First published back in May of 1998, ‘Lords Of Chaos’ provided a non-fiction account of the rise of Black Metal, predominantly in Norway between 1990 and 1993.  The book was written by US journalist Michael Moynihan and Norwegian writer Didrik Søderlind.  In January of 2003, a considerably revised edition of the book was released, expanding on the previous book by some further fifty pages.   This review is for the latter expanded edition.

DLS Synopsis:
The early stepping stones laying down the (left-hand) path that would eventually become the extreme underground metal scene suitably dubbed Black Metal, started out with bands such as Black Sabbath, Led Zepplin, Black Widow and Coven.  With the likes of Anton Szandor LaVey inspiring and influencing many such explorative musical endeavours, an Nietzchean and anti-Christian ethic gradually began to evolve within the developing scene.

However, it wasn’t until the British heavy metal three-piece ‘Venom’, with their unashamedly satanic theme released their second full length album ‘Black Metal’ in 1982 that the true foundations for the Black Metal scene began to manifest.  With these initial festering seeds encapsulating a much darker note, a breakaway style in extreme metal began to form.  A movement that was gaining momentum with its misfit underground ethos and captivating the minds of those who felt that they were outside of society.

The band Mercyful Fate, with frontman King Diamond, embraced this new direction with a vigour that would quickly project them into the metal limelight.  And whilst death metal and a darker wave of thrash was bursting out from the US through bands such as Slayer, Morbid Angel and Cannibal Corpse a bastard child of extreme metal was being born.  Quorthon’s band Bathory set down a low-fi sound, with atmospherically haunting sounds and a deeply serious note to their satanic message that sowed further dark seeds for the developing roots in Black Metal’s early years.

However, it wasn’t until Norwegian band Mayhem arrived that the scene exploded forth with a far more domineering and brutally upfront message.  When in April of 1991, Mayhem’s singer Dead killed himself with a shotgun; the act of suicide by this extreme individual became a catalyst for the gathering momentum of a scene that was tearing down the boundaries and constraints of society.

Øystein Aarseth (aka Euronymous) had by now formed a unique ‘inner circle’ of like-minded individuals, with his record store ‘Helvete’ becoming a focal point for their gatherings.  Fighting out against society, the Christian mind-set and a desire to push the boundaries further and further, whilst gaining respect from their fellow peers; a new wave of principally Anti-Christian crimes began to emerge across Norway.  Stave churches were burnt to the ground – with the resulting public outcry only fuelling the flames for further arsons.

And then the first murder took place.  In August of 1992, Norwegian drummer Bård Eithun (aka Faust) from the band Emperor, stabbed a homosexual man to death; inflicting thirty-seven stab wounds in a rage fuelled frenzy.  Black Metal had now reached far darker depths.  And it wasn’t long before the next murder occurred.  A critical turning point was about to be reached.  One which would rip apart the Black Metal scene, opening up its violent innards for all to see.  It was the murder of the scene’s lead figure, Euronymous, by his comrade in the underground scene, Varg Vikernes, that would ultimately bring Black Metal to the world’s attention.  And from here, with arson, violence and murder working as their momentum – Black Metal would mutate and evolve, with offshoots and philosophies spreading outwards, until Black Metal had once again become something far removed from its original incarnation…


DLS Review:
Moynihan and Søderlind’s book on the rise of Black Metal is an entertaining read if nothing else.  It’s very much a structured journey – from the very first roots of the music and its influences, to the snowball effect of the violence and anti-society actions, and then finally on to the metamorphosis of ideas and beliefs into heathenism and worrying affiliations with neo-Nazi persuasions.

As such, the book seems to have a strong direction and purposeful reasoning behind the route it is taking.  The main body of the book is taken up by the authors own writing, relaying the stories and (supposedly factual) information surrounding the music, events that took place and the resulting reaction.  However, alongside (and supporting) this main body of text, the authors have included entire interviews with key individuals within the scene, as well as a litany of photos and the like.  Indeed, it’s these accompanying elements that greatly enhance the entire book.  From the numerous photographs included throughout, the reader can form a clear image of the individuals and, bands that the book is writing about.  From the interviews we get to hear first-hand from them – in their own words, what drove them, what inspired them and where they are ultimately going.  Alongside this the book also includes reproductions of posters, flyers, album artwork and other such paraphernalia which greatly enhances the visual aspect.

The book commences with a reasonably brief history on the roots of Black Metal and introduces a handful of the key players in and around the scene during the early 90’s.  With the beginning of the Black Metal timeline now established, the authors start their journey into the darker and more violent way in which the Black Metal scene had begun to descend.  Varg Vikernes is quickly established as a central figure for much of what is going on; with Vikernes’ views, actions and beliefs a primary focus for the entire book.

The intensity within the scene starts to escalate with the church burnings announcing Black Metal’s stamp on Norway.  From here the continuous violence and crime carries on snowballing – with a raw energy of ‘us vs them’ vividly described between those in the underground black metal scene and the rest of society.  And then with the suicide of Dead from Mayhem sending shockwaves through the close-nit Black Metal community, the whole destructive whirlwind picks up further momentum; escalating the crimes and pushing those involved on to further their mission for rebellion and revenge.

By now the story has become very sensationalised.  The writing is awash with near-palpable atmosphere and the scene’s energy is buzzing for more violence.  Vikernes is depicted as continuing to spearhead the Anti-Christian actions, until that dramatic turning point is reached and Euronymous is murdered.  From here the book grinds itself up another gear or two – very much embracing Vikernes and indeed Burzum as the forefront of the scene, and as such, almost its entire voice.

With the murder of Euronymous  and the resulting arrest of Vikernes detailed in quite some depth, the book now starts to stretch its tentacles outwards – bringing in new players to the scene and commencing the next stage in the Black Metal evolution.

From here on the message and direction of the book begins to become a little unclear.  We’re taken out of Norway and are shown the Black Metal influence across the globe.  The focus is slowly but surely being pulled away from the music and ‘Norwegian Black Metal’ and has instead gone for a much more ‘religion’ directed scope.  It’s a brave move, but Moynihan and Søderlind attempt to bring in a much broader picture of the motivations and beliefs that have gradually evolved and are now brought to the table.  Although not done with a particularly heavy hand, this somewhat tricky angle to the book is tackled without much grace or research.  The end result is a final number of chapters that feel sloppy with a badly addressed message or direction.

‘Lords Of Chaos’ certainly isn’t the absolute font of all knowledge where it comes to Black Metal.  There’s no doubt that the authors had played upon their skills as writes and sensationalised a few aspects of the book.  After all, for the most part it reads like a spiralling story of chaos, rebellion and depression.  And for the sheer compelling entertainment factor of the book it’s worth pretty much anyone’s time.  However, due to some (or apparently a lot) of supposed inaccuracies, there has been quite a backlash from a number of those in the scene, most notably Varg Vikernes.  Indeed, Vikernes has posted up a long and particularly verbose rant on his hatred for the book – of which his Anti-Semitic views are exposed for all to see as well as an ugly ego that can barely be repressed.  It is all painfully off-putting.  Having enjoyed much of the Burzum back catalogue over the years, it’s a tough pill to swallow, seeing such a closed mind behind the music.

However, this only goes to show just how ripe with raw controversial energy ‘Lords Of Chaos’ is.  It’s a book I would whole-heartedly recommend to anyone who has even the slightest interest in the scene.  Above all else, it’s just a hell of a read.

The book runs for a total of 391 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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