True Mayhem on Hastings at The Rickshaw Theatre

Ester Segarra

Widely regarded as the single most influential album in the history of black metal, some twenty-two years after the controversial release of the LP, The True Mayhem are currently touring their debut studio album De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas.

For the first time in the band’s tumultuous 33-year run, the Lords of Chaos are unlocking Pandora’s box and dispersing the energy from the legendary album around the world.

The History of De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas

If the figures seem a little askew rest assured you’re free to put your shoes and socks back on, it’s not your math. Due to the burgeoning genre, finances and a litany of personal and professional ‘hiccups’ the band which formed in 1984 were unable to capture a studio’s attention for the first decade of existence. However, in the time leading up the De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, the pioneers of Norwegian Black Metal were able to dominate the underground European metal scene with the release of six albums over the course of seven years spanning 1986-1993.  An even greater influence on the lore that earned the band much of the underground’s attention was the result of a plague of spiteful carnage that Mayhem left in their wake. A series of events so unfortunate that even with a name like Mayhem, it fails to accurately describe the atrocity continually on exhibition during the first third of the band’s history.  

Originally formed in Oslo, Norway by guitarist/vocalist Euronymous (Then Destructor), bass player Necrobutcher and drummer Manheim; Mayhem took their name from a Venom song entitled “Mayhem with Mercy”. For a brief spell, the band played mostly covers of Black Sabbath, Motorhead and the band mentioned above name influence, Venom.

Shortly after Mayhem’s initial demo Pure Fucking Armageddon was released in 1986 the band recruited the man who heavy metal still regards as having coined the term and donned the first smearing of corpse paint, Dead.

Said to believe himself “not of this realm”, the vocalist (Euronymous stepped back to focus on guitar) would bury his stage clothes and unearth garments pre-show; as if he came out of the ground with them. As an homage to his stage-name Dead wore corpse paint not once considering a resemblance to Kiss or Alice Cooper, but rather as a means to make himself appear cold and lifeless; like a corpse. Known to cut himself on a stage often marred with a pig’s head impaled on a stake, Dead later stopped the unsanitary act upon word that fans were showing up solely for the singer’s act of self-mutilation and not the artisanal ballads as composed by the Norwegian black metal pioneers.

Dead adopted what would later be his stage name after he ruptured his spleen as a victim of bullying as a teenager causing Swedish paramedics to pronounce the young man as ‘clinically dead.’ Described as ‘odd’ and ‘introverted’ the impersonal Dead was said to not eat in an attempt to develop starvation marks purposely.

With a reputation as having a sense of humour so obscure that it was next to non-existent, those that knew the Swede found the “excuse the blood” note left at the scene of the apparent suicide more puzzling than Dead having committed the act itself.

Even more hair-raising is the notion that it was Euronymous who found the lifeless body of his former vocalist after the two had a notoriously bad history of bickering and loathing of one another; this despite living together with (then new) drummer Hellhammer.  Considering Euronymous took the time to buy a disposable camera and take pictures of Dead’s corpse before alerting authorities it is not surprising to learn that one of the pictures later appeared on the cover of the 1996 bootleg live album Dawn of the Blackhearts. To add salacious fuel to the fire of the story, consider the treatment of Dead’s death and the rumours of Euronymous collecting and necklacing pieces of the skull and brain matter before police arrived. With Dead having allegedly started the process of suicide by slitting his wrists and throat, it is baffling how the slight vocalist could then pick up and deploy the shotgun which ultimately ended his life.

Dead’s apparent suicide is, of course, the tip of the black iceberg that can’t seem to sink this Titanic of a group. Mayhem is linked to Christian church burnings, they’ve been known to have Nazi insignia emblazoned their outfits, are fraught with alleged in-band fighting and even stabbings. The suicide of Dead shook Necrobutcher up so badly he quit the band (he is back with them now). In Necrobutcher’s stead and for the beginning of the De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas vocal and bass recording sessions was Occultus. Occultus promptly left The True Mayhem after receiving numerous death threats by Euronymous not long into his tenure with the intense band.

One member of Mayhem Count Grishnackh (Varg Vickernes) who joined a year after Dead’s suicide was questioned about the famous death of a gay runner directly inside the Olympic Park during the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Games. In the end, it was a man named Faust (a member of a different Norwegian black metal band called Emperor) that ultimately plead guilty to the hate-crime.

However, that would not stop Vickernes from gaining the largest headlines of the group when after he confessed and then denied the killing of a man in Lillehammer, he claimed responsibility for the rash of church burnings that had been creating news in the area. Though the confession was not proof enough to convict Vickernes with the Lillehammer murder, he was found guilty on five of six church burnings. Before the courts could process the church case, however, Vickernes took the life of Mayhem founder Euronymous by fatally delivering no less than 23 cut wounds-two to the head, five to the neck and sixteen to the back of the guitar player. In court, Vickernes claimed that his actions were in self-defense to ward off an attacking Euronymous (who planned to ‘stun’ him with an electroshock weapon). Vickernes also asserted that many of the cuts sustained by the original member of Mayhem were the result of glass that had broken during their struggle.

Considering that all of the aforementioned chicaneries which culminated in the murder of Euronymous transpired before or during the making of De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, one can see why the album didn’t get a fair shake at summer festivals immediately after its release. The infamous LP finished recording before Euronymous’ murder in August of 1993, but not released until after in May of 1994.

The official personnel on De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas is listed as:

  •    Vocals- Attila Csihar (Black metal journeymen currently back with Mayhem and appeared on De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas (1994), Mediolanum Capta Est (1998-Guest), Ordo Ad Chao (2007) and Esoteric Warfare (2004).
  •    Guitars- Oystein “Euronymous” Aarseth (Murdered by Varg Vikernes).
  • Bass- Varg “Count Grishnackh” Vikernes (Living in France after serving 21 years in prison for the murder of Oystein Aarseth and the burning of five churches.).
  •    Drums- Jan Axel “Hellhammer” Blomberg (Active in Mayhem and staple since joining the band in 1988).
  •    Lyrics- Per “Dead” Ohlin (Committed Suicide in 1991).
  •    Lyrics/guitar riffs – Snorre “Blackthorn” Ruch.

The True Mayhem at The Rickshaw Theatre

The packed-full Rickshaw Theatre was as difficult to navigate through as it has ever been. The liquor lineups were impossibly long; the washroom reeked of a consistent stream of beer-drunk-metalheads perpetually failing to hit the porcelain target. One couldn’t travel more than a handful of steps without brushing up against a sweaty long haired man with a curious mix in their eye of disdain for your existence and tinge of hopeful anticipation for the headlining act. It’s hard to say if there were more grimaces or black T-shirts worn at the venue the night of Mayhem.

The sound from the band was at times chaotic like a wall of high-pitched buzz saws making it difficult at times to discern if perhaps the band inexplicably changed songs and jumped out of order from the 22-year-old source material. The group themselves were usually impossible to see, often shrouded in ropes and with enough stage smoke to pass as a Cypress Hill / Snoop Dogg smoke-off. If it were not for the thoughtful staff at The Rickshaw Theatre opening the upstairs seating once the band started, the constant shaking would have resulted in the place being crumpled to the ground or when it came time to exit the patrons would find themselves just off of Commercial Street butted up against the Wise Hall.

With all of that said, Mayhem was nothing short of perfect. Any metalhead at the show who would tell you otherwise is not worth the weight in sweated out salt by the hundreds packed into the venue joyously rooting the savages on from Mayhem. Most of the reason the sound was so ‘off’ at times was due to the equally as loud cheers and screams heading back to Mayhem from the appreciative crowd. All-in-all there was no place this reviewer would have rather been at that moment. Live Nation, The Rickshaw Theatre and The True Mayhem united to bring 20 years of anticipating the Norwegian metal gods to perfect fruition; and on the De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas no less.