Black metal progenitors Mayhem are the bearers of Satan’s flame

Black metal pioneers Mayhem return with their first album in seven years. Photo: Ester Segarra

Black metal pioneers Mayhem return with their first album in seven years.
Photo: Ester Segarra

AB edition interview

By Ian Lemke

CALGARY — Norwegian black metal has built a legacy on blood and bone, and the ashes of dozens of churches set ablaze in the early ‘90s. The events of this era are shrouded in rumour, so obscured by the hyperbolic accounts of those involved that the actual actions and motivations of the so-called “black-circle” remain uncertain. At the epicentre of the black metal propaganda machine is (The True) Mayhem, a band whose violent reputation often overshadows their musical influence and modern relevance.

“It’s hard to get away from the history in this band,” begins guitarist Teloch, whose rather recent inclusion in the group (2011-present) separates him from the band’s dark past. For those unaware of Mayhem’s history (the band was founded in 1984), the most talked-about occurrences are as follows:
1991 – Vocalist Per Yngve “Dead” Ohlin commits suicide. Guitarist Øystein “Euronymous” Aarseth takes photographs of the scene, one of which was used for the Dawn of The Black Hearts bootleg album. Euronymous also made necklaces out of Dead’s skull fragments, and was rumoured to have eaten pieces of his brain, but this was revealed to be false.

1993 – Varg Vikernes of one-man black metal project Burzum and occasional bassist for Mayhem, murders Euronymous and receives a 21-year prison sentence for that as well as participation in multiple church arsons, a few of which Euronymous also is said to have been involved in, and took credit for as the self-proclaimed leader in the “scene.” More information can be found in several books and documentaries on the subject.

(Note – Two members remain who were in the band during this tumultuous period: Drummer Jan Axel “Hellhammer” Blomberg, and bassist Jørn “Necrobutcher” Stubberud. Long-time vocalist Attila Csihar, who performed on the iconic De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas album, is also the current touring vocalist.)
“Some of the guys talks about the history all the time and some don’t talk about it at all,” Teloch continues.

“Of course [the history] is embraced, I mean the way of thinking, this unexplained darkness that always follows the band no matter what they do.”

Although the band has no intention to sever themselves from their reputation, the focus for the last 20 years has been on music exclusively and to defend their position as pioneers in the black metal genre.
“Mayhem’s role in all of this must be to bring chaotic elements into the scene and show people is possible to play evil ass music even after 30 years as a band. [We] also have some sort of responsibility to stay ahead of the herd and show how it’s done.”

This attitude of morbid innovation has reaped mixed reviews on recent albums, namely 2007’s intensely bizarre Ordo Ad Chao and most recently, 2014’s Esoteric Warfare. Teloch explains that the latter was conceived as a sequel to Ordo… only on the second attempt.

“We recorded almost a full album before I found out that…the material was way too old school to suddenly release after the fucked up Ordo album…Therefore I scrapped the songs recorded and started over again with the songs that became Esoteric Warfare.”

Mayhem’s departure from the classic Norwegian black metal sound arguably began after their debut full-length De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, which is renowned as a classic in the genre. While purists may lament the direction Mayhem and most other pioneering black metal acts have taken, Teloch views this attitude as regressive. In other words, the archetypal sound of early ‘90s Norwegian black metal, with its aggressively primitive approach to instrumentation and production, is one that emerged organically from that time and place, and cannot be completely replicated.

“It’s like recreating Blaxploitation music from the ‘70s, it can be done to a certain degree, but it will never sound the same. Something will be missing. There are so many factors involved that made that music back in the ‘90s that are not here anymore.”

Mayhem strive not to fall stagnant or reminisce about their glory days.

“For me it is a very punkish attitude to dwell in the past, we all know some old punk rockers right? All they do is talk about the old days, its fucking boring listening to them and not interesting at all, move the fuck on!”

He adds that most modern bands’ attempts to imitate the style fail miserably, which Teloch affectionately labels “Hipstershitmetal.”

So what makes one black metal band authentic and another false? According to Teloch the difference is both musical: “the choice of chords or notes if you will, it’s very easy to pick out what’s real or not…you know when you hear it,” as well as based on the intention: “they all have the wrong attitude to what they do and how they present their music.” However, Mayhem are not caught up in perpetuating elitism or wasting their time criticizing new bands. Teloch insists that none of the members even follow the current black metal scene, and don’t take their own opinions too seriously.

“I’m an old grumpy bastard with too much time on my hands. What I mean or say doesn’t mean shit…people are welcome to do whatever they want of course… Do what thou wilt.”

Instead, for Mayhem, the pressure is on to defend the flag of real black metal.

“I feel there is a shift in the band, a new spark if you will, to actually wanna play good concerts and deliver a sweet ass show.” Teloch himself has used this spark to quit excessive drinking before shows and on tour in general.

“I think it’s an obligation to the fans to do your best. It sucks it took me ‘some’ years to reach that conclusion. I have been so fucked up on some gigs, you wouldn’t believe it.” Now though, he claims that Mayhem is the tightest they’ve ever been, so it’s an ideal time to catch the chaos.

“Watching a Mayhem show is very theatrical; it’s like a play about darkness with Dracula (vocalist Attila) playing the lead role. It’s very chaotic but very controlled at the same time.

“Another cool thing about the band, is you will never know if it’s the last time you will watch a Mayhem gig or not.

“People die in this band, by their own hands or by others, and they are not getting any younger.”

Watch Mayhem with Revenge and Watain on January 23rd at the Republik in Calgary. The next evening, see them in Edmonton at the Starlite Room.

BC edition interview

By Serena Navarro

VANCOUVER — Mayhem, the infamous Norwegian black metal band, was formed in Oslo in 1984 by guitarist Oystein Aarseth (“Euronymous”), bassist Jorn Stubberud (“Necrobutcher”), and drummer Kjetil Manheim. Suicides, homicides, and the burning of churches – yes it’s all related quite heavily to Mayhem and will forever be. Although littered with controversy over the years about band members being neo-Nazis, misanthropic and anti-Christian, Mayhem has continued making music, which has been characterized by the band’s revolving door of musicians. The possibility of the music standing for itself was always a question the metal community took to heart. Many a conversation and heated arguments have been had over the years. Regardless, Mayhem has continued on, with the current line up consisting of Necrobutcher, drummer Hellhammer, vocalist Attila Csihar, and guitarists Ghul and Teloch.

Esoteric Warfare, Mayhem’s fifth studio album, was released, with hesitated excitement, in June of 2014 – almost seven years after their last album, Ordo Ad Chao. Teloch, the current rhythm guitarist of almost four years, made some time to answer questions via email.

Teloch explains that the lyrical theme of Esoteric Warfare is about “mind control, secret nazi societies, cold war and flying saucers… Attila (the vocalist and song writer) is really into stuff like this, where as I am not a believer of all these conspiracy theories.”

Attila Csihar, vocalist of Mayhem for over ten years (replacing previous vocalist “Dead” after he committed suicide) and vocalist for the infamous album De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, has recorded some of the most eerie and ghoulish ululations produced by a living entity for their new record. Seriously, it’s beautifully horid.

“We are into the more fucked up things in life…instead of flowers and machines for the kitchen,” Teloch explains about creating Esoteric Warfare. “It started with me making a vocal guide for Attila and we built the lyrics and vocal performances around that. He is a dream to work with and is always open to try new things.”

When asked about the musical aspect of the album Teloch confesses that it’s mostly straightforward Mayhem material for the first four songs “but the rest of the album is more experimental… I tried introducing some new elements.” For example the song “Milab” was written “as a very soft song, but it still has that creepy Frankenstein feeling to it that I like,” Teloch explains.

The inspiration for such demonic sounds from the album comes from a Canadian source. “Actually I was trying to make a Voivod-inspired song, but more evil,” Teloch confesses. “I get inspired by everything… a noise from a car parked outside my window… simple things like weird sounds that surround me in my daily life.”

Teloch responded to some controversial questions about Mayhem’s past and the contributions of Dead and Euronymous by simply stating, “This is Mayhem, so the intensity is quite rough sometimes when discussing things. I didn’t know the Euro or Dead, so I don’t speak about them. I hear some of the guys that knew them talk sometimes about them yes, of course. They were a big part of this band’s history… but then again I’m more interested in the future then the past.”

Mayhem just might be around for another 30 years if Teloch has his way, “but it’s not getting easier with this kind of extreme metal. Maybe its time to slow down a little bit for the next couple albums so that we can have some slow songs to play when we hit 70 or 80 years old,” jokes Teloch.

So, perhaps we can expect some slower songs from the next Mayhem album, but for now it’s all about the crude, obscured and maniacal metal.

Mayhem perform at the Rickshaw Theatre January 26.

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