous had taken pho­tos of his corpse, and Nor­we­gian churches had been burned to the ground. Un­be­liev­ably, the worst was yet to come. Five months later Eurony­mous was dead, hav­ing been sav­agely mur­dered in his Oslo apart­ment build­ing by Vik­ernes, who would be sen­tenced to 21 years in prison. Em­peror’s Bard ‘Faust’ Eithun would also be con­victed for the mur­der of a stranger named Magne An­dreassen in the woods out­side the town of Lille­ham­mer, Nor­way.

These hor­ri­fy­ing events en­sured black metal’s sta­tus as the most no­to­ri­ous sub­genre of ex­treme mu­sic for decades to come. As Jonas says, it’s a “very sad story”. With Lords Of Chaos, he hopes to of­fer some de­gree of clo­sure by pre­sent­ing his own take on what the hell this era was all about.

“I al­ways had a the­ory,” he of­fers, “that if Pelle’s sui­cide hadn’t hap­pened, none of the other things would have hap­pened ei­ther. The fact that he com­mit­ted sui­cide in such a bru­tal way

and Eurony­mous took pic­tures, that changed ev­ery­thing. After that, what can you do that’s worse? There are no ex­cuses for what they did, but one lit­tle wrong de­ci­sion led to the next wrong de­ci­sion. After a while, I can imag­ine that it no longer felt wrong.” L ords Of Chaos stars Rory Culkin as Eurony­mous, Emory Co­hen as Vik­ernes and Sky Fer­reira as Eurony­mous’ love in­ter­est Ann-marit – the one char­ac­ter the direc­tor ad­mits is fab­ri­cated, but based on his knowl­edge that Eurony­mous did have a mys­te­ri­ous girl­friend. “Ob­vi­ously, a lot of the film is based on re­search and my own the­o­ries. I open the movie with the cap­tion ‘Based On Truth And Lies’, to clear my­self from say­ing it’s the truth. I also made it an English-speak­ing movie, rather than a Nor­we­gian one. But in ev­ery other way, I tried to make it as close to the re­al­ity as pos­si­ble.”

Dur­ing film­ing in Bu­dapest, it was in­deed sur­real to walk around sets like the mock-up of Eurony­mous’ apart­ment, where Jonas’ ob­ses­sive at­ten­tion to de­tail was typ­i­fied by racks of ex­treme metal demo cas­settes. The direc­tor’s re­al­is­tic ap­proach has cer­tainly also ex­tended to the graphic vi­o­lence, which in­cludes slit wrists, a shot­gun blast to the head and count­less stab wounds. So how much of these mu­si­cians’ ap­palling be­hav­iour does he at­tribute to peer pres­sure and how much to some form of pre-ex­ist­ing psy­chosis?

“That’s hard for me to say. I wish doc­tors had an­a­lysed all these char­ac­ters at a young age, so we had the an­swers. We’ve seen this kind of story be­fore, in the fave­las of Rio, or in the sub­urbs of Eng­land or Italy, where young peo­ple do crazy stuff. But in a weird way, these boys didn’t have an ex­cuse. They came from good up­bring­ings and there were no drugs in­volved. Eurony­mous’ par­ents are fan­tas­tic, de­cent peo­ple. So there has to be some sort of psy­cho­log­i­cal ex­pla­na­tion, mixed up with youth gone bad.”

Lords Of Chaos por­trays Eurony­mous (born Øys­tein Aarseth) as some­thing of a shrewd en­tre­pre­neur, who runs his own record la­bel and store, and con­tin­u­ally has one eye on sales. De­spite po­si­tion­ing him­self as an in­flu­en­tial and evil god­fa­ther, he’s in­creas­ingly sur­prised by how far his as­so­ci­ates are pre­pared to go.

“In many ways, Eurony­mous was the one who encouraged all these peo­ple,” Jonas con­sid­ers. “Whether he meant it for real, they ob­vi­ously

did it for real. I’m sure he was kind of se­ri­ous, be­cause it’s a fact that he made death threats and took the pic­ture of Pelle’s dead body… but I don’t be­lieve he was a com­plete psy­chopath.

“The thing is,” he adds, “it’s re­ally hard to make a movie about idiots. So you have to give them a rea­son, or some sort of sym­pa­thy or hu­mour. This movie is the first doc­u­ment of what hap­pened in Nor­way that shows them not as mon­sters, but real peo­ple – and so young. They were chil­dren. The movie starts when they’re 17 and fin­ishes when they’re about 22.”

All these years later, the pre­cise mo­ti­va­tions of these peo­ple re­main un­clear. Does Jonas be­lieve they ac­tu­ally knew what they were re­belling against or fight­ing for? “It doesn’t seem like they had a clear vi­sion, be­cause they changed a lot. There are pic­tures of Eurony­mous’ room with posters of Stalin, but then there’s some­thing else the next time you see it. [It] feels to me like they all picked up what­ever was go­ing on at the time. I don’t think any of them were Satanists, or even reli­gious. I don’t even think any of them cared about the Nor­we­gian church and all that shit. Satan had noth­ing to do with any of this.” J onas Åkerlund’s Scan­di­na­vian metal pedi­gree is sec­ond to none. Hav­ing grown up in Stock­holm, lov­ing the New Wave Of Bri­tish Heavy Metal, he played drums in the first in­car­na­tion of Bathory. Fronted by To­mas ‘Quorthon’ Fors­berg, these Swedish metal le­gends were ar­guably the first to ham­mer the sem­i­nal metal of New­cas­tle’s Venom into some­thing even bad­der and blacker. “That first Bathory line-up recorded a few things to­gether,” Jonas re­calls, “but then film-edit­ing com­pletely took over my life. I’ve al­ways been a much bet­ter film ed­i­tor than I ever was a drum­mer, and cre­at­ing vi­su­als for bands turned out to be my true call­ing. I don’t ever want to take any credit for Bathory. Quorthon was ob­vi­ously the ta­lent in the band.”

Jonas went on to be­come an award-win­ning mu­sic video direc­tor. Hav­ing started out work­ing with fel­low Swedes Rox­ette, his first video be­yond his home turf was The Prodigy’s con­tro­ver­sial Smack My Bitch Up clip. When Madonna signed The Prodigy to her Mav­er­ick la­bel, Jonas shot videos for her too, and from there he di­rected the likes of Beyoncé, Lady Gaga and Brit­ney Spears, while keep­ing one foot in metal with Me­tal­lica, Ramm­stein and Ozzy Os­bourne. “I’m still shocked that I’ve done all these things,” he says with a laugh.

In the early ‘90s, Jonas was work­ing in Los An­ge­les when he saw a CNN re­port on the church burn­ings of Nor­way. “I’d been fa­mil­iar with May­hem since 1985, but now I was like, ‘What the hell is go­ing on?’ It wasn’t un­til after I’d made my first movie Spun in 2001 that I pitched a film about Nor­we­gian black metal. Look­ing back, I’m happy that I didn’t make the movie then. This story needed time to breathe.”

Jonas spent many years de­vel­op­ing the script with co-writer Den­nis Mag­nus­son. “I knew there was a movie in this story, but it took me a long time to fig­ure out what the fo­cus should be. Even­tu­ally, I re­alised it was the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Eurony­mous and Varg.”

Be­yond get­ting the script right, Jonas con­sid­ered it im­por­tant to gain the sup­port of peo­ple who lived through the whole saga.

“I wanted to make this story no mat­ter what, but I wasn’t ex­pect­ing the sup­port that I got. There are ob­vi­ously a lot of sen­si­tiv­i­ties in­volved, be­cause a lot of peo­ple died. A lot of peo­ple are still liv­ing with a dead child or a dead brother, all the way down to the fire­man who died in a church fire. Pelle’s brother An­ders has been tremen­dously sup­port­ive, and then of course the May­hem mem­bers Necrobutcher and Hell­ham­mer were im­por­tant for me from the be­gin­ning. I’ve un­der­stood their hes­i­ta­tion and frus­tra­tion. Imag­ine some­one mak­ing a movie about your life.

“Early on,” he con­tin­ues, “Eurony­mous’ par­ents took a big step away from the black metal scene and would have noth­ing to do with it. So for them to meet me, read scripts and give clear­ance on mu­sic was fan­tas­tic. I’ve been in con­tact with every­body ex­cept Varg. Now that a lot of time has passed, this movie is be­com­ing im­por­tant. Maybe it’s clo­sure: a chance to por­tray these peo­ple like hu­man be­ings, not mon­sters.”

De­spite Lords Of Chaos hav­ing the com­bined weight of pro­duc­tion com­pa­nies like Vice Films and Blade Run­ner direc­tor Ri­d­ley Scott’s own Scott Free be­hind it, Jonas does not nec­es­sar­ily ex­pect the film to be read­ily adopted by main­stream au­di­ences. “The movie’s get­ting great re­views, but it’s a hard sell be­cause of its dark na­ture.”

Be­ing a no­tably laid-back kind of gen­tle­man, he seems un­ruf­fled by the in­evitabil­ity of some dis­grun­tled black metal fans in­sist­ing that Lords Of Chaos got the story all wrong.

“While I’m not ex­pect­ing the metal scene to like the film, at the same time I want some kind of ap­proval from them. I def­i­nitely don’t want to have fucked up by hav­ing the wrong T-shirt or shoes! But be­cause it’s been so long, I don’t think any­body re­ally knows what hap­pened back then. The story’s changed over the years in in­ter­views. Even Varg has changed his story sev­eral times, when he says what hap­pened on the night he killed Eurony­mous. But since I’ve taken in all the in­for­ma­tion I could, in­clud­ing the po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion, this prob­a­bly leaves me know­ing bet­ter than peo­ple who were there!”

LORDS OF CHAOS PLAYS at THE BFI LON­DON FILM FES­TI­VAL OC­TO­BER 19 – 21, WITH A WIDER RE­LEASE COM­ING EARLY 2019. JA­SON ARNOPP’S BOOK FROM THE FRONT

LINES OF ROCK GATH­ERS HIS FAVOURITE KER­RANG! IN­TER­VIEWS. Check the AMA­ZON KIN­DLE STORE OR PAYHIP.COM/ARNOPP

“SATAN HAD NOTH­ING TO DO WITH THIS” JONAS ÅKERLUND

The movie lov­ingly recre­ates ev­ery as­pect of the early’90s black metal scene

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