It's About the Evil, Stupid!
Review by Michael Henningsen
Lords of Chaos: The Bloody Rise of the Satanic Metal Underground, New Edition
Michael Moynihan and Didrik Soderlind
As a historical document, Lords of Chaos does a fine, detailed job of contextualizing black metal in terms of its cousins, namely death metal and heavycore. It dedicates several chapters to the history of the genre, focusing mostly on Venom and Bathory, the two bands most widely credited with having spawned a more radical scene in Norway. Both Venom and Bathory, however, were so tongue-in-cheek about their “Satanism,” one would have to be a moron to buy into it. Apparently, though, a rather large handful of Norwegian kids didn't see it that way back in the early '90s. Or they were morons.
It's at this point that the book begins a rather laborious journey through highly publicized events, such as Varg Vikernes' murder of Mayhem guitarist Euronymous, the burning of several historic churches by members of the scene, and other acts of violence and desecration. Shit happened in Norway, no doubt about it.
Lords of Chaos charges out of the gates with the promise of tales of pacts with the devil, satanic rituals, paranormal forces and the insinuation of a final answer to the burning question: Is rock music, particularly heavy metal, a tool of evil that inspires otherwise fairly normal people to engage in acts of abhorrent violence? Unfortunately, the book quickly gets mired in sociopolitical diatribes and doublespeak. In fact, save for five or six chapters and about half of the included interviews, Lords of Chaos is downright boring.
Reading the book is akin to watching those television programs that debunk magicians' tricks, or seeing Alice Cooper swinging golf clubs and appearing in Staples commercials. It is, after all, about the image. And the image in question here is an evil image, which, after reading Lords of Chaos, one quickly discovers is either a half-baked front for tired-ass “neo-Nazi” skinheads who recently read some propaganda on Viking heathenism, or just another cheap parlor trick designed to ruffle a few feathers and an excuse to occasionally get completely out of hand.
But no one can criticize Moynihan or Soderlind's keen emphasis on research and interviews. Much of the most revealing text comes courtesy of painstakingly acquired interviews with many of black metal's most revered entities. (Although curiously, there's not a single transcript of any chat between the authors and members of Venom or Bathory.) We get to hear directly from such bands as Mayhem, Emperor, Darkthrone and Cradle of Filth, along with commentary by major players in the recording industry and fringe music press.
Also included are plenty of interviews with law enforcement, psychobabblists and seemingly random folk who just want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. Sadly, it's here that the emphasis lies, not on the music, the personalities—except for Vikernes, who continually gets stroked in the book for being merely an asshole—and, goddammit, not on the evil!
Ultimately, Lords of Chaos is the annoying jackass who sits next to you at work and gives away the endings to all the movies you haven't seen yet, replete with enough meaningless academic chatter to make your brain explode. Enjoy!
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