I interviewed Black Sabbath’s most underappreciated vocalist, the great Tony Martin once years ago. A real thrill. I forget the exact question, something about reconciling the more evil songs with the ones with subtle Christian themes or something. I remember Tony taking the wind out of my sails like a pro and sort of gently needling me with the common sense revelation that a lot of heavy metal is theater. This doesn’t mean that some people don’t live it to the fullest (the proper way to do so being highly debated daily since forever across sub-genres) and that it isn’t a genuine source of being able to work out dark and light feelings and to suss out solutions for yourself that hopefully aren’t ‘suicide solutions’, etc.
I saw two movies last night amidst a snowstorm on Fandango Now (a pretty great service). Jonas Akerlund’s take on the controversial Lords of Chaos and the somewhat slept on, but I thought fucking fantastic, Mary Queen Of Scots (2018). Both took some historical liberties – LOC glosses over the singers before Dead and the Deathcrush-era to get to meatier terrain and Mary Queen Of Scots fabricates an incredible in person meeting between Mary and Elizabeth that I wish really happened and (plausibility points to the writer) Elizabeth DOES tell Mary never to speak of it, so who knows? Both also feature violent stabbing scenes of a queer person. I was expecting it in Lords Of Chaos and the movie makes it very graphic, disturbing and not lightly glossed over – thankfully. You know at that point beyond a doubt that part of the souls of these people are very broken. David Rizzio in Mary Queen Of Scots came as a shock since I had forgotten about him historically. Like, fuckin’ hell, another poor murdered innocent for the sake of sick designs?!
Look, I think it is fine Lords Of Chaos is a movie. I was against it at some points but as edgelordery under Trump is worse than ever and there are no sacred cows generally worthy of enabling any cult of personality from critique, fuck it. It was a milestone time period in metal so why shouldn’t it be examined? The thrust though is will it seem apologist and MTV stuff that was meant to be less palatable or fast edit flashy and romanticized or would it have some bite and objectively show the shittiness of a lot of what happened? Thankfully, I liked a lot more about it than I disliked. The cast did an excellent job with what they were handed and as Jonas told Decibel recently ,”There’s a lot of things we’re not supposed to do, but black metal bands break those rules every day. They all sell merchandise; they all do gigs; they all have Instagram…”
It’s funny, I remember when X-Men became a movie everyone wondered if Wolverine would wear yellow spandex. Some things that look cool in comic books can look very dorky in movies with live-action. A corpse-painted dude trying to look vampiric under a dead tree is much the same, looking pretty cool on a badly reproduced lo fi record sleeve but generally funny in broad daylight. This film certainly wins at showing how the scene’s members one upmanship could only insulate them so long from realizing they weren’t bad asses and actually had some real fucked up insecurities as people, no matter how cool the music was. They also, underneath it all, were kind of dorky and trying to seem cool, like any group of young rockers.
One of the best scenes is a post-jail Varg (played very well by Emory Cohen the whole movie as an ego wounded insecure kid who nonetheless does major harm trying to find validation while pretending otherwise and makes you really dislike him…going from being bullied to being the worst, smug self-serving piece of shit) yelling at Euronymous as played by Rory Culkin. Culkin really carries a lot of the film, and in this scene he tells Varg he made up a lot of stuff about never touring and being as evil as possible to basically drum up marketing buzz. Varg is still seemingly scarred for life that Euronymous shamed him initially for having a Scorpions patch once and so it feels like his life mission is to become more kvlt now, the never ending bottomless quest of every true edge lord.
First, I wanna say fuck VICE for firing so many brilliant writers lately. They backed this film. Nonetheless, while the pacing (much like Mary Queen of Scots, actually) rushes very fast sometimes through historical events for the sake of modern attention spans, a lot of it resonated with me, despite the flaws. An imperfect vessel, perhaps. I don’t think I could have made it better, though. And Sky Ferreira, for all the shit talk people gave her for being casted, was fucking great.
It’s disturbing at one point to see Sky’s character get bullied by Cohen into stripping for him and Rory’s characters, showing the weak sexism and desperation that hides behind what a lot of people in metal find to be transgressive. Knowing also how much Sky values her own agency as a woman, it was pretty emotionally effective seeing her deal with internalized misogyny in the black metal circles but end up being probably the best anchoring voice of reason in Euronymous’ life later in the film. We stan (looking forward to Masochism and also thank you for being kind to my gf Globelamp recently).
Anyway, I have a lot of thoughts.
A lot of the problem is, who is going to be romanticized from a movie? Or centered in a political narrative. In America, for example, you can’t always center the WWC or post glowing Esquire pieces about understanding white cis male Trump voters in middle America or whatever the fuck. That said, Marilyn Manson did have a point in Bowling For Columbine that perhaps listening to the shooters ahead of time might have prevented their alienation sitting in. But at a certain point, you can’t kids gloves dangerous rhetoric and fash or fash adjacent apologism, whatever you may think the sociological underpinnings are that caused it. And how much money is Mayhem now gonna make as a result of newfound fans? At least one current member, Hellhammer, really doesn’t deserve it, in my opinion.
When I watched the characters, based on real people, in the film yelling sexually explicit graphic shit at old ladies and children and whoever they could shock in the film, I couldn’t help but think how even after Faust actually murdered a gay man, how years later Hellhammer still can’t be bothered to apologize for championing the act in Until The Light Takes Us or for saying black metal is for white people. That shows less a confrontational inane “rebellious” tendency, still a harmful erosion of empathy, than a deep-seated unfounded resentment of others, a clinical “punching down” problem and a toxic level of detachment from reality. You see this divorce from reason in acts like Destroyer 666 who think it is ok to say pooftah and gay slurs or woman hating rhetoric and somehow think that is “rock n’ roll” in 2019. Even the smeared feces has dried on GG Allin, boys. It doesn’t smell like it used to and it is time to grow the fuck up.
I used to separate art from artists more, as I loved the early books of Celine, but nowadays I have a very particular exacto knife standard I use to decide if I will support a band which is based on the harm of their politics, their defensiveness versus genuine contrition if called out on bad shit, etc. As a result, I stopped listening to Mayhem and supporting them awhile ago despite loving their music. Hellhammer doesn’t think he should apologize to the gay community or minorities? Or that it is clear (it’s not) it is a joke? We live under Trump here in America and especially considering your band’s murky past and influence, every gesture of sincere goodwill matters and can help heal. That is why I support Darkthrone and not Mayhem nowadays. Fenriz, fyi, was woefully underutilized in the film, as one of the scene’s quirkiest characters, IMO.
It is interesting because I love the band SUNN O))) who I think are one of the most important acts in modern music and they have a new record due called Life Metal, a term sort of bandied about as a mockery of “real” metal by Euronymous in the film. Or did he say “light” metal? I am not sure. Anyway, they have worked with Mayhem members before and also have disavowed fascism on social media, so to some degree they must trust the current Mayhem guys as being genuine? Anyway, I think embracing life is powerful. It is better than constantly flirting with or outright courting disaster, the primary impulses of most of the lives in this film. It is very hard to find self-worth while also acting like you are lower than a worm and life is shit, lol.
To me, Sense 8 is the most transgressive show I have seen in modern society in a long time, for example. A life affirming call for togetherness where people of all sorts of different races, sexes and gender identity share a literal psychic connection and have to work together to overcome obstacles. Now THAT is boundary pushing. Shout out to the Goddess Jamie Clayton.
Varg might whine about Christians building Churches in Nordic lands but it isn’t like Vikings also didn’t rape and murder and pillage other places constantly. A selective view of any cycle of violence and destruction gives you, say, constant war in The Middle East or the downplaying of the horrific crimes of American imperialism masked as do-goodery. You can’t just live in revenge mode all the time. Human beings are fucked up, live in our “pain bodies” more than our objective higher minds generally and are constantly pulling ourselves back down.
One of the most wonderful segments of the film is actually when Sky as Ann-Marit is cutting Euronymous hair shortly before he is murdered. Every time the scissor cuts he starts to hallucinate he is in this kind of industrial music choppy editing forest scene seeing the ghost of Jack Kilmer’s Dead. The aesthetic is almost American Horror Story and could have been a music video for the post-Euronymous trip hop influenced “A Bloodsword and a Colder Sun, Pt.2” (still controversial among ‘true” kvlt wankers, though it is a dope Rune Eriksen era Mayhem song). Anyway, Dead was an early casualty of the film who helped cement the band’s notoriety through his tragic suicide but who really had an emptiness inside. There is a moment when Rory Culkin sort of lets go in the hallucinations and they see each other in the hallucinatory woods and smirk at one another and it almost feels like Dead’s ghost is telling him to lighten up or he will turn out like him. And it seems like Culkin’s Euronymous gets it when he grins back. It was surprisingly moving and, like Culkin’s effective horror as he is being unexpectedly stabbed later by fuckface Varg, reminds you these were real people and not just musical symbols.
The hair cutting as shedding pretension symbolism also reminds of the controversy when Metallica cut their hair and how silly that was in hindsight. Some people could see it as just trying to conform but get a life. It is sillier to feel like you have to be one thing your whole life, even at the times when it doesn’t serve who you have become. Now that time has passed I think it is pretty micro/macro that the film’s Mayhem was in Metallica’s stadium ready “ManUNkind” video. This pissed off black metal fans so much but it actually really funny, since after the movie you can’t help but feel like for all his pretensions, like I said, that Varg really wanted AND STILL WANTS notoriety and fame even more than Euronymous. Euronymous is actually really struggling at times in the film with how fucked up things have gotten and it is these brief moments where you see the crack in the veneer and his tears shed or hesitation in keeping up the nihilistic façade around Ann-Marit where the film shines most.
Below is a tweet from one of the most important modern black metal influenced acts from North America currently, Twilight Fauna:
1/2 Music is such a big part of my life. I cant imagine this existence without it. That being said I don't understand when I see black metal dudes talking about it like it's this all consuming world. Music is a huge piece of me but it's only a slice.I'm also a husband. I'm dad to
— Twilight Fauna (@TwilightFauna) March 4, 2019
And my response:
That was one of my big takeaways from lords of chaos. I think one of effective parts of film was showing how they all underneath it had shit self esteem but pretended didn’t need or crave validation.
— MetalRiot.com (@MetalRiot) March 4, 2019
Like, love your art or whatever but how transgressive are you really? How much do you just need a hug and to stop punching down to fill the void, yknow? Watain once said something like everyone in metal doesn’t need to be a family or whatever but the whole outsider wolves imagery to me often reeks of desperation. Personally, I LOVE that Cradle of Filth are a glorified massive heavy metal band, embracing their inner Iron Maiden ambition allowed them to flirt with the mainstream and arguably get much more extreme horror and darker black metal influenced fashion and art into public consciousness in a way that people could participate in it joyfully and without feeling like no one out there is like them. Unity is not a bad thing and creates bonding. At the end of Lords of Chaos when you see a montage of the kids flashback videos of them partying and howling and doing dumb young shit with beers, you can’t help but think how all that isolation rhetoric just destroyed everyone, essentially lonely people at heart.
I have zero sympathy for how Varg has just dug in and doubled down over the years, expressing his superiority complex over and over. Faust has at least expressed major regret and said he is not that hate filled person he once was. As a queer/bi/multi-gender person I would actually love to speak with him. I believe trauma is a two way street sometimes and people can have dark seated, compartmentalized situational anguish over things that can contribute to making them do terrible things sometimes if never worked out with therapy. Which is not to gloss over anything. I just mean that violence (unless, the self-defense of anti-fascism) can generally really harm the person who WAS violent as well as the victim. That said, Decibel recently interviewed Emperor (including Faust) for the same issue that featured their Lords Of Chaos write up and I am pretty sure never even mentioned the murder of Magne Andreassen in the Emperor Hall Of Fame article in issue No. 173/March 2019. That is very irresponsible.
Faust actually had some funny and insightful responses in the piece as well, but you can’t just gloss over something so horrific as if it has no bearing on if a reader might want to not support that. Just because the band feels he has done his time doesn’t mean everyone else will agree. Also, like Kevin Hart or Anselmo or whoever, you can’t get defensive and mad if people don’t know you have apologized or are uncertain if they can trust you, and neither of those involve homophobic murder! Real restorative justice and healing only can happen when actions are owned and communication occurs. However many times it takes. PLEASE read, for example, this following awesome column by my friend Amanda Pearl Daniels (ex-enabler/current Knaaves) on forgiveness and trauma HERE.
I personally think, say, regarding As I Lay Dying reuniting with Tim…how does his ex-wife feel about it? THAT is what matters most. Do artists with problematic portions of their lives donate regularly to restorative causes or if they don’t have a lot of money at least use their platforms regularly to make amends? THAT is how you show you have progressed and is a really important energy shift that needs to happen a lot more often than Louis CK or Roseanne whining they were treated unfairly for being shitty while continuing to punch down.
Anyway, the film left me feeling like heavy metal remains completely important, utterly foolish and also fatiguing as fuck sometimes. In other words, how I feel most days. Hails.