Released: 2016, Self Released
Reviewer: Aaron Yurkiewicz
The tabloid melodrama that’s surrounded Mayhem since the original release of DE MYSTERIIS DOM SATHANAS has become the stuff of legend. Suicide, scene rivalry, murder and Satanism kept issues of Kerrang! flying off the shelves and almost single handedly created the mythos for the entire black metal scene. But fact of the matter is that all of the peripheral noise overshadows the fact that DE MYSTERIIS DOM SATHANAS is a near flawless album, never mind it being a quintessential piece of black metal’s historical canon.
Tracks from the album have long anchored Mayhem shows over the years, but for their headlining set last December at Sweden’s Black Christmass Festival, the album was performed in its entirety for the first time. To celebrate the album’s legacy and as a precursor to an upcoming North American jaunt in which the album will again get the full treatment, Mayhem have self-released DE MYSTERIIS DOM SATHANAS ALIVE, a live recording of their now infamous Black Christmass set. So is it worth getting worked up over a live album that’s basically a re-recording of a twenty-some year old studio album that has inspired legions of fans?
Hell yes it is.
DE MYSTERIIS DOM SATHANAS ALIVE is 100% faithful to its studio counterpart, but matches the haunting, cold emptiness of the original with the fervent intensity of the band’s live prowess that’s been perfected since their 1995 resurrection. The opening riff on “Funeral Fog” sounds every bit as frightening and unhinged as it did coming out of Euronymous’ guitar two decades ago, but amplified on Satanic steroids. Other classics like “Freezing Moon” and “Life Eternal” will get your black heart beating deep within the chest, recalling metal memories of the dark past that may have been buried by time and dust. But dammit if the closing title track doesn’t make you sleep with the lights on. For my money, it’s still the scariest song every recorded, and this live performance only solidifies that sentiment. Hearing that unmistakable melody with Attila’s inhuman Latin proclamations sends me back to my bedroom as an impressionable teen hearing it for the first time, wondering if the Devil was coming to take me home.
My only gripe with DE MYSTERIIS DOM SATHANAS ALIVE is that the in-between song moments have been edited out for continuity, which artificially starts and stops songs across the performance. Having seen their performance of the album at Maryland Deathfest this year (the highlight of the weekend, BTW), there’s an opening invocation and transitional ambient moments that, while intended to fill a void/tune guitars, definitely added to the atmosphere of the proceedings. Had this been a complete capture of the show, I don’t think those moments of downtime would’ve taken anything away from the overall momentum. Maybe if there’s a DVD release in the future???
Other than that, DE MYSTERIIS DOM SATHANAS ALIVE is a fitting tribute to an exceptional album that’s often obscured by Mayhem’s own mythos. If you’re already a fervent devotee of the original, you’ll be more than pleased with the live treatment. And if you’re a casual fan of the genre and are mildly curious as to the band/album’s appeal – this is the perfect gateway drug, as the mix/production/general presentation sounds fuller and less archaic than its studio companion. If you have the opportunity to catch Mayhem on this upcoming tour – go. Even if you’re not a fan of black metal, it’s an unparalleled concert experience. One can imagine that Euronymous is looking up from below, grinning approvingly.