Black Metal, and more specifically the Norwegian Black Metal scene has at times been the center of controversy, with a peak in notoriety during the early 90's after a series of murders, church burnings and one suicide in particular. At the heart of all of these events, related either directly or indirectly, is Mayhem, Norway's pioneering Black Metal band. This specific band profile, as well as the upcoming band profile for Burzum, will be a little more in-depth, going into the details, in an attempt to clarify many of the false rumours and fake information surrounding Mayhem, the early Norwegian Black Metal scene, or the individuals involved, that have been spread over the years in books, magazines, documentaries and around the Internet.
The Beginning Of Norwegian Black Metal
Mayhem was formed in Oslo, Norway, in 1984 by guitarist Øystein "Euronymous" Aarseth, drummer Kjetil Manheim and bassist Jørn "Necrobutcher" Stubberud, with the band name being inspired by the Venom song "Mayhem with Mercy" from their 1981 debut album Welcome To Hell. During their first years of existence Mayhem did not have a permanent singer as such, and vocal duties were shared between Euronymous and Necrobutcher during rehearsals, and originally with Eirik "Messiah" Nordheim and later Sven-Erik "Maniac" Kristiansen as guest singers during studio recordings and their first live performances in 1986.
In 1986 Mayhem released their first demo titled Pure Fucking Armageddon, and vocalist Maniac stayed with the band while they recorded their first EP titled Deathcrush which was released the following year under Euronymous' own recently formed label, named Posercorpse Music. Deathcrush, which coincidentally was the first strictly Black Metal studio recording ever made by any Norwegian Black Metal band, was limited to only 1000 copies, and did not take very long to sell out, as Mayhem was already well known within the growing Norwegian Black Metal scene. Not long after the release of Deathcrush, vocalist Maniac and founding drummer Manheim left Mayhem in late 1987, and after Euronymous tried out several musicians to fill in their spots, in early 1988 he finally decided on having Swedish vocalist Per Yngve "Dead" Ohlin and local Oslo drummer Jan Axel "Hellhammer" Blomberg as permanent replacements.
With Dead as their singer, Mayhem soon gained notoriety for their live performances as, in addition to the presence of impaled pig and sheep heads in front of the stage, Dead would sometimes cut himself on stage with knives or fragments of broken glass. One such concert was recorded in 1990 as a live album at the Eiskeller Club in Leipzig titled Live In Leipzig, which became their only official live album with Dead as vocalist, although it would remain unreleased until 1993. Other "atmospheric" effects reserved by Dead for some live performances were throwing pieces of rotten meat into the audience, the burial of his clothes weeks before the concert, and keeping dead crows in a bag for inhaling so that he could constantly smell death and decay. Some members of the Norwegian Black Metal scene would later recall that Dead was not a person that was easy to know, and that he did not appear to enjoy being alive.
In 1990, members of Mayhem moved to what Hellhammer described as "an old house in the forest" not far from Oslo, Norway, where they began composing the songs for their first full length album which would be titled De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas.
Sadly, before the album could be completed, Dead commited suicide on the 8th of April, 1991, in the house that the band owned. He was discovered in his room by Euronymous several hours after he had first slit his wrists and finally killed himself from a shotgun blast to the head. His brief suicide note apologized for the blood and for firing the weapon inside the house. Before reporting the death of Dead to the authorities, Euronymous purchased a disposable camera and photographed the suicide scene after rearranging several items. One of these photographs later appeared as the cover for the infamous bootleg album Dawn Of The Black Hearts released in 1995. Euronymous also collected several skull fragments which were later worn as necklaces by Euronymous and Hellhammer as a tribute, and although rumours that Euronymous "cooked and ate parts of Dead's brain" have long since been declared false, some publications still feel the need to state this fake information as fact.
Bassist Necrobutcher decided to leave Mayhem shortly after Dead's suicide, and Stian "Occultus" Johansen joined as a replacement for vocalist as well as bass guitarist, however he left the band after only a few months. Occultus still remained close to Mayhem, helping out at Euronymous's recently opened record shop in Oslo named "Helvete". In July 1993, as a tribute to Dead, Mayhem officially released their first live album Live In Leipzig, which had previously been recorded back in 1990.
Increase In Notoriety
Not before long, Varg Vikernes, friend of Euronymous and solo musician of Norwegian Black Metal project Burzum, joined Mayhem as bass guitarist and in mid 1993 Mayhem resumed work on the recording of their first full length album, De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. Additionally, fellow Norwegian Snorre "Blackthorn" Ruch from the band Thorns joined as second guitar, while Hungarian singer Attila Csihar from Tormentor fame joined as vocalist. Recording of the album took place at the Grieg Hall studio in Bergen, Norway, where a number of legendary Norwegian Black Metal albums by prominent bands have also been recorded.
Over the course of 1993, due in part to the then unsolved murder of a homosexual man in Lillehammer by Emperor drummer Bård "Faust" Eithunthis in 1992 and the ever increasing number of church burnings throughout Norway, there was growing negative attention from the Norwegian media and police towards Mayhem and the Norwegian Black Metal scene in general. Consequently, Euronymous was forced to shut down his Oslo record shop "Helvete", the basement of which had become the local gathering place for a small group of Norwegian Black Metal musicians that became known as the "Black Circle", although according to Vikernes and Faust, this name was void of any real meaning, and was simply used as a name by which to call themselves for the sake of it. These accounts contrast greatly with some books and documentaries that falsely portray this gathering of musicians as some kind of cult.
Also worth mentioning is that Euronymous had used the record shop as the headquarters for his own record label "Deathlike Silence", which was the first record label to deal exclusively with Black Metal, and proved decisive in swaying the opinions of other record labels that until then had preferred to avoid dealing with Black Metal at all.
Although the closure of the "Helvete" store in Oslo had an impact on the movement that Euronymous had inspired amongst up-and-coming Black Metal musicians, it did not prevent them from planning ever grander attacks in their campaign against the church. Most notably, to coincide with the release of De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, Vikernes and Euronymous planned on blowing up the Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim, Norway, which would also appear on the cover of the album. However, one more unfortunate event was yet to happen that would drastically change the future of Mayhem, Black Metal, and the general public's perception of extreme metal music forever.
The End Of An Era
On the night of August 10th, 1993, Varg Vikernes, together with Snorre "Blackthorn" Ruch, travelled 500 kilometres from Bergen to Oslo and murdered Euronymous, although the exact circumstances and events that led up to the murder are still unclear, as Vikernes, the only living witness, claims that Euronymous was planning on torturing him to death while recording the event, and that his intentions upon arriving at Euronymous' apartment were to simply tell him to "fuck off" and forget about him, but that Euronymous had attacked him first, and that he had acted in self defense. Euronymous was found dead outside his apartment with 23 stab wounds, the majority of which Vikernes claims were caused by him falling on broken glass in the ensuing struggle. Blackthorn waited outside the whole time and was unaware of what had happened until it was too late.
Vikernes was arrested within a few days after the police received a tip from the media, and was later sentenced to 21 years in prison for the murder of Euronymous as well as several charges of church arson. 21 years is the maximum prison sentence in Norway. Blackthorn was sentenced to 8 years in prison for being an accomplice. The trial received widespread attention by the press, always hungry for anything remotely controversial. Vikernes was released from prison in 2009 and has continued to release material under the Burzum project.
The release of De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas was delayed further still, as Euronymous's parents demanded that drummer Hellhammer, the only remaining member of Mayhem, re-record the bass guitar parts that were originally recorded by Vikernes, and although he assured them that he would re-record the bass parts himself, he later opted to leave them in as he thought it would be "appropriate" for the murderer and murder victim to both appear on the same recording. Curiously, some people have claimed that to date, De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas remains the only album in any genre of music where both a murderer and the murderer's victim are recorded together, although since Euronymous had also recorded some guitar parts for some of Vikernes' songs for his solo project Burzum, this claim can be disputed.
It should also be noted that De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas includes the last lyrics written by Dead before commiting suicide as well as the last recorded guitar work by Euronymous before his death. The album was finally released on May 24th, 1994, through Euronymous's label "Deathlike Silence", and has since become a cult classic and one of Black Metal's most revered and inspirational works.
Euronymous is widely regarded as the prime inspiration for many legendary Black Metal bands including Darkthrone, Emperor, Marduk, Satyricon and Immortal to name a few, as well as countless musicians that have in turn been inspired by these bands until the present day. More importantly, Euronymous has been credited with being the catalyst for the whole Norwegian Black Metal movement and making it what it is today, as well as defining the characteristic tremolo guitar picking that is a hallmark of the traditional Black Metal sound.
Change Of Sound With Blasphemer
After the release of De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, drummer Hellhammer put Mayhem on hold, although he soon decided to restart the band in 1995 and by the end of the year he had recruited a new line-up which consisted of Rune "Blasphemer" Eriksen from Aura Noir on guitar, and previous Mayhem musicians Maniac and Necrobutcher on vocals and bass guitar respectively. In 1996 Mayhem released a compilation album titled Out From The Dark, which was a recording of the bands last rehearsal to feature Dead, recorded in 1991.
Their first studio recording with the new line-up was the EP Wolf's Lair Abyss, released in 1997 through Misanthropy Records, which is without doubt one of the bands finest recordings, and arguably the best performance from vocalist Maniac, who would later be heavily criticized for his vocal performance on other Mayhem recordings a well as his live performances. After releasing Wolf's Lair Abyss, Mayhem embarked on a series of live shows across Europe in 1998, with one particular concert in Milan, Italy, featuring a guest performance by Attila Csihar, who had previously collaborated with Mayhem by providing vocal duties on the band's masterpiece De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. The Milan show was recorded as a live album and released the following year under the title Mediolanum Capta Est, which is Latin for "Milan Is Taken".
In 1999 Mayhem released their first split album, in collaboration with the short lived Norwegian Black Metal project Zyklon-B, titled Necrolust / Total Warfare, featuring just one song from each band.
In the year 2000, Mayhem entered the studio to record their second full length album titled Grand Declaration Of War, with all songs being composed by Blasphemer and all lyrics being written by Maniac. This album marked a complete change in style, putting forward an almost unrecognizable sound in comparison to previous Mayhem works. Apart from the cleaner and less distorted guitars, together with vocalist Maniac's spoken word approach to singing, the album also incorporated various electronic elements and samples. Not surprisingly, the album was rejected by fans and critics alike, and to this day remains as Mayhem's most controversial and polarizing recording, as a fraction of fans did enjoy the change in direction, and praised the albums originality.
During the following years Mayhem continued to play concerts around the globe, releasing several live albums and compilations such as European Legions, US Legions, Live In Marseille 2000 and Legions Of War, as well as their second split album named Jihad / Freezing Moon released in collaboration with English band The Meads Of Asphodel. One notable incident during this time is that of a fan suffering a fractured skull at one of Mayhem's concerts in 2003 after being hit by a severed sheep's head that had been thrown into the audience.
Chimera & The Return Of Attila
In 2004 Mayhem began recording their third full length album, titled Chimera, which was released through Season Of Mist in March of the same year. This album marked a partial return to their traditional roots, with solid performances from all of the bands members, combining raw aggression with technical play styles, although the same could not be said for some of their live performances during this period, as Maniac was kicked out of the band later that year due to drinking problems which, according to bassist Necrobutcher, were induced by stage fright. Hungarian singer Attila Csihar, who had already proven himself on Mayhem's landmark album De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, made a permanent return to the band. Maniac has since kicked his drinking habit, stating in an interview that he realized that enough was enough when on one occasion he "woke up" to find himself hanging from a balcony several stories up.
In 2007 Mayhem released their fourth, and for now most recent, full length album titled Ordo Ad Chao, which translates from latin to "Order To Chaos", and is a play on words of the latin expression Ordo Ab Chao meaning "Order From Chaos". This album marked yet another change in style, with the band reducing the technical aspects of the music and providing a more raw and obscure sound. Drummer Hellhammer mentioned that the drum tracks were not equalized and "the production sounds necro as fuck", but stated that this was how it was intended. With many fans still disappointed with Grand Declaration Of War and not completely satisfied with Chimera, the change in sound and style proved decisive for Mayhem, as Ordo Ad Chao would go on to receive the prestigious Spellemann Award for Best Metal Album in February 2008, and also ranked 12th in Norway's music charts.
Departure Of Blasphemer
In 2008 Blasphemer left the band after being the main driving force in the songwriting since he joined Mayhem in 1995, stating that although he was satisfied with what had been acomplished, he did not feel the desire to continue with Mayhem and instead wanted to concentrate on working with Portuguese band Ava Inferi. He was replaced by fellow Norwegian Krister "Morfeus" Dreyer from Limbonic Art fame, and the following year Mayhem announced that a second guitarist, Silmaeth from French Black Metal band Vorkreist would also be joining the band.
Since the release of Ordo Ad Chao in 2007, Mayhem have not released any new material, although the band is still active and performs on a regular basis at live shows around the globe, occasionally touring with other Black Metal bands and headlining some metal festivals. Their most recent controversy was regarding the destruction of a hotel room in Holland. In 2009 they released an EP titled Life Eternal, which contains previously unreleased material from the recording sessions for several songs that featured on their 1994 album De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas.
In 2011 Silmaeth left Mayhem and has been replaced by Norwegian guitarist Teloch for live shows, who had previously played with Nidingr. Hopefully, it will not be long before Mayhem return to the studio to work on what could be their fifth full length album.
- Last updated by Imperator on 6th September, 2021 -
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