Hail, readers! Welcome to Devils in the Details, a monthly column examining the satanic and occult influences in horror. This column provides a non-sensational look at these influences by them through the perspective of modern Occult scholarship. The study of satanism and the occult is a life-long endeavor, and I have much yet to learn. I hope you will join me in this sojourn into the darkness!
Lords of Chaos (2018) tells the story of the Norwegian Black Metal scene of the 90s through the problematic group surrounding scene members Euronymous (Øystein Aarseth) and Varg Vikernes (Kristian Vikernes). It’s a pretty faithful adaptation of the book by the same name, and like its inspiration, the film also maintains an incredible level of accuracy to the actual events.
Euronymous and Varg
Euronymous (Øystein Aarseth), played in Lords of Chaos by Rory Culkin, was the creator of Norwegian Black Metal and founder of the black metal band Mayhem. He and his inner circle shared a cynical outlook and glorified death and evilness, including satanism. After their lead vocalist Dead’s death, Mayhem grew in popularity, allowing Euronymous to establish his own label (with some help from his father’s money!).
When Varg Vikernes, then Kristian, joined Euronymous’ label with his solo project Burzum, the two grew close. Eventually, disputes over music rights and unpaid royalties led to a rift and, ultimately, Eyoronymous’ demise.
However, as Lords of Chaos points out, it was not all about the business. For these two, the conflict ran deeper. As is brilliantly portrayed in the film, the many contributors towards Euronymous’ murder are rooted in one ideal – who can be the evilest?
Those in the Norwegian Black metal scene prided themselves on just how disturbing, horrific, and evil they could be. Dead, Mayhem’s first lead vocalist, was a driving force for this within Euronymous’ inner circle. His obsession with death informed much of what the group would later admire. However, for Dead, his obsession stemmed from a deep depression that would later lead him to take his own life. Regardless, Euronymous took this inspiration and built a culture around misandry and cynicism.
Satanism as Evil
Part of this focus on evilness was an appreciation for Satanism and anything occult. Euronymous even named his record store Helvete, Norwegian for Hell. However, even by the 90s, Satanism was not as evil as they made it out to be. Save for some cases like the West Memphis Three, the Satanic Panic of the 80s had largely died down.
Additionally, Satanism does not, in fact, support the actions taken by the “Black Circle,” Euronymous‘ crew. For the Black Circle, burning churches and murder were the epitome of evil and the maximum glorification of death. That may very well be true, but it is not Satanic.
Interestingly, the Black Circle’s satanism is so superficial for a group so heavily concerned with image and reputation. Actually, the conflicting ideologies of Varg Vikernes are even called out directly in the scene where a reporter interviews him,
“So you believe in paganism. And you’re a Satanist. And you’re… you’re also a Nazi. That’s a pretty broad belief system.”
Who is the Evilest of the Them All
Ultimately, the issue that came to a head with Euryonymous‘s murder can be attributed to competition within the Black Circle. After Varg burned the first church, he gained standing with the group that the others began to strive for. Throw in a few more church burnings, and the stakes were raised once again when Circle member Bård Guldvik “Faust” Eithun murdered a man.
Adding murder to the equation made it more difficult to back out, and instead, those interested in building their reputation had to keep pushing the bar higher. The film makes sure to point out that Euronymous was nothing more than a loudmouth who never intended to act on what he said. He pleads as much as he is murdered, “You know me… I just talk.” To which Varg replies, “Exactly. You’re an embarrassment.” Vikernes, on the other hand, was frustrated at the inaction of the group and labeled them posers for not acting on their “beliefs.” The problem is that, as explained earlier, they had no concrete beliefs—only adherence to some abstract idea of evil.
Varg transcended his previous life as Kristian by working on Burzum and later by burning churches, or so he thought at least. His frustration stemmed from the revelation that those who ostracized him as Kristian were actually the posers all along.
Lords of Chaos focuses heavily on the idea of “posers.” This idea that you are “fake” unless you act on your beliefs is juvenile, though I’m sure many of us can relate to a degree. We’ve all been in a situation where someone claims to be something when they have not researched enough to be fully informed or done enough to consider themselves whatever label.
However, I believe this to be a silly practice. No one, not even the creator of True Norwegian Black Metal, has the authority to establish the prerequisites for any label. While watching this film, I found myself thinking of the horror community or fandoms in general. Too often are requirements placed on what makes a “true fan.” If you haven’t seen a specific movie or heard a particular record, that does not automatically invalidate your fandom. The fact is, “poser” is a label employed exclusively by gatekeepers. If the Black Circle would have been a bit more inclusive, perhaps the tragic ending could have been avoided. Then again, for those as evil as Euronymous and Varg Vikernes, death was always the goal.