Album Review – Mayhem – “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas”

September 24, 2013 — Leave a comment

Mayhem – “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas” (1994)

Some albums, no matter how good they are, become marred by controversial circumstances or just bad timing upon release. For the members of Mayhem, this proved to be the case even on this, their finest musical hour. They were right in the thick of the suicides and murders that marked Norway’s black metal scene, events that overshadowed their musical merits for many.

There’s no track listing on the back of “De Mysteriis,” only a dual photo of Euronymous and Hellhammer. Although the cover shows the magnificent Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim (possibly the greatest architectural symbol of Christianity in the north), it’s in an eerie shade of blue. Only upon opening the jewel case to view the inner sleeve is the worthy listener treated to song titles and a dedication to (the only recently deceased at the time) Euronymous. The band members appear as in the pitch-black nave of a church, outlined only dimly.

The music within mirrors this color scheme, with a focus on classic metal style riffs that appeal to traditional metalheads, but with enough primal edge to please extreme-metal aficionados. Perhaps without even intending to, Mayhem had crafted a masterpiece that simply could not stay within the confines of its privileged circle of Norwegian fans.

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

“De Mysteriis” has become emblematic for how black metal “should” be recorded, how it “should” sound. The production is minimal and raw; the vocals are a strangled, furious murmur; solos are almost buried in the fuzz of the other instruments. The playing could even be described as a little sloppy–exception being Hellhammer, whose pointed, precise drumming belies the album’s lo-fi, garage production.

All this, of course, is part of the record’s charm, both for hardened black metallers and for new listeners alike.

There’s a reason many black metal newbies choose to start here, with Mayhem. It’s because, as one fan put it, “I like being able to tell the difference between the songs.” And it’s easier here than elsewhere; who can forget extreme metal anthems like “Freezing Moon,” the more traditional thrash of “Pagan Fears,” the multi-riffed glory of “Life Eternal,” the mountainous despair of “Buried By Time and Dust?” Even as black metal’s popularity has grown, these are about as close to “hits” as black metal can get.

More hardened listeners will appreciate it for different reasons. For them, early Mayhem like this was the result of numerous influences from the hardcore and continental thrash scenes. No frills, no synths, no nonsense: just quality, stripped-down metal. “And that’s the only way it can or should be,” is a likely viewpoint. For those who’ve established 1997 as the personal cutoff year for black metal (anything recorded afterwards naturally being dreck), this Mayhem record is as good as it gets.

But almost 20 years after its original release, we can now more soberly and objectively view “De Mysteriis” for what it is: a legendary recording that was absolutely key in the flowering of the black metal scene, at the time still glimpsed only faintly.

Euronymous

Varg Vikernes

Hellhammer

Attila Csihar

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