It’s been 27 years since Dead, the lead shrieker of the Norwegian black metal band Mayhem, blew his brains out, and 25 since Euronymous, the guy who put a picture of Dead’s corpse on an album cover, was in-turn murdered by Varg Vikernes. Since then there have been a few documentaries about the saga, a few television specials, and a handful of magazine features, but never a scripted feature film.
Which means those of us who’ve been following this strange story have been waiting a long time for Jonas Akerlund’s new film, Lords Of Chaos, starring Rory Culkin as Euronymous and Brooklyn‘s Emory Cohen as Varg Vikernes. Akerlund, who when I spoke to him had just wrapped shooting an Old Navy commercial, seems both an odd choice for the project and the perfect one. I ask him whether his corporate clients like Old Navy know about his Satanic metal movie and he jokes, “I’m not inviting them to the premiere.”
Akerlund is just kidding though, and his history with metal actually predates his filmmaking career, having been the original drummer in the Swedish proto-black metal band, Bathory before transitioning to filmmaking. Since then, he has directed dozens of music videos and commercials, as well as Spun, perhaps the lesser-known of 2002’s dueling meth movies (the other being Salton Sea), and a Mads Mikkelsen assassin thriller that just came out on Netflix — Polar.
But it’s arguably Lords of Chaos that most draws on Akerlund’s formative experiences. And given that Vikernes was (or eventually became, depending on your perspective) a white supremacist, a Nordic nationalist (Euronymous being Sami was one of Vikerne’s posthumous justifications for killing him), and a famous criminal heartthrob, there were a lot of difficult choices to be made about what was most important to this story and what could fit. It has… a lot of moving parts. Not to mention a fair degree of danger, considering Vikernes, a convicted killer, is out of prison now. Perhaps Akerlund still subconsciously courts danger, like the metal musician he was, and the ones he depicts in Lords of Chaos. In any case, I had a lot of questions. I spoke to Akerlund by phone last week.
Are you in the middle of production now?
I was just doing a music video with Rammstein in Berlin. I brought the band to the screening.
What did Rammstein think of Lords of Chaos?
Two of them had seen it before. But they like it. It’s obviously a very different world from their very interesting history, but they understand rock ‘n roll. They also have a pretty extreme story behind them, so.
I’ll have to do a separate interview where I ask you about Rammstein. So tell me about the genesis of this project. I imagine this has been in development for quite some time.
Yeah, in different iterations though, because I started as thinking about it for quite some time. And I remember when I made my first movie, Spawn, here in LA. I was pitching the idea of Norwegian black metal, and I remember I went to some of the big agencies here with pictures of kids with corpse makeup, and they were like, “There’s the door. Get out.” This was at a time when people didn’t even know I was from Sweden. They thought I was from Switzerland. Scandinavia has become more of a solid place that people actually know what it is lately. Back then it was like, not so many Swedes here. So in my head, it’s been around for a long time, and other people have been on it, and then there’s a book coming out, and there’s a documentary coming out…It’s been marinating in me for a long time. And then like six years ago or so, I decided to really go for it. I didn’t know that it was gonna take this long and be this hard work, but I wrote it pretty fast, because I’d been thinking about it for such a long time. And I brought in Dennis [Magnusson], who became my writing partner. And then we just took it from there. I was lucky because Ridley Scott and his company liked the project, and attached themselves. And then Vice came onboard. Then it was like a patchwork of financing to get it made.
That seems crazy to me that someone wouldn’t immediately want to make a movie about Satanic church-burning metal kids.
Right? That’s what I thought, but you know, it’s still a hard sell. The movie’s doing really well, and people seem to like it, but it’s happening slowly. It’s growing, but it’s not like your big premiere at every shopping mall in America, with big advertising. It has to have its own life, and people have to discover it.