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You've heard the hype, but have you actually heard the music? If you're like most inexperienced fans of extreme metal just barely putting your foot in the water, then the answer is, of course, "no." I won't really go into the story, as I'm sure you've heard it all before. To give you more of an appreciation for the work that went into this album, though, I'll give you the lineup and the appropriate information about each participant.
Atilla Csihar- vocals (from Tormentor and Aborym)
Varg "Count Grishnackh" Vikernes- bass (from Burzum and Old Funeral)
Øystein "Euronymous" Aarseth- lead guitar
Snorre "Blackthorn" Ruch- Rhythm guitar (from Thorns)
Jan "Hellhammer" Axel Von Blomberg- drums (also from Arcturus, The Covenant, Winds)
Yngve Per "Dead" Ohlin- lyrics (also from Morbid)
So now that we have the cast established, let's take a look at the show. Despite what some people say, Mayhem was not the archetypal Norwegian black metal band. Essentially, the music is death metal played like thrash with perhaps the worst vocalist in metal history. Let us focus on that last point for a moment.
Atilla Csihar manages to sound drunk (or severely retarded), regardless of what approach he is taking. He attempts clean vocals (in Latin, no less) on the title track. Were they not so painful to listen to, I suppose they would be funny. Otherwise, his grunts and screams are reptilian in nature and make me long for the glass-gargling shout of Dead or the high-pitched shriek of Maniac. His Hungarian accent also severely hinders his pronunciation in places (as if he's really trying; but as we are all aware, he is not) but it's hard to notice because it's not like you would be able to understand the lyrics anyway. So why did Euronymous and Hellhammer pick Atilla to carry on in Dead's place? If he was so bad, why was he the man for the job? The fact is that Atilla is so awful that he is the only man who could have pulled it off. The only way this sick symphony could have ever completely manifested itself was through the tortured (or torturing) vocals of Atilla. His voice is the most distinct thing about "De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas," and it is what you'll remember after hearing it.
Now on to the rest of the music.
As a guitarist, Euronymous is competent, but he's not a conventional virtuoso. His solos are bizarre and inverted, kind of like evil versions of things that Trey Azagthoth might do. The guitars in the background provide an ambient wall of distortion that allows the lead guitarist to paint a more complex picture in the foreground. The music is not grim like Darkthrone, but it isn't melodic like Emperor. It isn't abstract like Burzum, but it's not straight-forward like Immortal. Mayhem takes cues from all four of these bands in the creation of this record, which shouldn't surprise anybody listening to this record or reading this review.
Do I recommend this? Yes, wholeheartedly. But if you've read the hype over and over again, you're probably expecting too much. To be sure, the album is good, but it's not really the "landmark" that some people claim it is. It's well above average, but not really perfect. Overall, however, it's definitely worth your time.