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This is the infamous Mayhem bootleg. Not only is it one of the only releases with the Dead on vocals, it’s also the notorious release with Dead’s suicide photo as the cover art. That combination alone was worth picking it up (or so I thought). After a few listens, I’m unsure whether I‘m glad to own this or not.
This is really two different albums on one disc, so I will review them separately. However, it will, as a whole, receive one score. The first eight tracks were recorded at a 1990 show in Sarpsborg. Tracks nine through Eleven (track nine really is two songs - at least on my copy) were recorded at a 1986 show in Lillehammer.
Live in Sarpsborg:
The set list is a pretty good one. At least in terms of my taste, they picked a good selection of songs. The album starts right away with "Deathcrush", which in my eyes is a perfect start. However, right from the get-go something is very clear: the production sucks. The production is alright considering it's a bootleg, but that doesn't mean that the sound quality is good - it isn't. A lot of the higher frequency stuff is lost (like most of the cymbals), but overall the levels of all the instruments seem to be pretty equal, which is almost astonishing for a record like this. Though, the bass is probably [easily] the least audible, but it's black metal, so that's almost a standard anyway. So while the production is bearable, especially when you consider that it’s a bootleg, I want to stress again, the production is not good, and I do think it effects the quality of the album.
Mayhem's draw for me has always been Euronymous. I'm not really sure why either. I don't even think that he's really all that good. I think it boils down to the fact that he will occasionally throw some riffs out that just really excite me. Plus his willingness to throw in some solos (regardless of length or level of wankery) is also a plus. However, he doesn't get to wow me as much on this release, just because he's, generally speaking, harder to hear - everything is. Hellhammer, as usual for me, is pretty blah. The guy is obviously a really good drummer, but he just doesn't do anything for me. Necrobutcher just does his job; I can't compliment him or complain about him in any way whatsoever.
One of the main reasons I picked this record up was to hear Dead’s vocals. A lot of people put Dead on this pedestal. Having only previously heard his efforts on "Live in Leipzig", I wanted to hear some more of him. While it is interesting to hear Dead's vocals on some of the songs he was originally set to do on "De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas", I just don't feel like he's this amazing vocalist that a lot of people make him out to be. I didn't like his vocals on "Live in Leipzig" at all, and I think his vocals here are only a slight improvement. I don’t know if I am just missing something, or if his reputation is more about his suicide than his vocal quality (I tend to lean towards the latter personally).
Live in Lillehammer:
This part of the bootleg is hard for me to even review. The production is so crappy that all you can really hear is vocals. You can somewhat hear the music in the background, but for the most part is just sounds like a blob of sound. It's decipherable, but to me, it's not worth deciphering. The volume goes up and down, and the stereo aspect is nonsensical. Plus all of the songs are covers (which to me are kind of boring). To be honest I think this bootleg is considerably worse as a whole because of this half. I think I would have ultimately liked the release overall if the Live in Lillehammer material had been omitted. That’s obviously, just my opinion though.
Overall, “Dawn of the Black Hearts” was a big disappointment for me. Frankly, I don’t understand why people like this release so much. I might go as far as to say that I think people make themselves like it because of the cover art and because Dead does the vocals. I personally don’t think it’s very good. The quality of the recordings just aren’t good enough to warrant a high score. I think Mayhem is just one of those bands that is meant to be heard live, and I don’t think “Dawn of the Black Hearts” does them justice. If you want to hear a good Mayhem live album, I would highly recommend “Mediolanum Capta Est”. Unless, you really want this record for the cover art and/or to hear Dead’s vocals (or if you‘re looking to complete Mayhem‘s catalogue), I would avoid this release at all costs.