Vault Review: Mayhem – De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas

Introduction

Band: Mayhem
Album: De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas
Origin: Oslo, Norway 🇳🇴
Genre: Black Metal
Label: Deathlike Silence

Mayhem formed in Oslo, Norway in 1984. They’re the most notorious band in all metal, and for good reason. The band’s history is a disturbing one that tells a tale of destruction, self-mutilation, suicide, and murder. Per Yngve Ohlin (“Dead”), while not Mayhem’s first vocalist, had a significant impact during his time with the band. He became known for his onstage self-harm and is credited as one of the pioneers of black metal, being among the first musicians to don corpse paint. Dead was more than just a peculiar individual. He actually believed he was not human and knew that he would eventually die by his hand. He used corpse paint and dirty clothes (which he would actually bury in the ground the day before a show) as a way to make himself look like an actual corpse. Furthermore, he eventually committed suicide in 1991; fulfilling his own dark prophecy. Stian Johannsen who replaced Dead for a short period of time had this to say about him:

“He [Dead] didn’t see himself as human; he saw himself as a creature from another world. He said he had many visions that his blood had frozen in his veins, that he was dead. That is the reason he took that name. He knew he would die.”

Ohlin’s body was discovered by founding member Øystein Aarseth (Euronymous) with slit wrists and a gunshot wound to the forehead. His suicide note read as follows:

“Excuse the blood, but I have slit my wrists and neck. It was the intention that I would die in the woods so that it would take a few days before I was possibly found. I belong in the woods and have always done so. No one will understand the reason for this anyway. To give some semblance of an explanation, I’m not a human, this is just a dream and soon I will awake. It was too cold, and the blood kept clotting, plus my new knife is too dull. If I don’t succeed dying to the knife, I will blow all the sh’t out of my skull. Yet, I do not know. I left all my lyrics by “Let the good times roll”—plus the rest of the money. Whoever finds it gets the f~cking thing. As a last salutation, may I present “Life Eternal”. Do whatever you want with the f~cking thing. / Pelle. I didn’t come up with this now, but seventeen years ago.”

Aarseth immediately went to the local shop, bought a disposable camera and photographed the body. The image was used as the cover of Mayhem’s bootleg live album “Dawn of the Black Hearts”. Rumors have also been confirmed that Euronymous made necklaces out of fragments of Ohlin’s skull, which he then handed out to musicians who he deemed “worthy”.

Euronymous was eventually murdered by bassist Varg Vikernes in 1993 after Varg heard a rumor that Euronymous was going to torture and murder him upon using an unsigned contract as a way to get them to rendezvous. Varg traveled with Thorns guitarist Snorre W. Ruch to Aarseth’s apartment, a struggle broke out and Varg stabbed Euronymous in the head with a pocket knife. His body was found with 22 additional cut wounds. Varg was sentenced to 21 years in prison for both the murder of Aarseth and a string of church arsons. It was the maximum prison sentence in Norway.

During an interview with Consequence of Sound in 2019, Former bassist Jørn Stubberud (Necrobutcher) whom Varg replaced recalled the incident: “OK, I can tell it right now because I’ve been holding it in for many years, but actually, I was on my way down to kill him myself. And when it happened, I saw the morning paper, thinking ‘F~ck, I have to get home to my place and get out all the weapons and drugs and sh~t I had in my house because they’re coming to my house because I’m probably going to be the No. 1 suspect for this.’ But little did I know that the Norwegian police already knew that Count Grishnackh [Varg] was going down also to kill him. Because they bugged his phone, and he actually talked about this killing before he went to Bergen, so the cops already knew that he was coming, so they were probably thinking to themselves, ‘We didn’t nail this guy for the church burnings, so let’s nail him for murder, and get rid of this f~cking guy in Oslo the same time.’ So that’s basically what happened.

With only vocalist Attila Csihar and Drummer Jan Axel Blomberg (Hellhammer) remaining, Mayhem was no more.

The Album

Mayhem’s album “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas” had already been recorded, but the release had been delayed due to complaints filed by Euronymous’ parents, who objected to the album because it featured Varg on bass. It was eventually released on May 24, 1994. Songwriting for the album began in 1987.

“De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas” is the quintessential black metal album. Although inspired by first wave black metal acts such as Venom, Bathory and Celtic Frost, I still consider this album to be the true foundation upon which black metal as we know it was built. Musically, “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas” is a work of compositional complexity with guitar parts consisting of swift tremolos, memorable riffs and fluid melodies. Hellhammer drives it all forward upon a perpetual onslaught of blast-beats, expert-timed fills, and lightning double-bass currents. Attila Csihar delivers an absolutely fiendish vocal contribution as various gutturals and haunting chants are unleashed. And considering the album’s stripped-down recording, Varg’s bass parts, though superlative, are hardly audible and only serve to provide some extra depth to the album. It also features the track “Life Eternal” which was written by Dead and happens to also be the finest cut on the album.

“De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas” was dedicated to Euronymous even though it contains Varg’s bass parts, which Hellhammer promised to re-record but never did. The promise was made in vain to Euronymous’ parents as a way to silence them so they could finally release the album. Hellhammer can’t even play bass… Despite all the chaos and drama surrounding the record, it stands as one of the most important black metal albums of that era.

Conclusion

The post-Aarseth era of Mayhem has always symbolized more experimentation, as the band has remained dark but has also moved further away from traditional satanic themes. Their music continues to set a standard for how hard black metal musicians should have to work to stay relevant in a thriving scene. Albums like their latest full-length “Daemon” only solidify this collective’s reputation as one of the most innovative and flat-out unbreakable bands in metal.

BMZ Score: 10 / 10

Experience “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas” by Mayhem right here:

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