Music: Mayhem

"There exist no death metal bands today, only “life metal” bands. If a band cultivates and worship death than it’s death metal, no matter what kind of metal they play. And “cultivating” death doesn’t mean to think it’s funny or being into gore, but I mean being able to kill just because you hate life. It’s people who enjoys to see wars because a lot of people get killed. And I know no “death” metal bands in this way. There’s an abyss between us and the rest: be careful and avoid being “open-minded”. The HC pigs have correctly made themselves guardians of morality: we’ll become guardians of anti-morality.”
— Euronymous, 1992

The story of the group Mayhem marks possibly the darkest chapter in metal—nay, music—history.

Forming in the mid-1980s and taking their name from a song by the band Venom (who also coined the term Black Metal), the Norwegian band's original line-up consisted of guitarist Euronymous (Øystein Aarseth), bassist Necrobutchernote  (Jørn Stubberud) and drummer Kjetil Manheim. When the group was originally formed, Euronymous also sang, before being replaced by Maniac (Sven Erik Kristiansen) on vocals (who was placed in a mental institution after the recording of the infamous Deathcrush EP)note . Manheim also left the band that time. The band found replacements in drummer Hellhammer (Jan Axel Blomberg) and the Swedish vocalist Per Yngve Ohlin, nicknamed "Dead" (previously of obscure cult-act "Morbid"), for his love of, surprise, surprise, death: he would wear clothes people had been buried in months before, cut himself on stage (one point he cut himself so much on stage he had to be sent to the hospital in bad need of a transfusion), and kept a dead crow in a jar because he liked "the stench of death". Despite these amusing quirks, for some reason everyone who met him had ill feelings about him and always said that he looked like he hated being alive. These folks would ultimately be proven correct when one day, Euronymous entered the house that Dead was staying in and found him, appropriately enough, dead, a bullet wound in his head and his wrists cut open (Dead just wanted to be sure).

A suicide note was left that said "Excuse all the blood". Euronymous, doing what any of us might have done when faced with such a difficult situation, took a disposable camera, moved some objects around, and took a picture of the corpse, the photo eventually winding up on the cover of the infamous bootleg "Dawn of the Black Hearts". He was also said to have kept pieces of Dead's brain, which he used as ingredients in a stew, and some shards of his skull, which he sent as gifts to "worthy" bands within the Black Metal scene (kind of like the True Cross, but more brutal). Guitarist Morgan S. Hakansson of Sweden's Marduk is said to treasure one to this day. Euronymous admitted to taking shards of the skull, but not any of the brain (because that would just be sick), though he did say that he wanted to.

Following Dead's suicide, Dead was replaced by Hungarian vocalist Attila Csihar, and Necrobutcher left the band and was temporarily replaced by Varg "Count Grishnakh" Vikernes, sole member of Bergen-based group Burzum. During the recording of the band's first full-length album, De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, tensions rose between Euronymous and Vikernes, which later resulted in Vikernes killing Euronymous, stabbing him a total of 21 times. Due to complaints from Euronymous's family, Hellhammer promised to remove Vikernes's basslines and record them himself, but this didn't happen. The explanation is either him feeling it was fitting that killer and victim should perform on the same album, or simply (and more likely) not having the time and money to go back and replace them, not to mention not knowing how to play bass.

During that time, they were associated with Gaahl, Gorgoroth's then-vocalist. While a cultured, soft-spoken and polite man who had a homosexual tryst with a Norwegian fashion stylist and modeling agent named Dan DeVero, Gaahl nonetheless had a long history of violence. Gaahl is still being held responsible for kidnapping and torturing a man who walked on his property uninvited, cutting him and making him bleed into a cup, and threatening to use him as a sacrifice. They take trespassing pretty seriously in the Black Metal community.

After the killing of Euronymous and Vikernes' incarceration (he was released from prison in 2009), the remaining members (Hellhammer and returned Necrobutcher) decided to forge on and recruited new members. Euronymous was replaced by Blasphemer (Rune Eriksen), a far more technically skilled and experimental guitarist, while Maniac was re-recruited for the EP Wolf's Lair Abyss and the two albums that followed, Grand Declaration of War and Chimera, both of which have divided critical opinion among the band's fanbase.

Maniac was later fired due to his stage fright-related alcoholism (and has been involved in other projects, such as the doom band Skitliv) and replaced by Attila Csihar, who performed on the band's fourth album Ordo Ad Chao, their most critically regarded since the seminal De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, which still has its fair share of detractors.

Blasphemer has since left the band, owing to his various other projects (such as Ava Inferi and Aura Noir), and was replaced by a succession of live guitarists (among them Morfeus and Teloch). The band reportedly have a new album due out later in 2014.

TL;DR version: One singer was legitimately insane, another singer committed suicide, the guitarist was murdered, the first bassist walked out in disgust, the second bassist spent a decade and a half in prison for the murder, and the band's still going because of the drummer. Don't you love black metal?

Discography:

  • 1987 - Deathcrush (EP)
  • 1994 - De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas
  • 1997 - Wolf's Lair Abyss (EP)
  • 2000 - Grand Declaration of War
  • 2004 - Chimera
  • 2007 - Ordo Ad Chao
  • 2009 - Life Eternal (EP)
  • 2014 - Esoteric Warfare

Mayhem exhibits the following tropes:

  • Arc Words: "Illuminate Eliminate" from Ordo ad Chao features the lyric "Whatever done equals zero times everything", followed by the lyric "Whatever done equals zero times nothing" from the concluding track on the album, "Anti".
  • Black Metal: Obviously.
  • Bookends: A more unconventional example. Grand Declaration of War is a sequel to their Wolf's Lair Abyss EP. The saga as a whole is divided into three sections: I (Wolf's Lair Abyss), II (the first half of Grand Declaration of War) and III (the second half). A riff appears at the very end of "Symbols of Bloodswords", the last track from Wolf's Lair Abyss, and the album fades out. "A Grand Declaration of War", the first track of part II of the saga fades in with the same riff shifted up a semitone. The riff appears for the third and final time at the start of the track "View from Nihil (Part II of II)", followed by some spoken word vocals and a sample of a nuclear bomb detonating. This concludes part II of the entire saga.
    • There is also a hidden track before the first song on the initial pressing of Grand Declaration of War which can be found by rewinding the CD from the start point. It is simply a backmasked version of the final song, "Completion in Science of Agony (Part II of II)".
  • Contemptible Cover: Dawn of the Black Hearts. (NSFW)
  • Driven to Suicide: Dead. Who'da thunk it?
  • Epic Rocking: A few of their songs are quite long. The longest is "Completion in Science of Agony (Part I of II)" from Grand Declaration of War, which is 9:44 in length. "Illuminate Eliminate", from Ordo ad Chao, is close behind at 9:40. Their songs tend to be pretty long anyway, though; there is only one song on De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas under five minutes in length, and half of them are longer than six.
  • Friedrich Nietzsche: Some of the lyrics on Grand Declaration of War are directly taken from his writings or inspired by him. The album's title is apparently his description of Twilight of the Idols („eine grosse Kriegserklärung“).
  • Genre Popularizer: For black metal. Specifically speaking, Mayhem essentially started up second-wave black metal, but first-wave black metal covers a lot of bands that are totally dissimilar to Mayhem (Celtic Frost and Mercyful Fate, for example), and the actual black metal genre didn't really have a proper definition until Mayhem and co. came along. (It is worth noting, however, that many of the second wave's most important characteristics had already been established by Bathory, particularly on Under the Sign of the Black Mark).
  • Hidden Track: As mentioned above under Bookends, there is one of these before the first song on Grand Declaration of War.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Euronymous was rumored to have removed part of Dead's brain, and made a stew with it. He denied this, but he did remove several shards of his skull.
  • Indecipherable Lyrics: As is the norm for black metal. Exceptions come with the band's occasional uses of Spoken Word in Music or clean vocals, unless Attila Csihar is singing them.
  • Kill All Humans: Virtually the entirety of Ordo ad Chao consists of this.
  • Large Ham: Attila is perhaps the most notorious example of this among Black Metal vocalists, not that anyone is complaining. His unorthodox amalgamation of guttural growls and operatic wailing is known for its theatrical qualities as well as being, well, highly emphatic.
  • Meaningful Name: There certainly was a lot of mayhem among these guys, onstage and (especially) off...
  • Miniscule Rocking: "A Time to Die" is a straight example by the band's standards, being under two minutes in length. A couple of other tracks on Grand Declaration of War are short intros or outros, but it's debatable whether those qualify for this trope.
  • Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: 10.
  • Progressive Metal: Not on most of their material, but a major influence on Grand Declaration of War and, to a lesser extent, Chimera.
  • Real Men Eat Meat: Inverted in the case of Attila Csihar, a longtime vegetarian.
  • Recurring Riff: There is one that appears in "Symbols of Bloodswords", "Grand Declaration of War", and "View from Nihil". See Bookends above.
  • Soprano and Gravel: Most of the time they use the traditional Harsh Vocals of black metal, but there are occasional examples of sung passages in their work, such as on "De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas" and "Symbols of Bloodswords".
  • Spoken Word in Music: Large portions of Grand Declaration of War. Some fans were less than pleased.
  • Stage Names: For the most part, although Attila Csihar's is an aversion - that's his real name. Also averted with their original drummer Manheim, who simply went by his surname.
  • The Stars Are Going Out: "Symbols of Bloodswords" from Wolf's Lair Abyss opens with the line "All the stars in the north are dead now" and doesn't get any cheerier from there.
  • Stylistic Suck: Ordo ad Chao; while Mayhem's earlier work was quite lo-fi, their years since their reformation had crystal clear production and electronic drums. Ordo ad Chao had muddy guitars, a very low-end sound (unheard of any black metal), and had under-produced drums (no EQ, triggers only on the bass drums).
    • In his interview for Until the Light Takes Us, Vikernes stated that they went out of their way to use the shittiest possible equipment while recording to the point where the mic used to record vocals was a tiny, outdated and almost nonfunctional headset.
  • Subliminal Seduction: Done subtly on Grand Declaration of War. The Hidden Track before the first song is a backmasked version of the last song on the album.
  • Titled After the Song: As mentioned above, the band's name was taken from the Venom song "Mayhem with Mercy".
  • Trope Codifier: Mayhem did more than any other band except maybe Bathory to shape the form that the black metal genre took.
  • Two-Part Trilogy: Wolf's Lair Abyss and Grand Declaration of War make up this. In addition to the Recurring Riff linking them (see Bookends above), the latter has each half of the album explicitly labelled as "Part II" and "Part III".
  • Uncommon Time: "Deathcrush", "Chainsaw Gutsfuck", and "Slaughter of Dreams" among other tracks.
  • Unpleasable Fanbase: Of the band's post-DMDS output, only Wolf's Lair Abyss seems to be largely free of detractors. It doesn't help that part of the fanbase regarded the reformation of the band in the wake of Euronymous' death as being inappropriate to begin with. One wonders whether albums like Grand Declaration of War would have been less divisive if they had been released under another name.
  • Vampire Vords: In Real Life, Attila Csihar has such an extreme Dracula-like Hungarian accent that it makes you wonder if he exaggerates his own accent to make his vocals more obviously reminiscent of Bela Lugosi's Dracula.