The story of the group Mayhem marks possibly the darkest chapter in metal — nay, music — history.
Forming in the mid-1980's 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 Necrobutcher note (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 shotgun round through his head (and brain lying on the floor) 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 wound up used as the infamous cover art of the live bootleg album "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' family, Hellhammer promised to remove Vikernes' 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. Vikernes' bass parts were, however, lowered in the mix (although some vinyl editions have them raised again, most likely owing to the remastering process for vinyl).
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 served 14 months in prison for beating a man who walked on his property uninvited, cutting him and making him bleed into a cup, and allegedly threatening to make him drink it. 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), eventually settling on Teloch as a permanent member and adding second guitarist Ghul. The band released the album Esoteric Warfare in 2014 and Daemon in 2019.
TL;DR version: One singer was legitimately insane, another singer committed suicide, the first bassist walked out in disgust, the guitarist was murdered, the second bassist spent a decade and a half in prison for the murder, the first bassist came back, and the band's still going because of the drummer. Don't you love black metal?
Official members (Founding members in bold, current members in italic):
- Euronymous (Øystein Aarseth) - guitar (1984-1993, died 1993)
- Necrobutcher (Jørn Stubberud) - bass guitar (1984-1991, 1995-present), vocals (1986)
- Manheim (Kjetil Manheim) - drums (1984-1987)
- Maniac (Sven Erik Kristiansen) - vocals (1987, 1995-2004)
- Dead (Per "Pelle" Yngve Ohlin) - vocals (1988-1991, died 1991)
- Hellhammer (Jan Axel Blomberg) - drums (1998-1993, 1995-present) note
- Varg Vikernes - bass guitar (1992-1993)
- Attila Csihar - vocals (1992-1993, 2004-present)
- Blackthorn (Snorre Ruch) - guitar (1992-1993)
- Blasphemer (Rune Eriksen) - guitar (1995-2008)
- Teloch (Morten Iversen) - guitar (2011-present)
- Ghul (Charles Hedger) - guitar (2012 - present)
Session/guest members (members, who performed on studio recordings in bold, live members in italic)
- Messiah (Eirik "Billy" Nordheim) - vocals (1985, 1987)
- Kittil Kittilsen - vocals (1987-1988)
- Torben Grue - drums (1987-1988)
- Occultis (Stian Johannsen) - vocals, bass guitar (1991)
- Blackthorn (Snorre Ruch) - guitar (1992-1993)
- Alexander Nordgaren - guitar (1997-1998)
- Morpheus (Krister Dreyer) - guitar (2008-2012)
- Silmaeth - guitar (2009-2011)
- 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
- 2019 - Daemon
Mayhem exhibits the following tropes:
- Apocalypse How: Grand Declaration of War seems to end with one.
- 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".
- Ascended Extra: Guitarist Teloch started out as one of a slew of sessional guitarists after Blasphemer's departure. He has since become one of the main songwriters for the band, writing much of their 2014 album Esoteric Warfare.
- 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)".
- Breather Episode: "A Bloodsword and a Colder Sun" comes in between two of the heaviest songs on Grand Declaration of War, "View from Nihil" and "Crystallized Pain in Deconstruction".
- Brown Note: "Freezing Moon" was allegedly intended to induce listeners to commit suicide, though it's highly questionable as to whether this has actually happened.
- Call-Back: Grand Declaration of War contains several callbacks to Wolf's Lair Abyss. Some of them are listed above under Bookends, but there are others. The last song on the EP, "Symbols of Bloodswords", opens with the line "All the stars in the north are dead now." "Completion of Science in Agony (Part II of II)", the last song on the album, opens with the line "All the stars in the north died."
- Card-Carrying Villain: Euronymous was completely shameless when it came to calling himself evil. See the quote at the top of the page.
- Cover Version: Especially in their earlier years, they would often cover songs by Venom and Celtic Frost. Sped-up covers of Venom's "Black Metal" and "Witching Hour" appear on Pure Fucking Armageddon demo and Deathcrush EP respectively.
- The outro on original version of Deathcrush is a cover from The Young Ones note .
- Cluster F-Bomb: "Chainsaw Gutsfuck" combines this with Gorn.
- Concept Album: To a certain extent, Wolf's Lair Abyss and Grand Declaration of War seem to make up two halves of one.
- Epic Instrumental Opener: Several of their songs have these. In particular, it takes about two minutes before the vocals enter in both "A Grand Declaration of War" and "Funeral Fog".
- 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.
- Genre-Busting / Genre Roulette: Grand Declaration of War had more than a bit of this, experimenting with Avant-Garde Metal (the whole album), Progressive Metal ("In the Lies Where Upon You Lay" and "Completion in Science of Agony (Part I of II)" in particular), Doom Metal ("Completion" again), and Trip Hop ("A Bloodsword and a Colder Sun") in addition to the band's usual Black Metal roots. This wasn't entirely unprecedented in their discography as Wolf's Lair Abyss had already begun deploying electronic elements, and even before his death, Euronymous had indicated an interest in electronic music, so it's possible Mayhem's music would have ended up using some of these elements even if he hadn't died.
- Gratuitous Latin: Ordo ad chao is grammatically incorrect Latin for "order to chaos" (an inverted version of the Freemasons' motto, Ordo ab chao, or "order from chaos". A grammatically correct version would be Ordo ad chaos). De mysteriis Dom Sathanas translates roughly as "Of Lord Satan's Secret Rites" or "About the Mystery of the Lord Satan". The band uses other Latin in its lyrics, though it is also not always grammatically correct.
- Hidden Track: As mentioned above under Bookends, there is one of these before the first song on Grand Declaration of War. The final song, the second part of "Completion in Science of Agony", could itself be considered an example, as it's not listed on the back of the CD and comes after a lengthy silence.
- I Am the Band: In early 1990's, Euronymous was this, especially when he became the last remaining original member following Necrobutcher's exit.
- 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. Maniac and Dead can also get pretty hammy; Maniac's spoken-word passages on Grand Declaration of War are particularly hammy.
- Limited Lyrics Song: Despite running for nearly ten minutes, "Completion in Science of Agony (Part I of II)" only contains three stanzas (sixteen lines) of lyrics. Some of this is due to the slow tempo of the song, but even then, more than half of the song is instrumental (or contains only wordless vocals). "Illuminate Eliminate", another nearly ten-minute song, doesn't have much more in the way of lyrics than "Completion", and for that matter, the two-minute Part II of "Completion" only contains two lines, while the Album Intro Track "The Vortex Void of Inhumanity" only contains a single line, repeated several times, and "A Wise Birthgiver" only has three lines. There are probably other examples as well.
- Meaningful Name: There certainly was a lot of mayhem among these guys, onstage and (especially) off...
- Then there's Euronymous, who named himself after a Greek spirit of death and declared war on every band he considered "life metal", and of course, Dead, who believed himself to not be truly alive.
- 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.
- No Ending - Inverted with De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas version of "Funeral Fog", which cuts out the opening drum intro. It can be found on Life Eternal version, though.
- Progressive Metal: Not on most of their material, but a major influence on Grand Declaration of War and, to a lesser extent, Chimera.
- Recurring Riff: There is one that appears in "Symbols of Bloodswords", "Grand Declaration of War", and "View from Nihil". See Bookends above. A chord progression from "Completion in Science of Agony" is also used in the backmasked hidden track at the start of the album and in the album outro (which is usually labelled as "Completion in Science of Agony (Part II of II)", to be fair).
- Singer Name Drop: From "Life Eternal", we have the following lyrics:What will be left of me, when I'm dead?There was nothing, when I lived
- Although it's semi-subverted, as although they were written by Dead, they were first performed by Attila. Dead left the lyrics for "Life Eternal" behind along with his "Excuse all the blood" letter.
- Single Stanza Song: "The Vortex Void of Inhumanity", "Completion in Science of Agony (Part II of II)", "A Wise Birthgiver".
- 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". There is also a choir on "Completion in Science of Agony (Part I of II)" after the lengthy instrumental break; the end of the song features the choir at the same time as the harsh vocals, while Maniac alternates clean singing with the traditional Metal Scream of black metal earlier in the song.
- 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 in 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.
- Subdued Section: The lengthy instrumental and a cappella break on "Completion in Science of Agony (Part I of II)" is a respite in an otherwise heavy song.
- Subliminal Seduction: Done subtly (particularly since this is Mayhem, a band not usually associated with subtlety) on Grand Declaration of War. The Hidden Track before the first song is a backmasked version of the last song on the album.
- Surprisingly Gentle Song: Songs like "The Vortex Void of Inhumanity", "Completion in Science of Agony (Part II of II)" and "A Bloodsword and a Colder Sun" are milder than their usual fare.
- 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. Some of their examples from their avant-garde era get much more complicated, such as "In the Lies Where Upon You Lay", which has several different time signature changes.
- 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.
- Vocal Tag Team: In the very early stages of their career, before they had a permanent singer, Euronymous and Necrobutcher would take turns singing during rehearsals.
- This was also in effect on Deathcrush. Half of the EP is sung by Maniac and half is sung by Messiah.