Dear friends, herein comes the fourth installment of our coverage regarding the upcoming Czech edition of the pilgrimage into the black metal netherworld by the English writer and journalist Dayal Patterson. Two weeks ago, we covered the contents of the first act of this saga, today we are following up on this subject, giving it even more concrete contours.
For what we have here is an excerpt from "Black Metal: Evolution of the Cult", specifically the entire chapter 27, which is all about probably the most iconic of all black metal albums, about "De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas" by Mayhem.
Furthermore, the whole excerpt is presented as it will appear in the Czech translation when printed, whereby you can check out the layout and typesetting, which was undertaken by Tomáš F. Hanzl, a.k.a. Chymus, (Isacaarum, Antigod). Click on the individual images to zoom.
The English original text is as follows:
I think it must be … Jesus, it’s the opus magnum of black metal, it’s the opus magnum of extreme metal, it’s a statement, it’s a super-important record in the whole extreme metal genre. It’s a great band and this album is unbelievable.”
- Nergal (Behemoth)
While the potential of the early-nineties incarnation of Mayhem was cut short by Euronymous’ murder in the summer of 1993, the crowning achievement of the man, the band, and in some people’s opinion the genre was completed shortly before his death. Named De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas (or as the cover art confirms, “Dom. Sathanas,” the “Dom” being short for “Domini”), the album’s title translates as “Of Lord Satan’s Mysteries/Secret Rites” and was, according to Dead, named after an occult book he discovered.
That it was Dead who came up with the title highlights just how long the album had been in gestation. In fact, the legendary Live In Leipzig album—recorded in November 1990 but released almost three years later—had already captured Dead, Euronymous, Necrobutcher, and Hellhammer performing half the album’s eight numbers, namely “Funeral Fog,” “Pagan Fears,” “Buried By Time and Dust,” and “Freezing Moon.” The latter track had also been recorded (along with demo number “Carnage”) earlier that year by the same lineup for the Projections of a Stained Mind compilation on Sweden’s CBR Records, and three of the remaining four new songs had also been in existence since Dead’s time in the band.
But Dead was sadly no more, and due to the subsequent use of the photos of his body, Necrobutcher had also left the band. This left Euronymous and Hellhammer with a substantial void, one they initially filled with Euronymous’ partner at the Helvete store, ex-Perdition Hearse and Abhorrent/Thyabhorrent frontman Stian “Occultus” Johansen. Providing bass and vocals, Occultus delivered the lyrics in a manner not dissimilar to Dead, both in terms of sound and delivery. “He’s a total black metal head and very self-destructive,” Euronymous told one zine, “which is very good regarding our stage show.”
“At first it was only meant that I should play the bass but now I’m also doing the vocals,” Occultus told Dutch zine Masters of Brutality. “[The album] will be even more delayed now… I have to learn all the trax for it and Euronymous is going to jail for 4 months because he cut a guy so he had to sew 38 stitches [sic] I don’t have the slightest idea of when the Mysteriis Dom Sathanas will be released.”
Occultus was right to have doubts over the album’s release date and would also soon see for himself the more aggressive side of Euronymous’ personality, the two falling out in a situation that, according to an interview of the time with Burzum’s Varg Vikernes, led to a metal cross (stolen from a cemetery and apparently engraved with the words “my girl”) burnt in his garden and used to smash his windows.
In fact, after Occultus’ departure it was the Burzum mainman who played session bass while the group rehearsed without a singer, this lineup captured on the popular rehearsal bootleg From the Darkest Past. While Mayhem interviews at the time claimed Necrobutcher had departed due to the birth of his first child, the bassist is keen to make clear that this was not the case.
“I would say that [Euronymous] went behind my back and finished the recording,” Necrobutcher clarifies. “He came to my place and borrowed the bass equipment I had, so I kind of knew what was going on, but at the same time I was in grief over Dead. I went over to Sweden to participate in his funeral and was kind of paralyzed over the loss of my friend. But I never left Mayhem, [they] carried on rehearsing in my absence. After it was recorded Euronymous invited me to his place and we were listening to it. Varg was playing only as a session musician to finish the album and we were talking about getting together again for the ten-year anniversary and doing a show in Oslo.”
The band would also recruit Snorre “Blackthorne” Ruch, whose work in Thorns had proven massively influential upon many musicians within the Norwegian scene, not least Euronymous, who was hugely impressed with the guitarist’s unique style of riffing. For his part, Snorre had joined due to the frustrating inactivity of his own group, the original agreement being that he would assist Euronymous with Mayhem in return for help with Thorns.
“I joined Mayhem when they had recorded most of the album,” says Snorre. “I had a deal with Euronymous that, ‘Okay, maybe you should play guitar in Mayhem and I will play guitar in Thorns and solve both our problems.’ But then later I was thinking, [there’s] hassle in both bands, maybe I should just join Mayhem and bring some of my songs over. But that happened after De Mysteriis was recorded. The Thorns riff on De Mysteriis [on ‘From the Dark Past,’ and taken from Thorn’s ‘Lovely Children’] was something he asked [for] and I said, ‘Okay, of course, I have thrown this song away, do whatever you want with it.’”
Now all the band needed was a voice to finish the album. Ambitiously, Euronymous elected to contact Attila Csihar (best known for his work in the Hungarian band Tormentor and electronic project Plasma Pool) rather than induct one of the many vocalists in his home country. Yet having gone to the trouble of tracking down the vocalist and persuading him to travel to Norway, Euronymous’ preparations for the recording of the vocals seem to have ceased, and arrangements for Attila’s sessions were somewhat loose to say the least. In fact, it would be Snorre who ended up completing the lyrics, and though not contributing any recordings to the finished album, he would also spend time rehearsing with the band while the vocal parts were being worked out with the singer.
“When Attila arrived I was shocked that Euronymous hadn’t prepared anything for him with lyrics,” recalls Snorre. “I think Necrobutcher found a lot of Dead’s drafts for [the remaining four tracks] and I had to rearrange them into songs so that Attila could sing them. I joined for rehearsals with Attila—I guess we rehearsed about fourteen days in Mayhem’s rehearsal studio in Oslo. Then we went to Bergen [to record] at a later point and stayed a few days in Varg’s apartment. [Attila] was a really nice chap, he came up here with his girlfriend and we hung out. He smoked a lot of pot during the recording sessions to get in the mood I remember, and that was kind of funny ’cos we were like, ‘Is this good or is this bad?’”
“I didn’t know about the scene,” admits Attila. “I got in contact with [Euronymous] in ’91 and he said they were working on the recording and when it’s done they will invite me to sing, although there was a short period when they were talking that they might find another vocalist. I think it was that they both liked Tormentor, him and Dead, and I was told that I was Dead’s favorite vocalist, which was an honor. I think we were talking about me joining the band, he wanted me to move to Norway but I said I had to finish my studies.”
Though seemingly a long-running plan on the part of Euronymous, the decision to use Attila was certainly a surprise for many in the Norwegian scene. After all, not only was he surrounded by an abundance of local talent, but many of the vocalists in the country actually knew the songs on the forthcoming album inside out due to an instrumental tape that was making the rounds, a point Grutle of Enslaved recalls with a smile.
“I remember it was still not decided who should be the vocalist, so all of us were wondering who would get the phone call. Then suddenly we heard the guy from Tormentor was doing it! ‘Tormentor, aren’t they Hungarian?’ and we thought, ‘Yeah, that’s going to be cool.’ So people were a little bit pissed that they didn’t receive the phone call, but they thought, ‘Well that’s going to be interesting’ and it was! Actually while [Attila was] doing the vocals Øystein went to the callbox and called me and said, ‘He sings like a sick priest, he sings in Latin, with an accent, it’s incredible!’”
There’s no doubt that Attila’s spirited performance has proven to be a defining factor of the record and in some quarters a controversial one. Deviating from the more traditional approach of his Tormentor days, the vocalist adopted a more demented and theatrical style, incorporating a noticeably drawling delivery and lurching creepily from screams and rasps to an almost operatic form of singing that made a feature of his distinctive Hungarian accent. It was a bold step that spoke of confidence on the part of the long-absent band, and one that stemmed directly from the freedom Euronymous had allowed the legendary vocalist in his performance.
“The way of singing it, we were talking about how to do it of course,” recalls Attila. “I heard some demo recordings that had been done by Dead and Maniac before, but I like individualism… so when I talked to Euronymous in the studio I said, ‘Why don’t we try something else instead of making again the traditional screamed vocals?’ The ‘De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas’ song, when I looked at the lyrics there was this Latin line so I thought, ‘Let’s do this voice there.’ I came out with the low vocals with more melodies, and he liked it so much we did the whole recording that way.”
While Euronymous’ preparations for the vocals were minimal, his vision for the rest of the record was absolute and saw him leaving nothing to chance, particularly in terms of sound and acoustics. “Euronymous had specific ideas about each instrument and he had specific ideas about echoes,” recalls Attila. “The drums were recorded in a huge concert hall, solos were recorded in a room and he was moving round all the time and saying, ‘Okay, there we have it.’ If you listen to records from the time and then De Mysteriis you hear the production is far and away better than anything else.”
“The whole album was recorded in very spacious areas,” confirms producer Pytten, who captured the opus in Grieghallen during 1992 and 1993. “Øystein, Hellhammer, and me were walking about talking about how to do it and I really wanted to use the stage for the drums. I really like big sounds—especially for the drums—and reverb on the leads. So the drums were done on stage and [in that hall] you have nine stories going up, so we closed the room side, but kept all the height. A lot of the guitars were done with closed miking, but all of the stuff with reverberation on the record was done with a Marshall stack and one microphone in a huge room, the main hall, and we were just moving about until we thought, ‘Ah, this is it.’ You find the sweet spots then you start working and you can’t play that sort of loud music during daytime because the place is full of people, so we did that kind of stuff at night. You really needed thorough planning, you needed mixdowns—think about it, you only had sixteen tracks and at times you’re using nine just on the drums.”
It wasn’t only the drums that would require large numbers of tracks. In fact, a crucial ingredient in the creation of the album would be the repeatedly multi-tracked guitars, which create a huge (yet suitably icy and treble-heavy) wall of sound, a perfect backdrop for the dynamic percussion and the minimal approach of the bass lines. It’s an approach that certainly separates the record from the thinner-sounding efforts of many other Norwegian acts during this period.
“He was very conscious about sound,” continues Pytten, “Unlike a lot of people within Norwegian black metal he was using a Gibson Les Paul and a Marshall head and that’s a very traditional rock sound. But he was really conscious about how it should sound, so he was telling me what he wanted and I was using my skills to produce it. Lots and lots of hard and serious work. Sometimes you were getting extremely tired and you wanted to go home, but when you looked at what you’d been doing you’d think, ‘Okay, it was worth it.”
And so it proved. Sadly Euronymous would never see the pressing of the finished masterpiece he had worked on for so many years, his murder occurring just prior to the original release date. It was in many ways the end of an era for the movement he had done so much to further, a genre that only continued to explode following his untimely death.
“I think that he would be working very hard with correspondence,” comments Necrobutcher when asked what he thinks Euronymous would be doing if still alive today, “and distributing music. He would probably continue the work that we had already started with Deathlike Silence. He had signed all the good bands that Voices of Wonder stole before they went to separate places, so I think if he didn’t die he would have all these great bands on this label. Before he died he saw all these bands popping up in Norway that came after us, so he saw the explosive development from day one, the feeling we had rehearsing in ’84,’85 that just grew and grew. It’s too bad he passed away and is not here to enjoy it.”
“The worst thing with that was getting a letter from him in my mailbox the next day,” sighs Deathcrush vocalist and longtime contact Maniac. “He sounded very determined about his future; unfortunately for him the future was terminated.”
The record’s release was ultimately postponed, as the parents of the guitarist had requested that Varg’s bass lines be removed, a point that Hellhammer initially agreed to but ultimately decided against. To this day they remain, simply lowered in the mix and without credit to Vikernes. The distinctive cover art for the record was also kept as Euronymous intended: featuring Trondheim’s massive Nidaros Cathedral bathed in an eerie blue, it is a perplexing image for a Satanically themed album but makes more sense when one learns that it was apparently Euronymous’ plan—and one Deathcrush drummer Manheim suggests he would have attempted—to blow up the cathedral, reportedly with assistance from Varg, who was found to be in possession of a large amount of explosives at the time of his arrest.
Indeed, many facets of the finished album mirror the increased level of seriousness Euronymous had been injecting into the black metal scene, the whole presentation contrasting strongly with previous release Deathcrush. The album is generally considered one of the archetypal Satanic metal albums, though Necrobutcher—who was present for the writing of the lion’s share of the material—is adamant that this isn’t as clear-cut as it might seem.
“We were not practicing any religion, we made music,” he explains simply. “The fact that the album is called De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas makes people think we are [a] Satanic band, but it’s based on a book called that, which is about Satanism but is not about worshipping it. It was a book that inspired Dead to write the lyrics, but he is not around to answer that question and I never saw the book myself. If other people feel this is Satanic music, maybe it is. This is the great thing about art, you make it but other people can find other things in your art that you don’t see yourself or that you don’t think about yourself when you make it or perform it.”
Finally issued in the middle of 1994, the album would be the final release on Euronymous’ Deathlike Silence Productions. While the group’s stellar reputation and macabre backstory would have been enough to guarantee attention, even objectively speaking it was a milestone in the black metal scene and hailed as a classic upon release. The long-delayed Live in Leipzig the previous year meant that four of the eight songs were already familiar to fans, not least “Freezing Moon,” which arguably remains the most iconic song in Mayhem’s back catalogue, its aura of despair still unparalleled in the band’s catalogue or indeed anyone else’s. Elsewhere Euronymous’ own composition techniques were married to the snaking discordance of Snorre’s writing style on newer songs such as “Cursed in Eternity” and “From the Dark Past.” Masterminded by Euronymous, but with the close link to the Dead/Necrobutcher/Hellhammer lineup, the record is aggressive, cold, detailed and single-minded, and testament to both a new era of brilliance for the group but also the delayed realization of its previous lineup’s work.
It was also the end of another incarnation of the band, and with half its participants either dead or incarcerated, the group once again ceased activity, destroying any plans Attila had to join the band permanently, at least for a time. In fact the singer would only learn of the band’s fate some months later, and soon entered into a lengthy period of inactivity and depression.
“I read it in the papers,” he sighs. “I only had the phone numbers for Varg and Euronymous and both the numbers didn’t work, so I thought the guys were on holiday. Then I read [the news] in a Hungarian version of Metal Hammer and I thought, ‘What the fuck is this?’ I couldn’t believe my eyes.”
So, enjoy and more next time!
P.S.: Further info in the current press release here.