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In the year 1984, a band called Mayhem was formed. The founding members were mere teenagers who were influenced greatly by bands such as Hellhammer, Venom, Bathory, and Celtic Frost. The so-called “leader” of the band, Euronymous, strived to create a new brand of metal, a genre that would fully embrace the energy of black magic and Satan. Then a vocalist in Sweden caught Euronymous’s eye, a vocalist known as Dead. Dead was recruited into the band, and the rest is history. I believe we all know the controversial history of the band by now: Dead committing suicide, Euronymous collecting Dead’s skull fragments, and Varg Vikernes murdering Euronymous. Murder here, suicide there, crazy stories, but is their music good? Is this band just another GG Allin, pure shock value, but horrendous music? The album, ‘De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas’ was released in the year 1994, and it finally showed that this band was something more. In fact, they were something else entirely.
The idea of creating music that spoke of the Devil and black magic was a silly idea at first. At the time, it was already done to death by Slayer and Venom. So how could Mayhem do the same thing and think that they were doing something new? But when I listened to the album, I finally understood. The music was simple but memorable, and it created an atmosphere that was unlike anything at the time. Euronymous may have been an insane asshole, but he had a vision, a vision that was black metal.
When Dead committed suicide, a new vocalist was needed. But who could replace him, and sing his lyrics without sounding too cliché and silly? The answer was a vocalist named Attila Csihar, a man from Hungary. There have been countless arguments on who was better, Dead or Attila. I will have to go with Attila on this one. The man had a creepy vocal style that was unpredictable. He would sing here, growl there, shriek over here, and scream over there. It was something that Dead could never do, for he always screeched and growled his way through all the songs. But one still wonders, what if? What if Dead was given the chance to perform in the studio and record his vocals for this album? Would it have been better? No one will ever know. But what made Attila’s performance excellent however, were the lyrics. Dead may have been dead at this time, but he still influenced the band from beyond the grave. For you see, it was he wrote the majority of the lyrics on ‘De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas’; lyrics that spoke of death, insanity, and the macabre. They were excellent, and Attila singing them with his unique vocal style is what solidified the vocal delivery. It was a good choice to leave out the famous introduction of Freezing Moon however, for only Dead could deliver it flawlessly. “When it’s cold, and when it’s dark, the Freezing Moon can obsess you!”
Then comes the guitar playing by Euronymous. Euronymous was no Kirk Hammet, but he wrote riffs that were filled with morbid energy. An energy that created the album’s atmosphere. What made it so great was the fact that it was some-what simple, but it still did so much for the album. Simplicity is complexity I suppose, and he truly showed how black metal riffs should be done. Riffs that were simple, catchy, and memorable; riffs that characterized black metal perfectly. Euronymous was a ridiculous person, but the black metal genre would be nothing without his idiotic views that started it all.
One thing that surprised me was the bass, it’s actually audible. Not only was it audible, but it actually adds to the black atmosphere of the album. I’ve heard that the drummer, Hellhammer, lowered the basslines on the album after Varg murdered Euronymous, but it’s still there. Don’t get me wrong, the bass is not the first thing you will notice, but it’s still strongly present. If the stories of the basslines being lowered are true, then I wonder what the album would’ve sounded with the original mix.
Hellhammer is a solid drummer that gets the job done, but it’s nothing intricate or complex. It is, however, unrelenting and persistent. Hellhammer is probably better than most in the black metal genre, but then again, an amazing drummer is not needed in order to create a good black metal record.
The thing that may surprise many people who have not heard this album is the production. It is not the usual shitty-bedroom fuzzy quality that black metal is infamous for. It is actually clean and balanced, each instrument and vocal lines are all audible and distinguishable. Yet it does not detract from the atmosphere that this album creates; it still compliments the Satanic black magic imagery that this album portrays, which ultimately proves that shitty quality is not necessary to create a grim, kvlt atmosphere.
This album is what solidified the Norwegian black metal scene. Several black metal acts had already released black metal albums before this album was recorded and released, but Mayhem has always been there since the beginning. This album is one of three albums that I believe best represents the black metal genre. If someone were to ask me what black metal is, I would simply give them this album. The characteristics of black metal are all here. Some may find this ridiculous, since so many have claimed that this album sucks and that it had done nothing for the genre. But the black metal genre may not have been exposed to the world had it not been for the controversial stories and events that surrounded Mayhem. The historical significance of this album is what makes it so hard to ignore.