29 March 2017
In the early ’90s, the Norwegian metal scene was a scary place to be. Church burnings, murders, violent assaults and a total refusal to take metal’s Hammer movie schtick as anything other than deadly serious mean that anything written about the era is as much true crime as it is musical history.
And at the centre of it all were Mayhem, whose debut album De Mysteriis Dom Sathanus remains a touchstone of the genre to this day. By the time it was finally released, it already had a bodycount, giving it a ghoulish aspect as an artefact as well as in terms of content. Recently, Mayhem have decided the time has finally come to play it live in its entirety, with Attila Csihar in his rightful place as frontman.So it’s quite an occasion tonight for lovers of all things dark, brutal and extreme. Before this, however, we have new stars on the scene Dragged Into Sunlight. Like Gaston from Disney’s Beauty And The Beast, they use antlers in all of their decorating, as well as a huge twisty tree candelabra-type thing, around and before which they bang out their set of intelligent, ever-shifting black metal in the almost-prog vein of Wolves In The Throne Room or Nachtmystium. It’s chilling stuff, for sure. And then it’s Mayhem. As the scything buzzsaw guitar of “Funeral Fog” kicks off tonight’s performance, it’s clear that twenty-odd years of making music has turned them into one tight-ass and polished metal band. Where you would think this sheen, as well as adulthood, would take the edge off what was originally a youthful howl of despair by a ramshackle bunch of cultish malcontents, instead it serves only to enhance the atmosphere. By the time Attila comes in with his part-growled, part-snarled, part-shrieked vocals, we have all been transported to their dark world of vampiric evil and ancient chaos. After years of seeing Attila fronting Sunn0)))‘s equally-evil-but-a-fuck-sight-slower drone bass assault, it’s easy to forget just how well his unearthly voice complements the blastbeats and sheet metal riffs of old-skool black metal. He’s just as visually engaging here as he is with Sunn0))), stalking the stage and clawing his way through the immense clouds of dry ice like a demon crawling out through a crack in the sky. By the time Attila comes back on for the title track, dressed in Papal red and declaiming its multiple blasphemies to, or even through, a skull, the Electric Ballroom feels like it has been visited by something dark and ancient. And then, of course, the lights go up, horns are thrown, and we remember once again that yes, it was just a show.
But man. WHAT a fucking show.
-Words: Justin Farrington-
-Pictures: Dave Pettit-
(and with thanks to Mayhem’s awesome tour manager).