Released: 2016, Self-released
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
For the past year or so, Norway’s infamous Mayhem have been paying homage to their landmark debut De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, which has come to personify “true Norwegian black metal” - and all the good, the bad and the ugly goes with it - since its release 20-some years ago, and is arguably the most influential album of its ilk, again for better or worse.
The band have undertaken a series of special shows - including an appearance at last year’s Maryland Deathfest that I missed because I was in Alaska at the time – during which they have played the album in full. And as they ready for an entire North American tour’s worth of these shows early in the new year, with Black Anvil and Inquisition in tow, Mayhem are offering a taste of what everyone is in for – at least from a musical perspective, one never knows what kind of visual presentation there might be - with the self-released De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas Alive. Fortunately, I’ll get another chance to find out for myself, as there is a Feb. 15 date in D.C.
Recorded a year ago in Norrköping, Sweden, during the first-ever performance of the entire album, Alive does the somewhat crude, but nevertheless groundbreaking, source material justice and then some. Presented with little – indeed no - fanfare here, it is utterly ferocious on the strength of drummer Hellhammer's relentless battery and always malevolent thanks to the eerie groaning/croaking/rasping vocals of Attila.
They are the two members of the current Mayhem who played on the fraught original album – to recap, initial vocalist Dead committed suicide as the songs were being written and guitarist Euronymous was murdered by session bassist Count Grishnackh when the recording was all but done - and remain the driving forces of a lineup that is as strong now as it’s ever been, judging by the performance here. The buzz-sawing twin-guitar attack of Teloch and Ghul brings a new-found power and heft to De Mysteriis , especially during the squealing lead breaks, and the steady thrum of original bassist Necrobutcher anchors the often cyclonic rhythms.
The band charge right in with “Funeral Fog” without so much as a “Good evening, Norrköping!” and keep up the attack all the way through the monumental title track that closes thing out. Most of the tracks here clock in anywhere from 15 to 30 seconds shorter than the original versions, such is Hellhammer’s frenetic pace. “From The Dark Past” and “Buried By Time And Dust” are especially vicious.
The production on Alive is full and crisp, yet sufficiently dirty, perfectly capturing the energy and zeal of the band’s performance, something that can’t really be said about Mayhem’s frankly terrible sounding previous live efforts. And what it may lack in the “necro” rawness of the original, or even more recent works like 2007’s murky Ordo Ad Chao, which marked Attila’s return to the band, it makes up for in pure heaviness.
It will be interesting to see if Mayhem can keep up this level of intensity after having performed De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas at one show after another on this upcoming tour, as opposed to just a one-off or special occasion gig. Again, I should find out for sure Feb. 15. Regardless, the band could not have picked a more perfect performance to capture on Alive, which makes an already classis album – and one that managed to stand the test of time - resonate anew.