Mayhem – De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas (1993)
AKA “Lord Satan’s Magic Mysteries”, or at least that’s what it’s called on Alternate Earth #19257 (“Scooby Doo Earth”). For a band that had as much trouble existing as Mayhem, it’s a wonder this ever came out, although the stories behind its release are really too well known for me to bother telling. Two things have particularly tickled my fancy about this album over time – not only is it a surprisingly ambient and atmospheric album (whereas most Mayhem is a bit more violent), but much of its power comes from the guest vox of one Attila Csihar, who completely steals the show in ways that most black metal vocalists don’t if you have even the slightest familiarity with their chosen techniques. The rest of the survivors went on to have long and lucrative careers, at least by the standards of the genre, so despite coming out comparatively late in the movement, this remains one of the definitive recordings of black metal; your opinion on it is presumably a decent benchmark for whether you will like other recordings in the genre.
Despite being such a trope-defining work, De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas differs substantially from its buddies in the genre. Attila Csihar’s vocals play a big role in this; he actually sings his way through great portions of this album, albeit in a distorted, strangled fashion that at best mocks standard human singing techniques. Still, he actually incorporates melody into these vox where previous Mayhem vocalists went for standard growls and shrieks, and while he usually follows the guitar lines, it still adds a lot of character and distinction to the album. The songwriting also occupies a different mental space from bands fortunate enough to get their formative recordings out before them (I’ll emphasize Darkthrone and Enslaved because I’ve actually written about them for Invisible Blog). For instance, while Mayhem explores the same tempo dissonance that so many other Norwegian black metallers used in their work (riff repetitions and guitarwork are often quite sluggish compared to the blasting drums), they push it further than most of their compatriots, unhinging the album further. Add to that heavily melodic guitarwork with occasional crazed guitar soloing reminiscent of vengeful undead shrieks (Ever listened to “Life Eternal”?), and an audible bass occupied with legitimate counterpoint, and if you’re like me, you suddenly become aware that this album has been pushing your musical buttons since you first discovered it in 2009, albeit with more subtlety and restraint than most who unknowingly attempt it.
It helps that the production on this album is relatively high fidelity. While chalkier and high pitched than the slick, commercialized death metal it competed with, the songs here benefit from the mixing services of Eirik “Pytten” Hundvin. Everything is audible and clear, and not particularly degraded in ways you’d expect from the more lo-fi parts of the scene. To be fair, many of the big names were able to acquire reasonably produced work with the help of Pytten and other relatively big name producers, so that Mayhem’s formal debut sounds good should perhaps not be such a surprise. Given the importance of each instrument here, actual sound quality rather comes in handy, and is definitely preferable to the alternative.
If there’s one thing you can take away from 2015 at Invisible Blog, it’s that I’ve been able to choose writing subjects that particularly interest me, and that may overall lead to increases in the depth and breadth of actual posts here. Cherish it like you would Mayhem – it’s all downhill from here, from the competent Wolf’s Lair Abyss to the disastrous Grand Declaration of War and so forth…
Highlights: “Cursed in Eternity”, “Pagan Fears”, “Buried By Time and Dust”