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Whereas “Deathcrush” was instrumental in crystallizing the essence of the first wave of black metal, Mayhem’s legacy as “innovators” would be cemented with its proper full-length debut. Draped in mystique and legend “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas” is more famous for the events that surrounded it than the actual music present. Even though half the line-up has been replaced it is the writing of Øystein Aarseth, the gloomy lyrics of the late Per Yngve Øhlin and a star-making performance by Hungarian transplant Attila Csihar that make the record as memorable as it is. It is the debut performance for new skinsman Jan-Axel Blomberg, who would become the band’s creative leader just a few years later. “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas” is a worthwhile for what it is, and its enduring legacy cannot be understated – but that doesn’t change the fact that is also kind of bland. For a band supposedly so rebellious and non-conformist, it does sound quite conformist.

dead3This record is loaded. Not so much with creativity or original ideas, per se – but with a history of infamy few records in metal can wish to match, or surpass. Financed by funds generated from Øystein Aarseth’s record store Helvete in Oslo the record was beset by a number of logistical problems. Jørn Stubberud (Necrobutcher, bass guitar) opted out after the suicide of original vocalist Per Yngve Øhlin (Dead) and Kristian Vikernes (Count Grishnackh of one-man studio project Burzum) laid down bass guitar tracks in his absence. That the same Vikernes who would end up murdering Øystein Aarseth (Euronymous) over supposed “contractual disputes” is a story had has since eclipsed the very band and much of their music at its center. Next to the late Øystein Aarseth, there are contributions from Snorre Ruch (of Thorns) who would commit church arson not much later. The vocals were provided by Hungarian transplant Attila Csihar from the band Tormentor. Sitting behind the drums is Jan-Axel Blomberg (Hellhammer), the de facto bandleader, but not an actual original member in any shape or form.

Notorious in its supposed condemnation of standards and practices of the nascent death metal scene, Mayhem made a name for itself with the “anti-Scott Burns” plastering all over its “Deathcrush” debut EP. It is then surprising that the first Mayhem full length “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas”, recorded at the Grieghallen Studios, sounds nearly identical to the Morrisound Studios and Tampa death metal sound. Wasn’t this supposed to be the antithesis to that very thing? Given the band’s infamous reputation it is perhaps not strange that no label in the right mind dared to touch them, and thusly “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas” was released through the band’s own label imprint, Deathlike Silence. That is not to say that it isn’t great, because “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas” is probably the one of best records in this genre. It’s just that, well, it sounds more death metal in terms of playing, construction and overall aesthetic when it comes right to it. Only in retrospect would this be considered black metal, in actuality it is only minimally so.

Exactly how much black metal is “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas” then? Well, to be entirely honest, not a whole lot. In fact, you’d be hardpressed to call this black metal at all, because outside of the musicians involved, there isn’t a whole lot that actually qualifies as such. This sounds a lot more like a better produced, better developed take on the Old Funeral death metal sound more than anything else. What is black metal about this album? Attila’s strange croaks certainly fit the tag, and some of the scales and riffing is darker, suicidal and more malevolent sounding than a lot of the death metal released at the same period of time. The abstract evil lyrics help too, but that’s about it. In terms of music this is death metal through and through. In the album’s second half the black metal stylings appear to prevail, especially with Blomberg delivering an insane amount of blasting, a testament to his stamina and expertise as a drummer – while the riffs get more stripped down, barbaric and cold sounding. While each track is a classic in its own way, it’s post-‘Pagan Fears’ that the record truly reveals its enduring strength.

Where this record differs from most standard death metal is the riff set, which already is bordering on early black metal territory – and the whole thing sounds downbeat, sodden and nihilistic on all fronts. The wailing solo in ‘The Freezing Moon’ carries so much depraved emotion, that combined with Csihar’s schizophrenic vocals resonates with everybody on both spectrums of the genre, death – and black metal alike. There’s also the notion of just how bass-heavy and bass-centric this record really is. This could easily be mirrored with Mortification’s “Scrolls Of the Megilloth” or Kataklysm’s “Sorcery” in terms of thundering low-end heaviness. The opening section of ‘Pagan Fears’ is almost rock ‘n roll-ish in its playfulness, and it’s the type of thing you’d expect in US or European death metal, not in an early progenitor of Scandinavian black metal (even though, it is excuseable here as both genres share similar roots). Attila Csihar stays as close as humanly possible to the vocal patterns laid out by Yngve Ohlin on the “Live in Leipzig” release, and on other tracks he mimics his style to utter perfection. The early black metal stylings truly come to the fore in the slow building dirge that is ‘Life Eternal’.

If there’s one thing, it is here that black metal started its decade-long fixation with Latin song – and album titles. The album title roughly translates to ‘Of Lord Satan’s Secret Rites’. This tradition of using Latin would later be held up by the likes of Abruptum, post-David Parland Dark Funeral, latter-day Gorgoroth and a number of underground hordes. What also would come to characterize the genre are the absolutely atrocious band logos. Thankfully, Mayhem here is tasteful with that. The logo looks sufficiently evil, but it remains identifiable and instantly recognizable. In all “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas” is a record legendary for the events surrounding it than the actual music. Once again, the album is very strong and exceptionally wellwritten for what it aims to do. Only in retrospect would it be considered black metal, as from a technical – and construction point of view, it obviously has far more commonalities with death metal.

The instrumental part of the album was recorded at Grieghallen Studios during late 1992 with Aarseth, Blomberg, and Vikernes laying down their respective parts with producer Eirik ‘Pytten’ Hundvin. The vocals were recorded in a week’s time in 1993 as Csihar flew in from Hungary for the sessions. The album itself wasn’t released until 1994 upon the aftermath’s of Aarseth’s slaying by Vikernes, and the latter’s incarceration. Half of the album was composed by former bass guitarist Stubberud with input from Øhlin, Ruch and Aarseth. The cover depicts the east side of the Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim, Norway, which the band had devised to blow up to coincide with the album’s release. Those events didn’t quite transpire the way the band had envisioned, and ended up tearing the band apart in the process. Since controversy is the best fuel it wouldn’t take long for Mayhem to resurface in a reconfigured form in the aftermath. If it weren’t for the infamous happenings surrounding this release it would have probably been forgotten and written off as a commendable footnote in the history of the genre.

It is rather telling that Mayhem only opted to settle into a more blast-oriented direction after other bands (Dark Funeral and Marduk, to name the most obvious) had paved the way. As supposed innovators of the genre Mayhem certainly has no problem imitating which sound is popular in the day. They did so on the “Deathcrush” EP, continued the trend here, and likewise with the reunion “Wolfs Lair Abyss” EP. Interestingly to consider is that Mayhem only integrated electronic and industrial sounds after fellow Norwegians Mysticum laid out the pioneering groundwork with “In the Streams Of Inferno”. The more impressionable often call Mayhem innovators, which they clearly are not. That they are more marketable because of their history of infamy should be obvious. As far as talent and musical merit goes this band’s importance is debateable. Its legend had long since eclipsed its actual musical accomplishments (that are precious few to begin with). Each member masters its instrument of choice to a considerable degree, and the ghoulish vocals are a wonder to behold – yet the band is barely more than the sum of its parts. “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas” certainly manages to captures the desolate, barren essence of the black metal genre despite its overall European death metal formatting.

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“Battles In the North” was the breakout album for Norwegian duo Immortal. It crystallized their sound into its most savage, unrelenting and pummeling format while retaining the band’s underdeveloped and underplayed atmospheric folk edge. Having always produced promotional videos for each of their albums, with “Masters Of Nebulah Frost” the duo had finally the chance to work with a production company and a professional video director with David Palser. Based upon his work here Palser would spend 1996 working with the likes of Burzum, Diabolos Rising and Impaled Nazarene. Along with Dark Funeral from Sweden, the duo was among the earlier black metal groups to have a professionally shot promotional video to support their album in the visual media. “Masters Of Nebulah Frost” compiles both these videos, and nothing more.

Blashyrkh (Mighty Ravendark)
This video is the most technically accomplished of the two. The video features a variety of landscapes, and rather modest but good-looking visual effects. The song’s slower tempo, and the absence of many lyrics make it a showcase of Norwegian nature rather than the actual band. The video capitalizes on the breathtaking vistas that Norway offers, and it is littered with amazing shots of mountains, trees, lakes and snow-covered landscapes. Exactly the things that Immortal spends a good portion of time singing about. In the beginning of the video there’s a small segment where Abbath “fist-punches” in unison with the kickdrums that start off the song. It is a small scene, but it adds a lot.

Demonaz is his usual self, although he wears a white band-aid on his arm in the establishing shots that seems to disappear and reappear at random intervals. This gap in continuity is not a big fault, but it stands out. The video is a typical performance video with the band playing their music in a variety of landscapes. Interspersed with the song are images of a flying raven, and one actor portraying Blashyrkh for two seconds. This is probably the most expensive and expansive one of the two promotional clips presented. As with low budget productions is usually the case, there are various scenes in which the band is overlit. The focal point is obviously vocalist/bass guitarist Abbath, who spents a good deal of the time making spooky faces, and has occasionally stick his hair to his corpse paint. This results in momentary lapses of awkward headbanging as he tries his best to unstick his hair from his corpse paint. The same rings true for Demonaz, whose black hair tends to get stuck in his inch-long arm spikes or on his corpse paint.

Director David Palser knew what images to capture. During the song’s folk break with the acoustic guitar and the church organ, we see Abbath traversing the snow in a trenchcoat that is overlaid with images of a raven’s eye opening and closing. Following is another shot of Abbath on a mountainside, again in his long trenchcoat, which is followed by a close-up of him looking grumpy. The segment is concluded with a shot of Abbath looking heroically over the mountainside, just before running down the mountain’s stone-filled face to join Demonaz for the extended solo section. It is kind of endearing to see Abbath waiting for his cue to start running, and to see the camera follow him along while trying to retain a stable, static shot of what is happening. Another fun fact is that none of the instruments are linked to any sort of amplification.

Grim and Frostbitten Kingdoms
For this session Immortal called upon Jan-Axel Blomberg (Hellhammer) to sit in as drummer for the video shoot, although he had no involvement whatsoever with the recording from which this cut is culled. The video is limited to one location on a glacier, along a body of water. The camera work is static, and outside of a few close-ups of every individual member, there isn’t much to make it stand out from similar videos. Abbath and Demonaz wander around in a circular motion before the drums. Blomberg wears blue eyeliner and a shirt reminiscent of Cradle Of Filth’s “Dusk… and Her Embrace” photoshoot, and he really has no business being here at all. The preceding video worked perfectly fine without a drummer, so this one should as well. This second promotional video was shot by the same production company and the very same director, so it is a bit puzzling why they suddenly felt the need to include an extra body to fill up the cast. The inclusion of grainy and underlit live footage from a club show doesn’t help matters either, as it adds absolutely nothing of worth to the production values of this clip.

The biggest mistake on the director’s part was the inclusion of and fixation on a few key shots, mostly close-ups, wherein it is suggested that Abbath is encased in frost when singing his parts. The kicker is that the camera appears frozen, and the lens is full of drops of water and condensation. Either that, or he was singing under a piece of frozen glass. Not only does it look amateurish; it shouldn’t have been allowed to happen in a professional production. The band is playing on a deeply frozen glacier. The point that Immortal is, conceptually, all about snow, frost and ice is thereby thoroughly conveyed in a visual manner. In other instances the band, once again, is overlit in crucial parts. In the latter part of the video, and in wide shots, it becomes hard to see drummer Blomberg, due to the blinding reflection of bright daylight on the all-covering snow.

 

tumblr_lfhapfcy0V1qfckzwo1_400“Masters Of Nebulah Frost” wasn’t an ambitious release by any stretch of the imagination. Feeding into the mystique of the Immortal duo it merely compiles the two videos of the “Battles In the North” studio session. Osmose Productions could have remastered the two videos of the preceding two records, but chose not to. Neither did they include any live recordings, rehearsal footage, studio outtakes or a retrospective interview with the band about their career at that point in time. As far as the design of this release is concerned, this was done on the cheap too. The photography from the “Battles In the North” album shoot is reproduced in whole at exactly the same places. There surely must have been other, brand new shots of this photoshoot that could have been used to make this VHS look more original and interesting.

This was originally released on VHS in 1995 around the same time as the “Battles In the North” album. A couple of years later it was re-issued as a DVD, since the VHS format had become obsolete at that point with the emergence of the new visual storage format. It is interesting as a companion piece to its corresponding album, but nothing more than that. In all, this could have been far more than what we actually got. A pity, really.