Mayhem. Just the name means so much to black metal. We’re essentially talking about the band that started second wave True Norwegian Black Metal – a music scene that needs little in terms of introduction – yet is still painfully misunderstood by so many. But while hipster bartenders moonlighting as writers with pretend audiences can continue to lament and write cringe worthy essays about the alleged misdeeds of Norwegian Black Metal, this article is going to focus on the music, art and performance itself.
I’ve seen Mayhem many times in many different countries. I’ve followed Mayhem for an incredibly long time. Let me say it now. The band’s performance at Beyond the Gates Bergen this past week was their best performance I’ve ever witnessed. That’s saying a lot because Mayhem is known for their exemplary concerts and intense stage shows.
Beyond the Gates in Bergen, Norway gained a lot of buzz early in 2017 with the announcement that Mayhem was going to be performing De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas in its entirety. This is the equivalent of Exodus playing Bonded by Blood in the Bay Area or Samhain playing November Coming Fire in North Jersey. It’s a homecoming of sorts. Much of De Mysteriis was recorded in by Pytten in Grieg Hall in Bergen, which is literally just a few blocks away from the performance venue, USF. One could stop and admire the building the record was recorded in and then walk less than a mile to hear it live. Undoubtedly, fans at the festival were going to be treated to something special.
Mayhem’s current lineup features original De Mysteriis vocalist Attila Csihar. Csihar’s voice was completely on point. While Attila is known around the world as giving his all to every performance he does, he was particularly prepared for this endeavor. Literally, his most intense vocals. Additionally, his costumes (which he designs) were impeccable and really blending the visuals with the music. First time Mayhem concertgoers were buzzing about his singing to the skull towards the end of the set. Of course, Mayhem veterans know that Attila and that skull go back a very long way.
The enviable Hellhammer handled drums. Like Csihar, Hellhammer was the original drummer on the record. I remember the first time I met him. He had just come from rehearsals where he was drumming for 8 hours straight. People ask all the time, “How does Hellhammer play so fast and so incredibly well?” Answer: practice. The man practices relentlessly and it shows. If you haven’t seen Hellhammer perform live – go see him. He’s in a number of great bands and watching him will leave you in amazement. It seems almost impossible that a human being is capable of doing what he does. Needless to say, his drumming today sounds better than it did on the original record and the whole band then brings the performance to the next level.
Necrobutcher was on bass for the show. While he didn’t play on the original record he did a great deal of the writing and his hands are all over every Mayhem release. This is a good thing because Necrobutcher is incredibly friendly and loves his fans. I’ve spoken with him a number of times about many things in Norway and he’s always treated people with a great deal of respect. He also looks like he’s having the time of his life while playing with Mayhem. The band is so dark and so serious, but Necrobutcher brings this additional layer of complexity to the performance. A grizzled black metal veteran, he’s one of the legends.
Let’s talk about guitar for a moment. You all know the guitar for many of the tracks on the record was handled by Euronymous himself. Euronymous, unfortunately, was murdered by Varg Vikernes prior to the record’s completion. Guitars for the performance were handled by current Mayhem duo Teloch and Ghul. Teloch is the immensely guitar player for the chronically underappreciated Nidingir. He’s a gifted player and songwriter and he wrote much of the music for Mayhem’s brilliant Esoteric Warfare record. Ghul is known for his work with Cradle of Filth. These two guitarists really round out the lineup. Mayhem is known for having each of the two guitarists on opposite sides of the stage just picking and strumming away with incessant fury over the course of 60-70 minutes. Attila, of course, stays in center stage and provides the bulk of the movement and performance. With Hellhammer on the riser and Necrobutcher in front of the kit, viewers are treated to this well-orchestrated stage show that brings chills.
Mayhem’s stage setup, which I’ve written about as an academic, is always pushing boundaries. Attila, who designs most of the art and stage direction is a master at creating foreboding and moody sets that take you into a different time and place. For this particular show the background started out with the album cover – the church Vikernes planned to burn with Euronymous before he murdered him. The background changed a number of times throughout the set. Lighting was dark and concertgoers were asked to forgo use of their cellphones so that the room did not become overly lit. Almost everyone complied short of the suits in the back who can’t remember life without the internet. Dark ambient lighting mixed with tons of dry ice really put the crowd in the right frame of mind.
Photos by Jarle H. Moe.