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Deathcrush (1987)
 

After a handful of demos, Mayhem released the now legendary Deathcrush E.P. in August 1987. This was years before the band would be consumed with controversy. Back then, Mayhem was simply the most extreme band in Norway. In fact, they were the first Norwegian Black Metal band, though their sound owed much more to Venom in those days. Deathcrush fits in well with releases like Sarcofago's INRI more so than old Bathory.

My first exposure to Mayhem came from De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, so I was quite surprised when I heard Deathcrush, some months later. The music was uglier and more barbaric, while also being very primitive and unrestrained, as opposed to the precision that is found on their debut L.P. I was initially put off by Maniac's vocals, though they grew on me with time. It's too bad Dead hadn't joined the band by this point, as the live versions done during his tenure with the band had a nice feel to them.

The E.P. begins with an odd intro, "Silvester Anfang", composed for the band by Conrad Schnitzer. It doesn't possess a very evil atmosphere, at all, but it is strange and that may be the effect that they were striving for. It kind of has the feel of a nightmarish war march.

This leads in to the first proper song, "Deathcrush". The opening riff sounds like something inspired by early Hellhammer/Celtic Frost. The vocals are made up of indecipherable screams, though it doesn't really matter as they simply become like another instrument, adding to the overall feeling. As the song speeds up, everything has kind of a sloppy feel but it works well enough within the context of this mini-album. There are brief glimpses into what would come on their L.P.

"Chainsaw Gutsfuck" is the next song, beginning with a very slow doom riff. It slowly builds up, creating a sense of dread, before the riff changes. This mid-paced song is actually pretty catchy for brutal, maniacal Norwegian Black Metal. Perhaps Venom's rock tendencies are shining through, here. Maniac's shrieks sound very desperate as the fuzzy guitars rumble beneath.

The next song is a pretty horrible cover of Venom's "Witching Hour". Messiah's vocals are more fitting for this song, but the fact that it is sped up so much kind of takes away from the feeling and it is over far too quickly. It's not bad, but it could have been executed better.

"Necrolust" is next and it features more doom riffs from Euronymous, as well as Necrobutcher's rumbling bass. The opening riffs are similar in feel to the early moments of "Deathcrush" and "Chainsaw Gutsfuck", though the song does speed up. This song is filled with raw energy and goes straight for the throat, tearing it open and reveling in the fresh spray of blood. Maniac's anguished wailing is like a precursor to what Varg Vikernes would do on the Burzum albums.

"(Weird) Manheim" is an unsettling and eerie instrumental that creates a dark and obscure atmosphere. It is all too brief, however, and is overpowered by the thrashing Hell that is "Pure Fucking Armageddon". This song features Messiah on vocals, once more, and it is a raging and relentless display of high-speed mass destruction via insanely distorted guitars and schizophrenic drumming.

Deathcrush has its flaws, like anything else, but it is a solid E.P. of 80s Black Metal and can easily be enjoyed on its own merit, regardless of the hype that later surrounded Mayhem and the whole Norwegian scene. Many may only pick this up just to have it in their collection because of its historical significance, but if you are letting it sit on a shelf and collect dust then, not only are you a horrible poser, but you're cheating yourself out of something that is well worth listening to.
 
(20 Mar. 2009)

 
 

It was a cold November night in 1990 when, arguably, the most influential band of the Norwegian Black Metal scene took the stage in Leipzig, Germany. For Dead, Euronymous, Necrobutcher and Hellhammer, it was, most likely, an ordinary night. Mayhem was at its creative peak, and in the midst of changing how Black Metal was perceived, yet none present were aware that they were taking part in a performance that would later be deemed legendary and of great significance. The show was captured on tape and bootlegged to the point where it came to the attention of Euronymous, himself. Following Dead's suicide, a deal was made with a small Italian label, Obscure Plasma Records, to release the performance as an official tribute to their former vocalist. And thus the Live in Leipzig album was given birth, in 1992.

My first experience with this record came several years back, in the days when such music was not so readily available. One could not just jump on the internet and find anything and everything within mere moments. It was late at night and I was listening to a college radio program. I called in to request some old Mayhem material that featured Dead on vocals, and was put off for a couple weeks. Finally, I spoke to the DJ and he was preparing to play some that night. I had to go out, but left a tape in the stereo and recorded the remainder of the show. When I returned, it was around two in the morning and the room was lit with only candles as the cassette recounted the tale of that night's program. The majority of the songs were rather mundane or things that I was already familiar with. However, as the live rendition of "Funeral Fog" began, I could feel something stirring within me. De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas was an album that I knew very well, yet to hear the song in such a raw and primal manner caused it to take on a new meaning. However, once Dead's vocals began to bleed forth from the speakers, the whole atmosphere of the room changed. The shadows that danced upon the walls, from the flickering of the candles, now seemed to move in an ominous rhythm. I knew in that instant that this man's death was a tragic waste of potential and left the Mayhem L.P. as a mere shadow of what it could have been.

Though he was in the band for nearly three and a half years, Dead's legacy lives on through various bootleg recordings of live shows and rehearsals, as well as the December Moon demo from his previous band, Morbid. The fact that only two studio tracks were ever recorded with this classic line-up is all the more disappointing. And yet therein lies the primary appeal of Live in Leipzig. This is the only official Mayhem release to feature Dead's versions of some of the songs that ended up on their debut L.P. What one finds upon listening to this is something quite different from the aforementioned Morbid demo. In a live setting, many of the subtle effects are not as practical, and what the listener is exposed to is the sound of a man possessed. From the opening moments of the record, as his voice cuts through the crowd noise, proclaiming "Only death is real", throughout the tracks from the 1987 Deathcrush demo and on to half of the songs from the upcoming De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas release, it is impossible to not feel the dark essence and force of evil that was conjured up by this otherworldly being. Regarding the old material, Maniac's efforts on the demo are completely destroyed and forgotten, though where Dead truly shines is on the new songs. As one that actually appreciates Attila's work on the studio album, it is still somewhat saddening to hear the potential that these songs once had, Dead had poured himself into these compositions and through his vision had the truly risen from the rotten graves. Without him, they are clearly lacking something. Few things match the ferocity heard in his voice on "Funeral Fog", or the morbid chill that runs up your spine as he introduces "Freezing Moon" with the haunting line:

"When it's cold... and when it's dark... the freezing moon can obsess you!"

One has to wonder how accurately this live performance reflects his true vision for these songs, as one would assume that the tactics that he employed on the December Moon demo would have played some part in the final recordings and that the extra rawness in his voice may simply have come from the necessities of the live setting.

As for the music, itself, there are some notable differences when compared to the proper versions of these songs. The Deathcrush material has been slowed down and takes a somewhat doomier approach. Perhaps this was just to give them less of an upbeat feel, or maybe to emphasize the vocals and give Dead a chance to really get into the songs without screaming to the extent that Maniac had done. While enjoyable, the older songs are really just filler when compared to the new stuff. Songs such as "Freezing Moon" and "Pagan Fears" just seem to flow much better, showing the growth that the band had experienced and the increased talent in songwriting. Due to the inability to record a proper album for so many years, the band lived and breathed these songs for quite some time and had plenty of opportunities to make changes as the years passed by. This is quite evident in the song that stands out as the highlight of the entire record, "Buried by Time and Dust".

"Many years had passed since the funeral... buried ages ago..."

The studio version contains some brilliant riffs during the middle section, yet what is found here is quite different. It sounds as if one of the riffs is still there, in a much cruder form, accompanied by something completely different from what made it to the album. In several interviews, Euronymous made mention of tossing out riffs that were not good enough and constantly working on the material to make it as dark and evil as it could possibly be. In this case, a great riff was tossed out, which makes these older versions of the song all the more valuable. During this particular riff, Dead's voice sounds more evil and possessed than at any other part of the record, and these brief moments stand as proof that utter genius was lost as this band began to fall apart. The atmosphere that is creating by this passage is difficult to describe, as something powerful reaches out of the dark and grips your heart. In those moments, you can feel the experience of crawling through six feet of rotten dirt and rising among the graves in the dead of night, under the full moon, consumed with some inhuman need for blood and death.

The various feelings that the listener is imbued with are all the more impressive when one takes into consideration the sound of the recording and the production values. This does not possess the crisp and cold sound that is present on the full-length, but the mix is not bad at all. Unlike the tracks that appeared on the "Projections of a Stained Mind" compilation, the drums do not dominate the sound and the guitar riffs are quite audible. There is a healthy balance between the two, which combine to provide the perfect backdrop for Dead's barbaric frenzy. In a sense, the overall sound here is very appropriate, as the rawness of the recording keeps alive the 80s spirit in which these songs had begun to be crafted, and offers a different perspective than the later versions. One can really feel the energy and passion that each member is playing with, as if the entire band is under the spell of the dark gods. The level of intensity stands in sharp contrast to the dull sounds of the crowd, probably caught completely by surprise at what they were witnessing.

From the iconic cover image to the classic songs and the legendary performance by a band that was in its prime, Live in Leipzig is a great example of what Black Metal is supposed to be about. It's raw and dirty and dripping with evil, yet not without its more epic and memorable moments as well. Don't be tempted to listen to the fools that tell you that this is merely a novelty item that should be checked out once or twice or simply purchased for its supposed cult value. This is the true representation of Mayhem and a view into the dark past of a band that was crucial for the development of Black Metal at a time when most of the old ones had gone silent or mutated into something unrecognizable. Seek this out at all costs and, if you already own it, don't let it sit on the shelf and collect dust. Put it in the stereo, turn the volume all the way up and allow the true essence of black purity wash over your pathetic spirit.
 
(3 Aug. 2011)

 
De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas (1994)
 
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Mayhem's first full-length, De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, was one of the first Norwegian Black Metal albums that I picked up. I got this around the same time that I was acquiring my first albums from Darkthrone and Burzum. Some people seem to have a hard time digesting this album, but I was drawn to it, instantly. I didn't hear any of the material with Dead until a couple months later, so I had nothing else to compare it to; thus, I wasn't disappointed. Thanks to my best friend, I'd heard one song from this album already, and the melodies haunted my mind to the point where I had to get this album as soon as I could. One cold October night, my search was over and I retreated to the shadows to listen to this, in its entirety, by the light of black candles. I knew I was about to experience something amazingly dark and I wanted no distractions. The following night, I attempted to share this dark magic with a girl that I knew. She was so creeped out that she asked me to turn it off. Suffice it to say, she wasn't welcome in my home after that. But I didn't need her. I didn't need anyone. During a time of solitude, I had all that I really needed: music.

De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas shall forever stand as a seminal piece of Black Metal history. For six years, Euronymous laboured over this album. Riffs were worked on and then thrown away because they weren't dark and evil enough. The lineup changed, considerably, from Deathcrush. In 1988, Dead and Hellhammer joined the fold. After recording some rehearsal tracks and playing legendary gigs across Europe, in very obscure places, the band suffered setback after setback. Euronymous opened a shop, called Helvete, and was seen as somewhat of a mentor to the Norwegian Black Metal scene. Mayhem was the first Black Metal band in Norway, and they had the respect of the younger bands. However, the shop wasn't doing so well. His record label, Deathlike Silence Productions, released albums from Abruptum, Merciless and Burzum. He even re-released the Mayhem E.P., yet the label wasn't fairing much better than the shop. Dead, who had contributed so much, regarding the whole direction of the band, from lyrics to aesthetics, killed himself in April 1991. Shortly thereafter, Necrobutcher left the band. Euronymous was forced to sit in the background as the younger bands, such as Darkthrone, Burzum, Immortal and Emperor all released albums. As the others took the underground by storm, the members of Mayhem were living in poverty, too poor to even record their debut L.P.

Finally, in the summer of 1993, Mayhem entered Grieghallen Studios to record their masterpiece. Euronymous and Hellhammer were joined by Attila Csihar, from Hungarian Black Metal band Tormentor, and Varg Vikernes, of Burzum. Additional guitars were handled by Blackthorn. The Prince of Death had assembled quite a cast for this album. Sadly, for reasons only known to Varg, himself, Euronymous would not live to see his creation released. That would come only after his brutal demise. After the media blizzard died down and all of the hype faded away, nothing was left but the music. The music is what's important.

"Funeral Fog" bursts forth like the bitter cold winds of a Winter storm, with blasting drums, fast tremolo riffs and a haunting lead harmony, weaving throughout the controlled chaos. Attila's vocals can only be described as horrifyingly grim. The music is utterly dark and one can easily see that Euronymous took advantage of all the time he had to perfect every note.

"Freezing Moon" is next, and the title could not be more appropriate as this begins with one of the coldest riffs ever. As with the rest of the lyrics, these were written by Dead. They are all very morbid and possess an obsessive quality. They imbue the listener with darkness and fear, conveying the fragility of life and the ease with which it can end so quickly. The simplicity of the lyrics masks very dark and troubled depths and a yearning for peace which, unfortunately for Dead, only his demise could bring. As the song slows down, the atmosphere is that of doom and an inhuman bloodlust. Varg's bass lines can be heard clearly, at this point, as well. There is an eerie solo that suits the song, perfectly. Attila's tormented and possessed vocals and Dead's morbid lyrics make for a good match. The song speeds up once more, with the freezing riffs carrying it to its end.

The next song begins with more of the same cold and dark riffing, as the drums take a moment to build up. "Cursed In Eternity" was actually the first Mayhem song I ever heard, and I remember being drawn in by the haunting melodies, though the very grim vocals, droning on in an inhuman way, took another listen to fully grasp. Everything comes together to create an atmosphere of mortal terror. The riffs are so important to this album, yet Attila's dramatic vocal approach also aids greatly.

"Pagan Fears" starts out with a, somewhat, unorthodox rhythm. It sounds more like something from Deathcrush, yet this doesn't last very long. The song speeds up and Dead's dark tale unfolds. This album is a good example of what Black Metal is supposed to be. Guitars, first and foremost.

"Staring obsessed at the moon..."

"Life Eternal bursts forth with fury before quickly settling down into a mid-paced tempo. The riffs here seem to be very similar to what one would find on an old Burzum album, and I often wonder if he was either influenced by this song, or if he had some sort of influence on the song. This is the longest song on the album, and possesses a very dark and mournful feeling. Near the end, there is a moment where there is nothing but a freezing tremolo guitar riff that is cutting through your flesh... This riff is brilliant and this is one of the best moments on the whole album. The riff is then accompanied by blasting drums and insane vocals. Some of Dead's most poignant lines follow:

"What will be left of me when I am dead?
There was nothing when I lived"

"From the Dark Past" follows and features somewhat of a Thrash riff, as the song builds up. This is cast aside in favor of typical tremolo riffing after a brief time. More grim moans and screams from Attila carry the listener into a nightmare from which there is no escape. The most atmospheric part of the song comes as most everything else stops and leaves the guitar all alone. Unfortunately, Hellhammer keeps interrupting with unecessary drum fills. He should have taken his cues from Fenriz and understood that less is more. It doesn't ruin the song, but it does work against the feeling that was being created with the melody.

As the album approaches the end, "Buried By Time and Dust" speeds through with great intensity. This song is very straightforward and features some of the best riffs on the whole album. The lead harmony is absolutely brilliant and the song works well in this sped-up version, as opposed to the way it had been played on the live recordings.

"De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas" begins with the single best riff on here. The gates of Hell have been opened and demons now flood the earth. This song is an epic of pure evil and an excellent way to end the album. The riffs are cold as the winds coming off a glacier, and the lyrics tell of a sacrificial ritual in the dead of night. Attila's vocals are at their most theatric, here, and they work very well.

There has always been much debate, regarding the vocals. Personally, I've always felt that it was a shame that Dead was unable to record the vocals for this album as I really liked what he did on the studio tracks, "The Freezing Moon" and "Carnage". However, it was impossible for him to do the vocals for this album and I think Attila was a fine choice. His voice is unique and he truly seemed to put forth a lot of effort to channel the darkness intended for these songs. In truth, he sounds fucking possessed, and that suits the music, as well as the lyrics. Besides that, I read in an old interview that Dead was a fan of Tormentor, so it would seem all the more appropriate. All in all, this is a very solid album. Is it the best Black Metal album ever recorded? Probably not. However, it is every bit the classic that it is hailed as and one of the most important Black Metal records ever made. No one can deny the importance of Mayhem for the Norwegian scene, and beyond. It's a pity that the band name was resurrected after the two most important members were long gone.

(9 Sept. 2008)

 
 

Just one look at the original cover of Mayhem's The Dawn of the Black Hearts is enough for even a Black Metal novice to realize that something had gone horribly wrong with this band. During the peak of the Norwegian scene, for better or worse, many lines were crossed. Death threats were hurled against someone for the slightest offense. People were murdered, with little or no provocation. Churches were burned down, which was the most positive of these actions. And yet, despite all of this, many felt that a more significant line was crossed following the suicide of Mayhem's vocalist, Dead. Euronymous felt no sense of loss for his fallen comrade, who had succumbed to a severe depression and a morbid desire to leave this world. The band's founder simply saw an opportunity to continue building the cult-like mystique around Mayhem, taking photos of Dead's corpse (after taking the time to position him a certain way and to lay the instruments of his demise nearby, as if they were props). He then claimed that the suicide was, partially, to protest the fact that Black and Death Metal had become too trendy. Even his own bassist, Necrobutcher, was disgusted enough with this behaviour to quit the band that he had helped to form. While Euronymous, himself, was murdered before getting the chance to use the photos for future Mayhem releases, one of the pictures survived long enough to be used for a bootleg, a few years later. The compilation includes two live recordings, one from 1990 and another from 1986.

The first recording was done in Sarpsborg, Norway in February 1990, which was about nine months prior to the material that is on Live in Leipzig. This performance is the main focus of The Dawn of the Black Hearts, as it features the classic Mayhem line-up of Dead, Euronymous, Necrobutcher and Hellhammer. The set list is exactly the same as that of the aforementioned live album, except for the absence of "Pagan Fears". Otherwise, all of the same tracks from Deathcrush and the upcoming full-length, De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, are present and in the same order. The sound quality is lower, to an extent, though this actually allows one to get a slightly different perspective on Mayhem's live shows, from this period. Whereas the vocals and drums were the loudest elements on Live in Leipzig, everything is buried at an equal depth, here. The guitars seem thicker and more powerful, rather than the thinner sound of the later recording. As bad as the production may seem, it is still superior to the majority of the offerings from the LLN bands. It may take some time for your ears to become attuned to the necro sounds; however, once you make this adjustment, the dark and morbid atmosphere consumes you and takes you back in time to a special period in the history of Black Metal.

Regarding the actual execution of the material, it does seem a bit more primitive, in some cases. It could be due to the poor quality of the recording, but it sounds as if the drumming is sloppy and inconsistent, as if the songs had not been fully worked out. Thankfully, the guitar playing holds everything together and gives the music a sense of structure. It is odd to think how influential Mayhem was, yet few in Norway cared to utilize the serpentine lead solo style. While the slower tempos utilized on the Deathcrush material helps to create an ominous feeling, the true darkness is found in tracks like "Freezing Moon" and "Buried By Time and Dust". The cold tremolo riffs, mournful arpeggios, doom-ridden bass and possessed vocals work well to create a pitch-black atmosphere. It is common for people to be idealized once they die, leading many to claim that they were far better than they actually were. This is so common that when it is actually true, as in the case of Dead, there are those that come out of the woodwork to try chipping away at his legacy with their cynicism. But those words are entirely worthless, as all it takes is for one listen to hear the maniacal and possessed fervor with which Dead approached his role as vocalist for Mayhem.

As for the other recording, it is from a 1986 performance that featured Messiah and Manheim, on vocals and drums. The sound quality is bloody awful and there are times when only the vocals and bits of percussion can be heard. The set consists of a couple of cover songs from both Venom and Celtic Frost. This is quite difficult to enjoy, even for hardcore fans. It is mostly useful just to satisfy curiosities as to what the band's live sound was, back then. Oddly, Messiah sounds much more in line with the likes of Cronos and Tom Warrior, rather than the harsher vocalists that followed him. It is too bad that this set did not include any original material, though it may have been even harder to discern. At least, with the cover songs, anyone familiar with them can more easily pick up on what is going on.

In the end, The Dawn of the Black Hearts is another significant part of Mayhem's legacy. Nearly all recordings from the band's classic era are worth listening to and showcase a group of musicians that were in their creative prime. So unfortunate that they were unable to record a full-length album with this line-up. The older stuff is interesting as well, but certainly the less important of the two. The only real complaint would be the cover art, which cannot be considered anything less than dishonourable to anyone that had any respect for Dead. This image should not be available for everyone's eyes, definitely not for every poser on the internet to use as decoration for their web pages. Somehow, this photo makes the record seem more like exploitation than a proper tribute. Either way, all Mayhem fans should hear this, one way or another.
 
(10 Dec. 2011)

 
 

The Freezing Moon single is a release that is of high interest to any hardcore fan of Mayhem's classic era. The release features two songs that appeared on the CBR compilation, Projections of a Stained Mind back in 1991. Recorded in 1989, these tracks are the only studio recordings made during Dead's tenure in the band. Re-released as a single, in 1996, this served to stir up more interest in the band, prior to their rebirth.

"Freezing Moon" is the quintessential Mayhem song. Right off, one notices that the drums and bass are much higher in the mix and dominate the sound more than they should. Actually, the primary complaint about this recording is that the drums overpower the riffs in some places, but it is not to such an extent as to leave the song bereft of atmosphere. By this point, the song was firmly established and is fairly identical to the version that would later appear on De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. Of course, the music is not the real selling point, here. The vocal performance of Dead is the best captured during his years with the band and offers a small glimpse into what was and what could have been. With all due respect to Attila, this song shows that Mayhem suffered a great loss with the passing of their strange Swedish vocalist. His voice is very morbid and like something that crawled out of a damp grave. It is not strained or over-the-top, as displayed on the many live recordings and rehearsals from this period. Dead shares some similarities with Quorthon, on Under the Sign of the Black Mark, and yet sounds more evil and possessed. This is the standard by which other Black Metal vocalists would come to be judged. As a result, the atmosphere of the track is very dark and truly showcases the development of Mayhem from the days of Deathcrush.

"Carnage" proceeds to destroy the versions found on the Pure Fucking Armageddon demo. Everything is very precise and the song possesses an old school thrash feeling. In particular, one riff near the middle is mildly reminiscent of "Chemical Warfare". The song isn't as dark as the one that precedes it, but still carries a primitive, ugly feeling. Again, the vocals are the highlight, here. As with the previous song, the sound is raw yet clear enough to allow the riffs to be heard.

Freezing Moon captures an important band in their prime, arguably at their creative peak. It's the only studio recording from Mayhem, featuring the classic line-up and is the best example of what Dead was capable of, vocally. While it is a shame that he didn't live long enough to record the full-length, at least some pieces of his work remain. These songs are a great representation of what this band was all about, and epitomize Black Metal itself. An essential release.
 
(31 August 2011)

 
 

By early 1991, Black Metal had gone very deep underground. Bands such as Venom, Bathory and Hellhammer / Celtic Frost had all moved on to different types of music and, though there were a good number of obscure demo bands, only a small handful were able to record actual albums. Groups such as Sabbat, Master's Hammer, Samael, Blasphemy and Root were all doing their part to keep the black flame burning; however, in the bitter cold north the task fell to but one band: Mayhem. Euronymous and his cohorts had been toiling away in the shadows for many years, but one thing after another prevented them from making a proper debut album. They had been surviving on the momentum created by the Pure Fucking Armageddon demo, as well as the Deathcrush E.P. More than that, they maintained some level of visibility due to the interviews and live performances that displayed a true understanding of what Black Metal was supposed to be about. In the process of carrying on the old tradition, they managed to influence many others around them and soon helped to spawn an entire movement. All the while, they were continuing to work on the material that would go on to become the De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas album, constantly rehearsing or putting on memorable live shows. One such rehearsal caught the absolute darkness and evil of this band, released some years later as Out from the Dark.

This is one of the strongest recordings ever made by the classic line-up of Mayhem. It features the guitar-work of Euronymous, Necrobutcher on bass, the percussive skills of Hellhammer and the possessed vocals of Dead. This rehearsal includes seven songs, of which three are from the upcoming L.P. The old songs go as expected, showing minor alterations from the official versions, but retaining the raw black essence that gave birth to them in the first place. Dead vomits forth blasphemies and morbid incantations, bringing these tunes to a new level. Nonetheless, the real highlights are the new songs. "Funeral Fog", "Freezing Moon" and "Buried By Time and Dust" showcase the band's evolution into a much darker musical entity.

The sound is really good for a rehearsal, allowing the guitar melodies to be heard quite well, along with the impassioned vocal performance. Chances are that this is not exactly what Dead would have sounded like, had he survived long enough to make the album. Listening to his efforts on Morbid's December Moon demo, it is easy to see that he was very versatile and would likely have added a lot of subtle touches rather than going all-out as he often did in a live setting. The newer tracks abandon the overt violence and savagery of the old material, opting instead to focus on creating a dark and morbid atmosphere. Each riff has been written with a specific goal in mind, as countless others were tossed aside for not being evil enough. One listen to "Freezing Moon" is evidence enough that Euronymous was striving for nothing less than utter perfection. The cold and deathly aura seeps into your bones and brings physical and spiritual decay from within. Like the black plague, the haunting melodies infect you and bring about the death of what you once were, prior to hearing this. The true highlight of the release is "Buried By Time and Dust", much like the renditions found on "Live in Leipzig" or "Dawn of the Black Hearts". Not only does the absolute morbidity of Dead's voice reach epic levels, but the riffs are pure evil and in a form not found on the studio version. As the final words escape Dead's soon-to-be-rotting corpse, one cannot help but to succumb to the eerie and chilling feeling.

"No one knows my grave
Buried by time and dust"

Out from the Dark is an essential release for anyone that has the slightest interest in Black Metal. This is what Mayhem was all about, and recordings such as this one were instrumental in bringing about the Second Wave of Black Metal. Forget whatever trendy garbage that you have been force-fed and conditioned to accept. This is the pure essence of Black Metal. Seek this out at all costs.
 
(12 Nov. 2011)

 
 

Following the murder of Euronymous, it seemed as if Mayhem would cease to exist. The main creative force behind the band was now in his grave, and following the delayed release of De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas (which was recorded prior to his death), it would appear that Mayhem would rot there with him. This is as it should have been, for despite all of the wasted potential that now rested beneath the earth, there was simply no way for a band to continue without the one person who had given it birth and kept it alive for so many years; the one from whose mind the very concept of the musical movement had spawned. So, for a short time, Mayhem was no more. That is, until a certain greedy drummer realized how much money could be made by cashing in on the notoriety that the band had attained.

Having embraced his Hebrew bloodline, Cashhammer embarked on a mission to revive this dead entity and to breathe life into it once more. He recruited former members, Necrobutcher and Maniac, in order to lend some air of credibility to this scheme. They then picked up a kid by the name of Blasphemer, to try filling the void left behind by Euronymous. Of course, he would never be able to live up to the expectations that many had of him. After a few rehearsals to "see if it felt right", the not-so-true Mayhem began working on new material. After about two years, they finally managed to come up with enough for an E.P. This was even after using some old riffs that were laying around from years past. Quite pathetic, really. So it was in 1997 that Wolf's Lair Abyss was vomited forth.

So what of the music? After a worthless intro that has no place near anything even remotely Black Metal, the song "I Am Thy Labyrinth" uses a riff that was already ripped off once that year (by Emperor), and not even utilized half as well, sad to say. Right away, the production becomes very annoying as the drumming is far too high in the mix. Hellhammer must have gotten a big head and figured that people cared to hear his efforts moreso than even the guitar riffs. As far as the guitars go, the sound is not as cold and crisp as on the debut L.P. Then again, even an identical sound would not have saved this material. The concept was forever lost and now the band existed solely to make whatever money they could from the hard work and glorified corpses of their former bandmates.

By the time "Fall of Seraphs" begins, the listener is already drained from the overwhelming sense of disappointment and the tedious songwriting. While the music is not so bad, during the slower parts, Maniac's vocals completely ruin the atmosphere and one cannot help but laugh at his feeble attempt to emulate Attila. Remembering interviews with Euronymous that made mention of trashing many guitar riffs because they weren't dark enough, one can see that the new version of Mayhem would not be hindered by such integrity and would merely toss on anything that came to mind.

"Ancient Skin" is the most straightforward Black Metal song on here, and is the most enjoyable as a result. It maintains a rather fast pace, and does not fall into any traps of experimentation. The drumming gets a little overdone, but it is not enough to really detract from the song. The vocals are still pretty awful, but less comical. All in all, it's a shame that they utilized the type of production that they did, as this track probably could have sounded even better with more of a cold feeling.

By the time the final song begins, the entire experience seems more than a little tiring. "Symbols of Bloodswords" is composed of a mixture of generic riffs as well as some more thought-out ideas. Unfortunately, the piece could have used a bit more refinement. It's not bad and, by this point, the listener has most likely gotten used to the various defects in the album. Still, the band needed to end on a very high note to salvage the impression given by this E.P.

Wolf's Lair Abyss is probably the most competent release of post-Euronymous Mayhem, yet it still falls short in many ways. The songwriting seemed to fail in every respect to capture the same type of feeling and atmosphere that was present on the L.P. Though it was important to establish that they were not out to simply copy themselves, the previous line-up set a high standard, one which these guys failed to meet. In particular, due to the circumstances that befell the band and the expectations that their fans had for them, they owed it to everyone involved to put forth the extra effort to make something truly special and in that regard they failed. This E.P. is decent enough, on its own, but does not deserve to be labeled as a Mayhem release.
 
(6 Sept. 2011)

 
 

Mayhem is one of the most respected and criticized bands in all of Black Metal. No one can deny the band's influence in the birth of the Second Wave, and the Norwegian scene in particular. Yet, ever since the classic De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, the band has strayed ever farther from their path. Each time around, fans were hopeful for a return to form, yet Mayhem offered experimental sounds, instead. It was almost as if they were intentionally turning their back on the style that made them so legendary to begin with. Either that, or they simply tried to push the envelope and just failed miserably. Though Maniac was ousted and Attila returned to the fold, there was no way for Blasphemer to ever fill the shoes of Euronymous and he had proven that time and again. And so expectations were quite low in April 2007, as the band released their fourth full-length album, Ordo Ad Chao.

It begins with "A Wise Birthgiver", which gets off to a slow start. The feeling is consumed with dread and impending doom. As Attila's voice rises from the murky depths, an aura of darkness envelopes you. This intro sets the tone, perfectly, and gives hope for what is to come.

"Wall of Water" maintains the dark and gloomy feeling, and one can sense that something really has changed with the songwriting. This is much more straightforward and true to the essence of Black Metal. As things speed up, it becomes evident that the production is rather muddy and the riffs are restrained, somehow. The percussion is a bit easier to hear, but the guitar riffs seem to be in the background. However, the vocals are high enough in the mix to be heard and that is one of the most positive things about the entire album. Attila sounds possessed and gives one of his best performances, ever. As for the music, it never sticks with one tempo for too long. Rather than focusing on certain riffs, the attention is centered on maintaining a pitch-black atmosphere.

The hellish feeling continues on with "Great Work of Ages", which features a lot of faster riffs, mixed in with slow sections that are accentuated by Attila's eerie whispers. Hellhammer's drumming is a little chaotic, but works well for the material. The riffs are all over the place, at times, with no clear structure to the song. In many ways, this is what Black Metal should strive to be; to break free from the formulaic approach and to be more concerned with creating a dark and evil atmosphere.

"Deconsecrate" starts out with otherworldly screams and one has to question how this could come from a human. The answer, of course, is that Attila is hardly human. He utilizes a mix of clean and harsh vocals, creating a sinister effect. Again, the music seems to move from one idea to the next, rarely returning to a previous theme, merely taking the listener on a darkened journey through Hell. For some, this may be too much to take in, but it is all about atmosphere. That cannot be said enough.

The following song is the longest one on here, clocking in at almost ten minutes. "Illuminate Eliminate" is like some hideous beast that crawls out from the abyss to seek out human victims. It bears a feeling of dread, and the vocals add a sense of malevolence to the proceedings. The tension grows as this track slowly builds. A gloomy tremolo riff slithers among the doomed remnants of life now extinguished, as the pace soon picks up. The warmer guitar tone really works for this material as, though many would have preferred a colder sound, this helps imbue the listener with a feeling of experiencing pure Hell. The final minutes of the song sees the introduction of a mournful melody that signifies the beginning of the final descent.

"Psychic Horns" starts out with another mid-paced riff and the sorrowful sound in Attila's voice has now been replaced by pure evil. Like a spirit now fully possessed, he conveys the feeling that there is no turning back. Musically, things are more chaotic and intense, which is good to wake the listener from the trance of the previous song.

"Key to the Storms" is a shorter track that features a lot of busy drum-work, though the pace is not all that fast. In the background, one can hear faint echoes of a cold riff that hearkens back to the band's previous era. Late in the song, one gets the sense that Attila has finally lost his mind, as his ravings go beyond the farthest limits of sanity. Such is the price one must pay to enter the depths of Hell and to approach the throne of the Dark One.

The final song, "Anti", completes the journey into the mouth of the abyss, beyond the illusions of good or evil and toward the great nothingness that awaits us all. The images of Hell were but manifestations of an insane mind, at war with itself to come to grips with the ultimate truth: it is all a big nothing. As the chaotic pounding of drums joins the frenetic riffing, it becomes clear that emptiness shall consume us all. Attila's vocals personify the sound of the abyss swallowing itself, leaving nothing but a cold void.

Ordo Ad Chao is a record that should surprise many. Of course, this is not a triumphant return to the glory of De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. However, what it is, is the band's first relevant release since then. The music, itself, is secondary to the hideously dark atmosphere that oppresses you and the brilliant vocal performance by Attila. For those who had written this band off, long ago, this one is worth checking out.
 
(29 Nov. 2011)

 
 

The story behind De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas often eclipses the actual musical achievement accomplished by the mighty Mayhem. Whether longtime fans or new to Black Metal entirely, it is quite likely that most people reading this know a bit of the history of this Norwegian band, or even a passing familiarity with the murder, suicide and church burnings that have become so much a part of Mayhem's legacy. Even while many will give a nod to the overall importance of this group, far too few will really get past all of the hype and sink their teeth into what is really a classic piece of Black Metal history. A lot of people dismiss De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas as merely an overrated product of the music media. Such creatures are truly ignorant and deserving of being burned alive for even approaching this music, while being so blind to true quality. For the rest of us that appreciate and hold this album in high regard, any small piece of the puzzle is worth tracking down, such as the From the Dark Past bootleg, for example. As time passes, more remnants of that distant time have been unearthed.

Life Eternal is an E.P. that was released just a couple years ago, consisting of material pulled from Attila's personal collection. The songs here are rough mixes of five of the tracks from Mayhem's debut full-length, in somewhat altered form. Far from an attempt at cashing in on the popularity of the band's old material, this seems more like an offering to the dedicated fans to have another piece of that special time before things fell apart, back in 1993. The liner notes include some photographs from the recording session, with one in particular being of interest as it features Euronymous, Varg Vikernes, Snorre Ruch and even Metalion of Slayer Mag fame. The cover art is also intriguing, as it offers a slightly different angle on the image that adorned the original album; quite fitting, as the music also offers a similar view of the music itself.

The most notable difference would have to be the vocal performance. Attila appeared to already have a very firm grasp of what he wanted to accomplish on the album, though it still required a little fine tuning before the final recording sessions. What can be heard here is a vocalist trying out various techniques in order to see what best suited the music and the overall atmosphere of the record. The dissimilarities are often difficult to perceive unless one has spent a significant amount of time listening to the originals, thus knowing each line very well. More noticeable are the various moments when an extra scream or a few additional repetitions of lines are present. When comparing them, it is very fortunate that these excessive bits were dropped. There is also an interesting difference near the end of "Life Eternal", where it sounds like multiple layers are being used for the final lines. A new level of evil is brought to these morose words, originally penned by Dead.

"I am a mortal, but am I human?
How beautiful life is now when my time has come
A human destiny, but nothing human inside
What will be left of me when I'm dead?
There was nothing when I lived"

As for the music, the guitars sometimes sound a little more crisp and the drums seem a little lower in the mix. This is actually a good thing, as the riffs are the most important aspect of this and should never be overpowered by the drums. I once read something that claimed that Hellhammer's drumming was all that held this album together and that Euronymous's guitar melodies were chaotic and nonsensical. I always felt that was an asinine conclusion and by hearing these versions of the songs (with the drums lowered), one can clearly hear that the riffs are certainly forceful and coherent enough to maintain a sense of direction on their own merit. One of the things that people will notice right off is the drum roll that was always present at the beginning of "Funeral Fog", but later dropped for the L.P. This decision was a very wise one, as it enables the music to create more of an initial impact when the album starts out at full intensity like that, without warning. Small things like that can make all the difference in the world.

In the end, Life Eternal is a valuable addition to anyone's Mayhem collection and is certainly worth checking out, whether you are extremely familiar with De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas or not. The material is strong enough to be enjoyed on its own, without the need for comparisons to the L.P. versions. This is a limited release, so be sure to seek this out sooner rather than later.
 
(31 July 2011)

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