Mayhem — Deathcrush EP
With the explosion of musicians operating in some facet of the black metal genre, it is worth looking back upon its roots and the artists and albums that helped shape what it has become today. The recent remastering of Mayhem's ambitious (and controversial) second LP, Grand Declaration Of War (review) prompted me to personally revisit the group's formative years — a collection of recordings which I had not given much thought in a decade. After their formation in 1984, Mayhem cut a number of demos before finally issuing the Deathcrush EP some 3 years later. This release would serve as the beginning of the saga of Mayhem and as a part of growing surge that would become the second wave of black metal, following in the wake of Bathory et al.
Listening to Deathcrush in 2019 is an interesting experience; the album is a time capsule, a relic from a bygone era — both in terms of the black metal scene itself but also the music world at large. When this EP first released, bands like Mayhem were discovered by word-of-mouth and tape-trading circles. If you think Deathcrush sounds janky and low-fi on officially released recordings, imagine paying some random dude to mail you a bootleg copy of their most likely bootlegged album. Suffice it to say, Deathcrush was recorded with only a basic consideration for 'production,' and the medium in which it was distributed did nothing but degrade the audio fidelty. And no one cared. In fact, this likely fuelled the early black metal community's aversion to studio polish — if all of your music sounds like trash, trash becomes your new normal.
What Deathcrush lacks in polish, it makes up for in intensity. Hindsight is 20/20, and I didn't hear this EP until it was about 15 years old, so I cannot provide an accurate assessment of how it was received at the time. Mayhem's popularity only grew, and the recording itself has a somewhat legendary underground status as a pure album from the genre's kvlt era. I think it's a passable recording and an interesting historical artifact, but would not consider it to be any sort of seminal work. The drums sound laughably bad, to the point that I have no idea why the EP opens with "Silvester Anfang," a nearly 2-minute-long drum piece — consisting mostly of rolls done on what what I assume are toms that have never been tuned or had their heads replaced.
The non-instrumental material is decent, primordial black metal, and includes the band's classic "Chainsaw Gutsfuck." The guitars are crackling and buzzing through foundational black metal riffs, the drums are frantic and crazed, while vocalists Maniac and Messiah each sound like a ghost screaming through a reverb pedal. The band manages to just barely maintain enough order and coherence to stop the songs from falling apart. Deathcrush sounds like a bunch of young musicians very early in developing their sound and finding their footing, but you can tell there's a spark present and that Mayhem would only be getting better on future material. As I said, this EP is an excellent history piece; one doesn't have to be enthralled with Deathcrush to understand that this release, among others from groups like Darkthrone, Burzum and Thorns, would go on to define the second wave of black metal.
Is this EP required listening? No, not really; if you have a vested interest in retracing the origins of the black metal genre, then you pretty much have to listen to this recording, but that is the only circumstance in which I would say that is true. Deathcrush is raw, barely produced, and is dated in every regard; what sounded unique and darkly intriguing in the late-80s is now a mere footnote — a historical curiosity — at best. Without a time machine, no one can experience what it was like to be a black metal fan in the late-80s / early-90s, but recordings like Deathcrush can help lend perspective. For a band with such a ... colourful, 35-year history as Mayhem, it's also quite a trip to go back and listen to material from when they were in their mid-20s.
Easily the least interesting release, musically, from Mayhem, but still an intriguing album nonetheless. A piece of history, a genre classic, and a relic from a bygone — yet extremely pivotal — era in music history. This is what underground music sounded like when the Internet didn't exist and you couldn't make studio-quality recordings in your apartment bedroom with $1,000 (or less) in gear.
The debut EP from legendary Norwegian black metal outfit, Mayhem, Deathcrush features only a single member still active with the band — a result of members leaving, or dying (voluntarily and otherwise) — and showcases the band in their formative years. Deathcrush exemplifies the raw, furious spirit of an underground music genre in the pre-Internet era; a grimy, uncompromising recording from a band that would help define the second wave of black metal and then evolve well beyond it and continue to produce compelling material for another 3 decades-plus. How necessary it is to hear this EP depends on your level of curiosity regarding Mayhem and / or black metal in general, as you can't begin to understand the history of either without hearing Deathcrush.
Release date: August 16th, 1987
Record label: Posercorpse Records
Maniac — vocals (tracks 2, 3 5)
Messiah — vocals (tracks 4, 7)
Euronymous — guitar
Necrobutcher — bass
Manheim — drums, piano (track 6)
- Silvester Anfang
- Chainsaw Gutsfuck
- Witching Hour (Venom cover)
- (Weird) Manheim
- Pure Fucking Armageddon
Published: January 12th, 2019.