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Everybody in the black metal scene knows the story of Mayhem so I won't even bother retelling it. Aside from being one of the most bootlegged albums in metal history, Dawn of the Black Hearts is a terrific slab of legendary black metal with an incredible performance by Dead, easily Mayhem's best vocalist in my opinion.
The highlight of the album is definately the live performance in Sarpsburg, Norway, 1990. This part of the entire record has the best and most listenable production which is not saying by any means that it is clear because Dawn of the Black Hearts is as raw as it gets. However the songs played are mostly classics including "Freezing Moon," "Carnage," "Funeral Fog," and "Pure Fucking Armageddon." The songs relentlessly slay listeners as the legendary line-up plays their instruments like they're possessed. Dead's vocals are so aggressive and work perfectly with Euronymous' unique guitar playing. Hellhammer's drumming isn't as polished as what he does with the band today but it works to convey the atmosphere of the music, playing more primitively than the more mechanical sound that is found on newer albums like Chimera.
It is practically to impossible to hear anything on the next live performance on the album, taking place in Lillehammer, Norway in 1986. The sound is not really in the normal raw black metal vein, a better way to describe it is muffled. The tracks sound more like creepy atmospheric music that lead up to an actual song. The vocals are completely different, not even having that classic black metal rasp yet. Doing a cover of Venom's "Black Metal", it is interesting to see how the band evolved as time went on and became the powerhouse that they remain up to this day.
Next comes the Pure Fucking Armageddon demo which originally came on tape with one side saying "Fuck" and another saying "Off." Once more the band displays their classics that have been heard in so many different ways and versions. However, this demo is one of the first original versions of the songs and is recorded rawer than ever, almost hiding the vocals completely. Nonetheless, those who enjoy the great Mayhem classics should enjoy this. It is the basis of so much raw primitive black metal that has exploded in the scene today. Another cover of Venom's "Black Metal" is on the demo, played as a "total death version," which basically means really aggressively.
If you are a black metal fanatic like me, getting this album is mandatory. It is a testiment of Norwegian black metal in its prime that not only serves as great atmospheric music, but a part of black metal history as well. Also, if you own Mayhem's 1990 Rehersal tape, you know what to expect from Dead's vocal performance and Euronymous' shattering guitar playing. Without this album, there is a huge gap in your black metal collection.