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On the Unnecessary Existence of Mayhem
by Noctir (Dec. 2017)

Popular culture is a funny thing. There have been countless people that possessed real talent and yet fell through the cracks, anyway. Some struggle and struggle to get noticed, for decades, and amount to absolutely nothing. Then others seem to be in the right place at the right time, maybe they know the right people, and they make a name for themselves and then never have to prove anything again. How many actors have done well in one or two films, made it big, and then proceeded to bomb for years afterward? An author can write a decent book that gets their name out there, then become a brand and know that future books will sell just from name recognition, alone. The same is true with music. It seems like all a band has to do is to make one or two well-received albums, and then they're established from then on. They can then churn out generic, mediocre rubbish year after year, just mindless cookie-cutter filler with no character, and people will consume, consume, consume. So many bands coast on their reputations, even if said reputations were made two or three decades ago. On the one hand, it is true that they were relevant, at one time. But does that entitle them to a lifetime of having it made, aneasy existence based on a couple good albums? 

For example, look at bands like Cannibal Corpse and Deicide. It is utterly astonishing to think that they still exist. Musically, both of them expressed every possible thing that they could have, back in the early ‘90s. Most agree that Cannibal Corpse became irrelevant after Chris Barnes left, though I would say that they managed one more decent album with 1998’s Gallery of Suicide. Following that one, they have proven to be completely creatively bankrupt. As for Deicide, I prefer the self-titled debut over Legion, but the consensus seems to be that they haven’t reached that level of quality since, and that was in 1992. They went on to make so many terrible albums, even admitting that at least one was thrown together just to finish up a recording contract and free themselves from their label. What happened to bands that made a few albums and then broke up? (Well, many of them decided to get in on the reunion craze when they realized there was an audience willing to pay to listen to washed-up has-beens trying to cash in on the past.) Even a band like Immortal, who changed their style and tried a few different things over the years, they settled on a certain approach near the end of their first run and two subsequent reunions have seen them rehash stuff from almost two decades ago, adding nothing of worth to their legacy and just serving as an excuse to make a few more bucks off the dimwitted metal crowd. It’s all about pumping out another product to satisfy labels and justify more tours where the people are mainly just there to hear the classics and don’t care about whatever new songs the band might play. The sad truth is that most of the best albums were made by kids; the members of Kreator weren’t even old enough to drive and had to take off from school to record their debut album. These kids just screw around for fun, make some music that gets noticed, then never have to work real jobs or worry about anything for the rest of their lives. They become brands that are no longer held to any standard by the masses. All of those dummies just know that Band X is “cool” and buy everything they release, go to their shows and buy their t-shirts. It doesn’t matter that the band has been phoning it in since before the Berlin wall came down. Regardless, at least those people (and many others) are making a living off of their own work from long ago. 

Out of the innumerable bands whose existence is totally unnecessary, Mayhem has to be near the top of the list. Twenty-four long years have passed since the official release of De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. In the two and a half decades since then, they have only produced four more full-lengths, all of which were meaningless and generic trash. More than almost any other band still in existence, Mayhem epitomizes a group that has just coasted off their reputation. Just look at all of the low-effort releases that they have signed off on in recent years such as Live in Zeitz, Live in Sarpsborg, Live in Jessheim and even the Life Eternal E.P. All of the poor-quality live recordings have been available for decades, on various bootlegs, and the alternate mix/takes for De Mysteriis... is just too similar to be worthwhile. These guys are shameless in their quest to squeeze every last drop that they can from “their” past. It’s pathetic and definitely goes against everything that real black metal should stand for (not that they are alone in such behaviour). They know that they have no chance of creating anything worthy of the legacy associated with the name Mayhem, and they are desperate to cash in on that reputation for as long as possible. Just look at De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas Alive, for yet another example. There’s a reason that 99% of the audience just comes for the old material and that is because they haven’t done anything notable since then. If they could pull it off, they would go full-on KISS with the merchandising and whoring of their name. But that isn’t even the worst part of it all.

Who built the reputation of Mayhem? Who created the iconic songs and the memorable lyrics? Who came up with the aesthetic? The answer is quite simple. The legacy of Mayhem is based mostly on the work of Euronymous and Dead. It is well documented that Euronymous certainly had help from Snorre Ruch in developing, what would become, the typical Norwegian black metal style of guitar riff. Can most people that attend modern Mayhem gigs even name their guitarists? Probably not, because those guys are just cogs in a machine, like the placeholder that was there before them. Name one classic Mayhem song post-1994. There isn’t one. All of those rotten-sounding live recordings feature Euronymous on guitar and most feature Dead on vocals. These two have been posthumously whored out in almost the same fashion as someone like Kurt Cobain. Most of the stuff is worthless and sounds awful, but Euronymous and Dead are lurking somewhere in the noise, so dimwits throw down their parents’ hard-earned money anyway. The only stuff with the classic lineup that is worth having is Live in Leipzig, Out from the Dark and the two studio tracks that they did in 1990, all of which were officially released a long time ago. However, the remaining members don’t care about quality. If they found recordings of Euronymous and Dead suffering from explosive diarrheah, they would absolutely try to make a few dollars off of it. Why? Because Jan Axel Blomberg and Jørn Stubberud are a couple of bums that are incapable of creating anything meaningful and prefer to rest on the laurels of other people. In fact, it gets even worse than that. 

According to various interviews and letters, Euronymous had a great deal of problems with these two, as neither one was all that serious or dedicated to Mayhem. Jørn was a bassist, which means exactly nothing in this music, and his lyrical contributions to Deathcrush were comical. By all accounts, he preferred to spend time with his girlfriend and didn’t show enough devotion. After he left the band (maybe the only noble action of his life), Euronymous made it very clear that he wouldn’t have lasted too much longer anyway. As for Jan, he was just a drunk who ruined gigs with his alcoholism. He was more likely to be listening to glam rock and chasing skirts in Oslo than concerning himself with Mayhem. Unfortunately, competent drummers have always been in high demand and others simply have to tolerate their baggage, in a lot of cases. Dead actually wanted to get rid of Jan in favour of Faust, from Emperor. It seems likely that, if Euronymous lived, Jan would have been replaced sooner or later. By the time De Mysteriis... was recorded, there were only two official members of Mayhem. A matter of months later, through sheer dumb luck, this guy was the last man standing. With all of the publicity that Norwegian black metal had gotten, (mostly for the wrong reasons), Jan certainly smelled opportunity. No one would care about him or any other project he participated in, but the reputation and name recognition of Mayhem was quite valuable. Jørn was soon welcomed back, along with former session vocalist Maniac (possibly to further legitimize the new lineup), and they began the decades-long rape of the band’s corpse. They have since replaced him with another former session vocalist whose greatest claim to fame was his rather controversial performance on the band’s first L.P. To date, none of these men have contributed anything further to the band’s legacy. They, and whoever happens to be handling guitar duties at any given time, have done nothing but cash in on a reputation that they had no part in creating. (No consideration should be given to Jørn’s claims of writing “half” of De Mysteriis..., as he has contradicted himself so many times and it seems rather convenient to claim the work of a man who died back in 1993 and thus cannot weigh in on the subject). 

Just to make it clear, I’ve read and heard enough to think that neither Euronymous nor Dead were particularly likeable people, themselves. I’ll never agree with the decision to take and distribute those death photos, nor do I think that torturing and killing animals somehow makes one more genuine with regard to this music, and there are plenty of other examples of those two demonstrating questionable behaviour. Nonetheless, that doesn’t change the fact that they were irreplaceable and embodied the true essence of Mayhem. Twenty-four years after the release of the band’s only relevant album, and with the true creative forces behind it long dead, the degenerate drummer and bassist get to keep making a living off the work and likenesses of other people. The real Mayhem died and should have been buried over two decades ago but, instead, still exists as a cash-grab and nostalgia show. They just leech off of the past, like so many other bands, without a single shred of integrity. 

How pathetic that these middle-aged losers have to spend the rest of their days trying to pretend as if they’re still 18 or 20 years old. In most cases, after the first couple albums, musicians lose their passion and creativity. Then again, it’s all business and they likely can’t make it in the real world. Too bad the idiot fans think it’s art and that any of it means anything. It doesn’t. You’re just a customer and you’re purchasing a product. Nothing more. Fans often get disappointed, thinking that if a band is still around then there’s a chance they’ll recapture the old magic and make another classic. Not only is that practically impossible, but that’s not even the goal of the musicians. They’re just pumping out another unit. Don’t be fooled into thinking otherwise. 

Ultimately, none of this matters. Just some random thoughts.

Copyright 2006-2021, Noctir