THE TRVE MEDVSON’S SANCTUM #2: MAYHEM – 35 YEARS OF PURE FUCKING ARMAGEDDON

Hello and welcome once again to my unholy Sanctum Metallum! This time instead of focusing on a certain theme, topic or genre, I’ll focus on one band, in particular, one band that has been most influential in the development of Black Metal as a genre, that, of course, being THE TRUE MAYHEM!

I suppose most of you reading this know the stories, the suicide, the murder… all that stuff. I’m not here to rethread these in detail, instead what I want to do is focus mostly on the art itself, the music that the band has released throughout the years, as I feel like many of them deserve more attention than they got, some definitely being overlooked classics! I’ll still sprinkle in some of the band’s history throughout, just so you get an impression of the timeline of events while reading, something that is important to grasp at points to really get the circumstances these records were put out in. What I’ll also do is focus on the studio albums, but as you will see, I will also thematize non-album releases that I deem to be important and worthy listens, just not all of them… So, join me and let’s follow the Freezing Moon!

I: Out from the Dark – The Early Years

MAYHEM was created in 1984 by three members in Langhus, Norway. Two years after, the first output of the project would see the light of day on cassette, limited to 100 units.

Pure Fucking Armageddon
1986, Funny Farm

This is the first demo released by the band in 1986. Playing on here are the three previously mentioned founding members: Øystein “Euronymus” Aarseth on guitar, Jørn “Necrobutcher” Stubberud on bass and Kjetil Manheim on drums, with the vocal duties not quite clarified, although it is believed by most that Euronymus and Necrobutcher shared the vocal duties on this. Not much of the later sound of the band is recognizable on this, the texts are very gore-focused and more reminiscent of Death Metal, it being a demo doesn’t help much in that regard, as the vocals are barely audible. I’d say the first demo has lots of thrash-influence, with certain parts also sounding a lot like HELLHAMMER. Still, some songs from this get played at live appearances, mainly “Carnage” and the title track “Pure Fucking Armageddon”! This demo is very raw (of course), but still worth a listen out of curiosity.
(No) Fun fact: The cover already features the addition of “the true” before the band-name. This stems from the fact that multiple bands with the name “Mayhem” existed already, rumors also have it that they once beat up a local band of the same name to “convince” them to not use it anymore.



Deathcrush

16th August 1987, Posercorpse Music

This EP needs no introduction, it’s an immortal classic! The first release to feature vocalist Sven-Erik “Maniac” Kristiansen alongside Eirik “Messiah” Norheim, with one of Maniacs most unhinged and maniacal performances to date, it still has that thrashy edge to it and the texts are still Death Metal like, so I wouldn’t necessarily call this a Black Metal EP. Although the truly crazed vocals do already create a feeling close to what the genre would become later. There are lots of classic tracks on this, such as the title track “Deathcrush”, the heavy “Necrolust” and a studio-quality version of “Pure Fucking Armageddon”. Also featured are more experimental tracks such as the electronic drum-intro “Silvester Anfang” provided by TANGERINE DREAM’s Conrad Schnitzler. A raw masterpiece that stands strong on its own!



II: Follow the Freezing Moon – The Dead Years

After the release of “Deathcrush”, the band faced multiple line-up changes, with Manheim and Maniac both leaving the band. After a short period with two new members, they too left the band… This led to something important as in 1988, two new members would join the band and create what is possibly the most classic line-up the band ever had: Pelle “Dead” Ohlin took over the vocal duties and Jan Axel “Hellhammer” Blomberg joined on drums… The band would tour with this line-up and record multiple gigs (YouTube) they played, many of them to be released later.
Dead took the band into a new, darker direction, being one of the first musicians to wear the classic corpse-paint now so associated with the genre, not for make-up but to truly look like a corpse. Texts now focused more on darkness, depression and also blasphemy & satanism: The creative duo of Ohlin & Aarseth had finally established the satanic image of the band and what is famously a big part of the second wave of Black Metal overall, as well as the sound of the Black Metal riff!

Studio Tracks (1990 Demo)
April 1990, independent release

Why would I include an obscure demo limited to 20 cassette-copies when saying I’ll focus on the most important releases? It’s simple, this a fairly essential release, as it features the only two existing studio recordings of MAYHEM with Dead on vocals! It later got re-released as a picture disk 12’’ in 1996.
On here is quite possibly the best version of “Freezing Moon” in existence, check it out!

Dead took the dark inspirations of his lyricism from his very own inner demons, as he was severely depressed… This ultimately led to him committing suicide in April of 1991, before ever releasing anything official with MAYHEM… This would lead to the release of a tribute.

Live in Leipzig

July 1993, Obscure Plasma

A Tribute to Dead –
died by his own hands in April 1991

Recorded on November 26th 1990 at “Eiskeller Leipzig” (ice-cellar Leipzig), this is not only the last recording of Dead, but also one of the best sounding ones. It features many classic songs and the before mentioned true classic line-up! The tracks sound extremely well here, rendered through Dead’s tortured and uncontrolled screams with the raw live recording only adding to the atmosphere in my opinion. Even if you’re not a fan of live albums, this is essential material for MAYHEM fans and surely one of the best as well as most important live albums of all time!

“When it’s cold, and when it’s dark
the Freezing Moon can obsess you!”

After Dead’s suicide, more line-up changes occurred: Attila Csihar replaced Dead on vocals, Necrobutcher left the band in disgust of Euronymus’ actions (taking photos of Dead’s corpse, collecting pieces of the skull) and Varg Vikernes of BURZUM would step in on bass for the recording of MAYHEM’s debut full-length. Before that could the released, the increasingly intense discord within the band led to the murder of Euronymus by the hands of Vikernes. The album was to be released posthumously and features a tribute to Aarseth on the back of the album packaging.

De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas
24th May 1994, Deathlike Silence Productions

A Tribute to Euronymus
15/04 1968 – 19/08 1993

An undisputed classic, “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas” garnered a lot of attention after the media covered the controversies surrounding the band. But besides that, it is also a masterfully crafted album on its own, including classic tracks such as “Funeral Fog”, “Freezing Moon” and “Life Eternal”, all featuring amazing riffing and excellent drum-work by Hellhammer. Attila’s vocals are completely different from Dead’s before him: A more uncanny, wraith-like style as well as some eerie chanting on the title track, his performance surely splits the fandom of the band. I personally adore his vocal style, although I must admit that he improved a lot since the recordings of this album. “DMDS” could arguably be described as the definitive Black Metal album, I truly believe that it captures the pure essence of what makes the genre great. An all-time classic that will never die and a standing, eternal tribute to the Black Emperor, Euronymus!

“To release the soul
One must die
To find peace inside
You must get eternal”



III: A View from Nihil – The Avantgarde Years

Wolf’s Lair Abyss
31st October 1997, Misanthropy Records

This EP marks the return of both Necrobutcher on bass and Maniac on vocals, as well as introducing an important new band-member, who would be MAYHEM’s guitarist as well as a main songwriter for the albums to come, Rune “Blasphemer” Eriksen. It also indicates a turn in the band’s sound: They start experimenting with more electronic sounds and technical drum-patterns, overall going into an avantgarde-esque direction. The intro “The Vortex Void of Humanity” already is very different, including fanfares and electronic noise, followed by Maniac repeating the phrase “Militant men in peaceful times attack themselves”. The rest of the EP is some of the most aggressive and furious music MAYHEM has ever crafted, one can truly feel the desperation and aggression the band went through in this difficult time of violent break-up and reconnection! Pounding blast beats, dissonant and cutting guitar riffs and a more ghoulish vocal performance relentlessly beat the listener to the ground! The lyricism is also a standout, not only performed but also written by Maniac, it is occultist and very much anti-christian, the topics still remain but they are treated differently in this phase of the band, cryptic and existential to say the least. This release may be overlooked, as it is “only” an EP and thus not as present when going through the band’s discography… Do not miss out on such an exquisite release, an aggressive masterwork!

Grand Declaration of War
1st May 2000, Season of Mist

This marks the true turn into the Avantgarde-direction. MAYHEM could have very well delivered a “DMDS” 2.0 and the fans would have probably eaten it up, but instead they released this beast of a concept-album unto the unsuspecting public… To me this exemplifies the core strength of later MAYHEM, they do not rethread their steps, instead they continue to explore their artistic capabilities, such as on the excellent “Grand Declaration of War”, an album that in 2000 probably was way ahead of its time and thus not really well received by the Black Metal scene. But let me tell you this: “GDoW” is one of the most “underground” albums ever, because it isn’t straight-forward black metal, it is true uncommercial art and the band took a great risk with it, which led to what is possibly their most complex release to date! The album & its production have a very clinical and sterile feel to them, something not everyone will enjoy, but I find very compelling when keeping in mind the concept of the album. I didn’t really talk about the music itself, but just because this record is hard to put into words… cold, industrialized and very technical & compelling riffs, complex drumming sometimes taken over by militaristic drums, Maniac’s macabre screams mixed with lots of spoken word sections, electronic elements and so much more! An example of how far the experimentation on this goes are the two parts of “A Bloodsword and a Colder Sun”, with Maniacs voice travelling around you in part one leading into the second track: a purely electronic, synth and beat driven track, featuring voice samples as part of the backing beat and also a Carpenter-esque lingering synth note with Maniac whispering, often with heavy filters on top of his voice, sounding robotic and inhuman… As you see, there is so much to unpack solely in this two-part track, let alone the whole album… “Grand Declaration of War” is an album that one must experience to truly grasp.

“For everything around me which I experience is cold and dead
The blood of others are of a colder substance and taste”

Chimera
29th March 2004, Season of Mist

Chimera marks a return to a more aggressive playstyle, more reminiscent of the “Wolfs Lair Abyss” EP than “GDoW”. Featuring infernal, fast riffing and brutal blast-beats, it is still more technical than their early output. It also features more doomy passages and what is possibly Maniacs most grisly vocal performance! The experimentation is dialled back severely in comparison to the previous album, but especially the second half of this record still features some odd and more experimental elements and playing-techniques. While being solid, I’d nevertheless call this the most forgettable of MAYHEM’s albums… however, it is worth checking out despite this for its sheer aggression and excellent, if not quite as experimental musicianship!



IV: From Order to Chaos – The Later Years

Ordo Ad Chao
16th April 2007, Season of Mist

With Maniac leaving the band in 2004, the vocalist spot was once again vacant. Stepping in for him was the returning Attila Csihar, who brought with him another change for the band: They returned to a more Black Metal oriented sound and the lyrical themes had less to do with occultism and more with psychic abilities and esoteric exploration. This album is recognizable for the deliberately raw production, with a bass- and echo-heavy sound that creates a tight, oppressive and dark atmosphere. Attila’s vocals and the pummelling drums further enthral the listener in “Ordo Ad Chao’s” calculated, distressful experience. Csihar demonstrates all his vocal capabilities here, from raspy screams as well as deep & frightening growls to demented, wretched gasps and cries, his repertoire of eerie vocal utterings seems to be ever-expanding… This album offers subliminal violence and impenetrable & claustrophobic darkness: An intense later classic no one should miss!

After Ordo Ad Chao, long time songwriter and guitarist Blasphemer left MAYHEM, with new members Morten “Teloch” Bergeton Iversen and Charles “Ghul” Hedger joining in 2011 & ’12 respectively, sharing guitar-duties on the next album as well as live since then.

Esoteric Warfare
6th June 2014, Season of Mist

Following up their previous album, “Esoteric Warfare” seems to expand on some ideas of “Ordo”, while leaving out others: The production seems to be more polished and not quite as bass-heavy this time. The songs also include some progressive elements, especially when going into the second half of the album, but it seems the band still wanted to streamline the sound a bit, as Attila said that on “Ordo Ad Chao” they may have gone a bit too far into a twisted and at points disjointed Prog-direction. “Esoteric Warfare” describes the mood perfectly in my opinion: While not quite as suffocatingly uncomfortable as the previous record, this one has a big feeling of forward-momentum to it, it’s fast at times but also includes slower parts that all have a cohesive feeling. It’s hard to describe actually… a kind of spacey, psychic concept, that’s what I felt when listening at least! Attila’s vocals are freaky as always, some elements from before not quite as present, but some new ones being added in exchange. While in my opinion not being as strong as its predecessor, “Esoteric Warfare” is still a worthy addition to MAYHEM’s discography.

De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas Alive
15th December 2016, independent release

Another live album? Yup, this live performance of “DMDS” in its entirety is such a solid concert that I definitely wanted to include it in here. Attila revisits his vocal style from the original but includes some of his newer techniques, perhaps to the liking of some that did not appreciate the original performance that much. Also: Has the “Freezing Moon” solo ever sounded better? You can watch the entire performance on YouTube!

Grand Declaration of War (2018 Remaster)
7th December 2018, Season of Mist

I wouldn’t necessarily say that this remaster improves the album, it certainly does for some who can’t stand the original production, but I also have some other arguments for its inclusion here: The remaster changes the drum sound to be more organic and less synthetic, as well as reducing the overall electronic influence, it just feels a lot less sterile… One could say that this falsifies the original intent of the album, but what I really liked here is that it helped me appreciate the original more. Without the remaster, which I listened to first, I perhaps wouldn’t have gotten into the original, because it truly is a tough album to get into… So, if you don’t quite get yourself to like the original “Grand Declaration of War”, this may help, give it a go!

Daemon
25th October 2019, Century Media Records

As I’m writing this, the new MAYHEM record is not out yet, this article is set to be out the day “Daemon” is released, so of course I can’t talk about the whole album here. What I can do though, is give my opinion on the three tracks released thus far: I feel like the band is going back to essentials, they took a “back to the roots” approach, but they did not try to rehash “DMDS” while doing so, instead taking influence from where Black Metal has gone in recent years and adapting it in a way that still sounds recognizably MAYHEM. “Worthless Abominations Destroyed” especially features a hopeless and misanthropic guitar riff with a chaotic edge to it and the drum-work by Hellhammer is stellar and driving! I think this may end up being a solid album, if not as original as some of their other work… I’m still very much looking forward to it and am ready to join wherever the band is going!

V: Mayhem Eternal – The Years that were and are to come

THE TRUE MAYHEM is a unique project! Not many bands can keep their sound this fresh and not many reinvent themselves as often as the fathers of True Norwegian Black Metal have. I hope that I have brought the band closer to you through this article and that you may give them another chance if you once were of the opinion that “Mayhem after DMDS sucks!” MAYHEM do certainly not suck, in the words of Necrobutcher: “Yeah Mayhem, we rule, we are the fucking best metal band out there! If people don’t recognize it, fuck them!” Jokes aside, I still think they are an extremely great, important and creatively artistic band! They keep bringing in new elements to their music and doing what they want instead of following what the majority may do. I am of the firm belief that every major release of the band deserves attention and that they are all unique. MAYHEM, while being majorly responsible for the development of the early black metal scene also continuously drove the genre in new, fascinatingly experimental directions in the years after its first peak.
Whatever path MAYHEM may take next, I will surely follow them and see what new aspects of darkness they will embrace in the years still to come.
Will you join us? Let’s keep following the Freezing Moon!

Everything here is so cold
Everything here is so dark
I remember it as from a dream
In the corner of this time
Diabolic Shapes float by
Out from the dark
I remember it was here I died
By following the freezing moon
It’s night again, night you beautiful
I please my hunger on living humans
Night of hunger, follow its call
Follow the freezing moon
Darkness is growing, the eternity opens
The cemetery lights up again
As in ancient times
Fallen souls, die behind my steps
by following the freezing moon

 

A Tribute to the Black Emperors

Pelle “Dead” Ohlin (⸸ 1991)
Øystein “Euronymus” Aarseth (⸸ 1993)

I hope you enjoyed reading this article! If you like, tell me your opinion on my twitter (https://twitter.com/thetrueMeduson), keep listening to good music and I’ll see you next time in my unholy Sanctum Metallum! the trve Medvson

 

 

 

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