I’m all at once excited and nervous to tell you the story of Mayhem. If you’re a fan of Norwegian black metal, then you already know these guys. If not…buckle up. This story is more revolting than Ted Nugent.
Speaking of the Nuge…
Major Trigger Warning
One note of caution right up front. I’m not necessarily recommending that you listen to this band. If you’re dying to hear it, we’ll facilitate that. But it’s really more about the story.
Second thing, don’t blame us for what follows. Just the facts ma’am. If you vomit from horror, don’t send us your dry-cleaning bills. If you have a sensitive stomach, you should probably leave the room now.
You’ve been warned.
Fury in the Fjords
Ok. Now that we’re alone…the disturbing but entirely mostly probably true story of Norwegian Black Metal band Mayhem.
So you know how some metal guys act like they’re all into Satan and mutilation but how they’re probably out antiquing on the weekends? I mean, what do you think Lars Ulrich’s Sunday looks like? Goat sacrifice? Hot-wax torture?
That dude has a fancy-ass brunch before jetting off to Wimbledon and closing the day with a wine tasting at an art gallery…which honestly sounds lovely to me. But it ain’t very metal.
Mayhem…these guys are the real deal. These guys are true believers. Mayhem formed in 1984 and quickly became one of the leading lights of the burgeoning Scandinavian black metal scene. They were all the rage in the fjords. Mayhem gained a reputation for grisly onstage antics and an infectious musical blend of bleakness and horribleness.
With founding members Euronymous and Necrobutcher (not their Christian names), Mayhem was a true architect of the harsh, bludgeoning, and probably white-supremacist form of music for which Norway is best known. But it was not until the 1988 addition of drummer Hellhammer and lead vocalist Dead (also not their given birth names) that Mayhem coalesced into its classic lineup.
Dead, as you might perhaps have guessed, thought of himself as actually being dead. He told contemporaries that he was not of this Earth, that his blood had ceased to flow in his veins and that his biggest regret was that his skin wasn’t paler.
He was known to bury his clothes in the earth and subsequently dig them up in order to look as though he himself had just recently emerged from the grave just before taking stage. He donned corpse paint, sliced himself open with jagged glass and performed while flanked by animal heads impaled on microphone stands.
Still with me? It doesn’t get better from here.
Again, you’ve been warned.
So during one tour, Dead (that’s the guy’s name, remember) Dead wanted to be imbued with the essence of death every time he went on stage to perform. He wanted the stench of it in his nostrils. So before getting on stage every night, he huffed a trash bag containing the decomposing remains of a crow.
Ok. Good for you. But I gotta tell you, it gets worse.
Dead Does Exactly What You Assume a Guy Named Dead Is Gonna Do
Mayhem owned a dark, scary cabin in the middle of the woods because of course they did. On April 8th, 1991, Dead went to the cabin, slit his wrists and shot himself in the face.
He left a note that said “excuse all the blood, cheers.”
When bandmate Euronymous found his body he did the only rational thing one could in that situation. He ran out to buy a disposable camera, rearranged a few choice items, and took pictures. Then, as you probably already guessed, he gathered up pieces of Dead’s skull to be later fashioned into necklaces and distributed to the leading figures in Scandinavian black and death metal.
I’m sure I don’t have to tell you the next part, since it’s the oldest rock and roll cliché in the book, but legend has it that Dead’s bandmate’s then gathered together and ate his brain in a stew. Members have denied this final detail, but have confirmed the rest.
Too Metal For Necrobutcher
In actuality, Necrobutcher was horrified by the whole affair, and particularly horrified by Euronymous, who described the suicide as “cool” and saw it as a great way to build the band’s notoriety.
Necrobutcher left the band. Euronymous oversaw the recording of their official debut with a cast of replacement members, including one Count Grishnackh (not an actual Count). The Count (nee Varg Vikernes) was already a black metal star in his own right, having produced four highly influential albums as Burzum.
Studio Sesh Gets Stabby
Euronymous and Count Grishnackh clashed frequently during the recordings. While they shared the same basic values regarding racial purity and Norse mythology, they did have some artistic differences. By way of resolution, Count Grishnackh stabbed Euronymous repeatedly in the head. When asked in a 1996 interview how he felt about the murder, he said, “Nothing special, really. It was no big deal.”
The not-particularly-repentant Vikernes remained politically active as he served out 15 years of his 21-year murder sentence. As a leading member of Nordic terrorist organizational, Heathen Front, Vikernes helped coordinate a campaign to burn down some of Norway’s oldest churches.
This campaign was successful. When asked about it, the incarcerated Count Grishnakch explained that he was simply doing his part to bring about the inevitable war between Christianity and Pagan Satanism.
Let’s see Lars Ulrich do that!
A Debut a Decade In the Making
It was in the midst of this stellar publicity buzz that the band’s long-awaited, full-length studio debut, De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, was finally released in 1994. It is widely considered among the most influential examples of the genre. Necrobutcher subsequently returned to the fold and, along with Hellhammer, established a new Mayhem touring lineup.
Today, Grishnakch is a free man living in France, where we assume he spends most of his time engaging in community service and charity drives.
As for the band, presuming you are not part of an ethnic minority and don’t mind the very real possibility that you could be knocked unconscious by projectile severed pig’s heads, you are more than welcome to see the still-active, still-touring, still-terrifying Mayhem live and in concert.