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How do you get an average album to be regarded as legendary? Simple. All you have to do is convince a band member to kill himself with a shotgun, make a necklace from pieces of his shattered skull (maybe get some rumors going about sampling some of the brain), then kill a second member with a knife. This is how Live in Leipzig, a terminally mediocre album, has been elevated to "classic" status in some circles. What really makes this album cult (or is it kvlt?) is that it is Mayhem's only "official" album with Dead on vocals -- I use quotes because it was in fact originally a bootleg that was later turned to an album. On to the review then.
The good thing here is the tracklisting. It has pretty much all of Mayhem's early mandatory songs. They logically kick off with Deathcrush and continue with the basics like Necrolust, Freezing Moon, Carnage, etc. No complaints in that department. The production, or lack thereof rather, is pathetic; however, I won't hold this against them since they probably didn't even plan on making it an official album, not to mention that we're talking about black metal here, so you can't really use poor production as an argument against the music. It is the performance of the band that really brings this album down. First and foremost, this sounds like a practice session. None of the band members are performing as well as they could. You want some examples of mistakes? Tune in to Carnage and listen to the riffs starting at 1:34 and you'll hear Euronymous missing some chords. Or go to Pagan Fears and listen at around 6:02. Hellhammer has apparently dropped a drumstick. I know that shit happens, and there is never a perfect performance by anyone, but here I feel like I am listening to some total amateurs. It's like somebody gathered some middle schoolers who were playing for the first time and handed them a piece of paper with tabs and lyrics and said, "Here, play this." Necrobutcher is practically absent. He could have been left out and nothing would have been different. As for Dead, he's not bad, but he definitely doesn't offer what you would expect from someone who is hailed as the greatest black metal vocalist ever by a fair share of kids (again, see shotgun to the head). In fact, he sounds better on some of those practice session bootlegs than he does on here. At least on those he sounds insane at times, whereas here he sounds almost like he's not even trying. Do this: see if you can find Out From the Dark (Dead's last rehearsal). Listen to Chainsaw Gutsfuck. Then, switch to the version on this album. In which one does he sound possessed? (Hint: it's not the one played here). Not to mention the instruments, in Out of the Dark it's like they're grinding away at some corpse, while here they're trying to not forget what song they're even playing. Finally, what's with the slowing down? Deathcrush, Chainsaw Gutsfuck, they're too fucking slow. Is Mayhem going for some groove here? That's not to say that slow is bad, if the song is meant to be played accordingly, but knowing what these songs are supposed to sound like I can say that's certainly not the case here.
All in all, it's not a terrible album. I think they did alright on Necrolust, Freezing Moon (by the way you gotta love the vocal introduction to that one), and Pure Fucking Armageddon. And if you like Mayhem, you will like this album too. It's a live act, it's raw, it has some great songs, and it's much better than Dawn of the Black Hearts (although the cover isn't). But given its legendary status, one has to question its merits a little more carefully. To me, a band played a random show, probably drunk, and made a recording. It's not a failure, but it is overrated.