The Rickety Old Shack

Mayhem — De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas

album cover

The first full-length studio album from Mayhem dropped after the band had seemingly disbanded in 1993, following the brutal stabbing death of founder Euronymous at the hands of Count Grishnackh (AKA Varg Vikernes). By this time, the band had become a high-profile member of the Norwegian black metal scene, and its members had been involved in the church fires that had become somewhat prevalent in Norway at the time. Oh, those crazy kids, what with their fringe metal and stabbings and their arson and such... Mayhem had also lost their vocalist, Dead, who took his own life in 1991. Dead's suicide had also prompted the exit of Necrobutcher, the group's bassist. The album was recorded in late 1992 and early 1993, but the release was delayed almost a year. (Apparently Euronymous' parents objected to the inclusion of Vikerenes' bass tracks on the album, so Hellhammer just told them he would re-record them and then didn't actually change anything.)

De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas ended up being one of the most influential, genre-defining records of the second wave of black metal. It wasn't just the over-the-top 'evil' image that the group had cultivated over the years, or the sensationalism of one frontman's suicide and their founder's murder, the album is actually very good. Over the years, there has developed a pervasive notion that "true kvlt" black metal is supposed to sound like it was recorded on an answering machine and feature simplistic, buzzsaw riffs, wretched vocals and some blast beats — no more, no less. While a lot of very early material from the second wave sounds like this, we're talking about demos cut by teenagers and twenty-somethings with zero budget and primitive recording technology. Still, bands like Mayhem, Darkthrone and Emperor were always advancing their craft and progressing as musicians.

De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas features much longer songs than the band's previous efforts, and the writing is much improved with tracks featuring distinct sections with varied tempos and riff progressions. Most of the material is intense and speedy, though tracks like "Freezing Moon" and "From The Dark Past" feature doomy passages and sections that border on melodic to break up the frenetic whirlwinds of guitar and drums. The tracks are almost twice as long as the material found on Deathcrush, as the band flexes their new writing chops. Vocalist Attila Csihar lends another unique voice to the group, delivering a mix of spoken-word vocals, a zombie-like drawl, as well as tortured wretches and growls. The variance in the vocals and Csihar's overall better delivery and talent is the most stark improvement over the group's past work. The production is also very good, while still holding to the minimalistic tenets of the genre. The guitars aren't layered in effects, the tracks have slight imperfections here and there, but overall everything sounds competently recorded and mixed — you can even hear the bass.

With a 46-minute running time, De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas rips through black metal 101 at a brisk pace. The record doesn't belabour anything, and the album is chock-full of riffs and concepts that have been adopted, copied and expanded upon by multiple generations of musicians in the decades following its release. Just listening to the opening bars of the album's title track, you hear one of the most definitively black metal riff progressions ever put to tape. Mayhem's legacy is a mixed bag of genre-defining artistry and violent crime; it's perversely fitting that the band would release a legendary record only after a bulk of its members were either dead or in jail. It is difficult to overstate the importance of this record in terms of its effect on the black metal genre as a whole. This is a historically significant album, but also one that can simply be appreciated as a collection of strong black metal tracks that don't need a backstory to be compelling.

Summary

It is impossible to discuss the genre of black metal without eventually bringing up De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. In the wake of the murder of its founder, and guitarist, Mayhem released possibly the genre's greatest, most definitive album. Still, 25 years later, this album packs a punch; showcasing greatly improved musicianship and song-writing capabilities, Mayhem assembled an album of their best, most nuanced material to date. Where the band's presentation may have conveyed an image of cartoonish fixations on the concept of 'evil,' the actual recorded output reflects the work of some genuinely talented individuals. Mayhem could have gone down in history as a band merely famous for their image and various criminal escapades, but they managed to release enough quality recorded work that the sensationalist aspects of their shtick never overshadowed the music. If you are a black metal fan of any stripe, you really need to give De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas a listen.

Album Information

Release date: May 24th, 1994
Record label: Deathlike Silence Productions

Attila Csihar — vocals
Euronymous — guitar
Count Grishnackh — bass
Hellhammer — drums

Track Listing

  1. Funeral Fog
  2. Freezing Moon
  3. Cursed In Eternity
  4. Pagan Fears
  5. Life Eternal
  6. From The Dark Past
  7. Buried By Time And Dust
  8. De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas

—by Derek

Published: January 14th, 2019.