Thanks to Unrestrained for use of this article.
Thanks to Sebultura for undertaking the task of transcription.
Taken from Unrestrained #15
To Hell and Back
by Adrian 'The Energizer' Bromley
The roots of blackness go back to 1984, the year that Mayhem rose from the
angst of rebellion and musical creativity. It was a vision of conquest seen
through the eyes of young, talented musicians from a dark, aggressive angle
- an angle sharpened at the edges - cutting a gaping wound into more
traditional metallic realms. Mayhem's music was not created out of boredom,
"In 1982, I was in band called Musta, slang for 'must have,'" recalls
bassist Necrobutcher down the line from Norway on his cell phone. "I
eventually met up with guitarist Euronymous (who at that time was going by
the name Destructor) in 1894 and we (the band was rounded out by drummer
Manheim) brought him into the band and we changed the name to Mayhem. The
reason why we started out is 'cause we had the same interests and taste in
music, namely Venom, Slayer and Motörhead. We started to rehearse cover
songs from our favourite bands and after two years we recorded our own demo
(Pure Fucking Armageddon with then session vocalist Messiah) in 1986."
But as time went on the band, who were once labeled "total death metal,"
began to shift gears and change style and direction. The band introduced new
singer Maniac into the fold and recorded the cult demo classic Deathcrush.
The music had become a lot more intense. It had become a lot darker.
"I think it was probably just out of coincidence, but I think it also had
to do with the people in the band. We were very dark personalities," notes
the bassist on why the band's lyrics and sound became dark. "It is like art.
The people behind art take something from themselves and put that into the
work. That is how we approach things with Mayhem. I also think that being
from Norway where it is always cold and dark, and with us having problems
with authority, that we just became against society. It was just rebellion."
And that it was. Mayhem's transition from cult band to leaders of the black
metal sound began to take shape, regardless of the turmoil within the band.
Problems were escalating and started straining the band's stability. Maniac
and Manheim left Mayhem in 1988.
Following their exits, in came singer Dead (from the band Morbid) and
drummer Hellhammer as replacements, forming what would be the classic Mayhem
lineup. Though no records were released with this lineup (besides the live
album Live In Leipzig, released posthumously as a tribute to Dead), the
members of Mayhem in the early '90s would no doubt make their mark on the
scene for years to come.
I ask Necrobutcher about the period when the black metal scene started
"The scene was just growing and we were doing what we were doing up until
1991 when our vocalist (Dead) killed himself," answers the bass player.
"After that, it all started to happen. Some people became more aware of the
scene after Dead had shot himself. After that, churches started to burn and
it just went crazy here. I think it was Dead's suicide that really changed
the whole scene."
Does he think the suicide needed to happen to change the scene, or was it
just a fortunate situation?
"I think it was a very fortunate situation to happen, and I think the scene
would still be around and gone in the same direction as it had, maybe just a
bit later on," Necrobutcher states. "I don't think it would have become as
extreme as fast as it had in black metal. A lot of young musicians got into
this scene because it was the most aggressive and violent scene out there at
Necrobutcher left Mayhem after Dead's suicide, obviously upset with what
was going on within the band. But did he ever think about ending Mayhem?
"No," he interjects. "After Dead committed suicide, I felt it was my duty
to go on. I was best friends with Dead. But Euronymous saw it much
differently. We had to split up for a while after it happened. I had just
lost a good friend, and he wanted to have it help Mayhem as some form of a
promotional tool. Out of respect for my best friend, I told him to fuck
Mayhem continued on without Necrobutcher, replacing him with Varg Vikernes
from Burzum (who at the time was signed to Euronymous' label Deathlike
Silence Productions) and including Tormentor's Attila for vocals to record
the album De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. But the out-of-control anger brewing
within the band for years had brought about new problems. Euronymous would
later kick Varg out of Mayhem, who would end up killing him. Whether it was
in a fit of jealously, for control of the black metal scene or for reasons
known only to those involved, it was a definite impact for the band at that
time of their careers. Euronymous was now dead with Varg sent to prison.
Things were definitely out of control.
"Euronymous, eventually he got into a corner in which he couldn't get out
of," says Necrobutcher of his murder. "I was upset about it all. He was my
best friend as well. We had been together every day since we had started the
band basically. It was almost 10 years. I had mixed feelings about the whole
situation. After Dead's suicide, we both fought. A few months before he was
killed, we had started talking again. We were talking about doing something
big for the 10th anniversary of Mayhem in 1994. But he was killed in 1993,
so it never had happened."
The band eventually finished up and released De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas
(supposedly with Hellhammer replacing Varg's bass lines after a request from
Euronymous's mother) and went on hiatus for a couple of years until the band
reformed as The True Mayhem in 1994/1995 with singer Maniac, drummer
Hellhammer, Necrobutcher and new guitarist Blasphemer (from Aura Noir). In
1997 they released the Wolf's Lair Abyss EP. Change was evident within their
sound. After all, Mayhem had been trudging along all of these years and the
music had eventually altered itself, sending some diehard fans back into
darkness while embracing a new era of fans.
If there was ever a landmark moment for change in Mayhem's career, the year
would be 2000 and the brilliant Grand Declaration of War. The album was a
philosophical romp that embraced a solid blackened metal bite but lunged
headfirst into a futuristic nightmare. Needless to say, you either got it or
you didn't. The record was not only groundbreaking, but a much-needed
statement in the the world of metal music.
On the topic of the new disc, a record that many don't consider a black
metal record, has Mayhem changed considerably since their early days?
Necrobutcher sets the record straight about Grand Declaration of War.
"Well, this may come as a shock to our fans, but we have never played black
metal music. People told us that we played black metal and we were excited
about it. We have never had any satanic writings in our music. De Mysteriis
Dom Sathanas is about a book, not about being Satanists. The new record,
Grand Declaration of War, is a philosophic record. Nietzsche and other
philosophers inspired it."
He adds, "Maniac studies philosophy and he writes the lyrics now. Our music
is not satanic, and it really isn't black metal. That is what I personally
think. I think the new record is not black metal, but how do you define
black metal? That seems to be the question nowadays. I think our music is
violent death metal, and that is what we have always done. Sure we were
inspired by Venom, but also the Dead Kennedy's, punk rock and of course,
Motörhead. We just never wanted to be in any type of genre really."
"I think those bands that use keyboards in black metal nowadays aren't
black metal and are even worse at considering themselves black metal. I
never considered keyboards a metal instrument, and that is why I don't think
it fits with metal guitars and metal music. Keyboards don't fit; it's just
creates this sound that is not raw or aggressive. It makes it take on a
pretty sound almost, and that isn't what black metal should be. Harmonies
and melodies come out of keyboard work in black metal, and that shouldn't
really be a part of it. We've never used keyboards for any recordings for
this band, and I don't think bands that use keyboards should play black
metal. Don't get me wrong. I like blues, industrial music and other forms of
music, but keyboards are for those genres and can be used for other forms of
music other than metal."
In closing, I ask "Where is Mayhem, and black metal in general, headed?
What do you think of the black metal scene these days?"
"I think nowadays the music is coming back to its roots more. The music is
more and more metal these days," confesses Necrobutcher with some
enthusiasm. "The fact that this kind of music has been going on since 1986
is a real great thing. It is the only part of the metal scene that hasn't
really gone away like thrash metal has or other styles that have come and
gone. The black metal scene has been around for 15 years and my band has
been around for 16 years. I think about what we have done and each time
around I say, 'Okay, one more year with Mayhem.' Or, 'Another five years
with the band.' I never know when this is going to come to an end. It is
hard to predict.
"We know now that real black metal is a strong scene and that it won't
really back down and become a trend," he ends off. "That is why we keep
going on with Mayhem and keep working our sound."