Saturday, October 20, 2012

13 Days of Halloween, 13 Wicked Albums: Day 3

De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas (1994)
When it comes to evil music, the black metal genre is impossible to ignore. Though today it has been heavily commercialized and reduced to just another gimmick for many bands, it caused a firestorm of controversy in the early '90s, not only for the overtly blasphemous and Satanic lyrics, but for its association with several church burnings, a few murders, and cases of suicide. Mayhem, one of the Norwegian innovators of the genre, is perhaps as well known for their music as they are for the dark and tragic events surrounding their history.

De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas is the first full-length by the band, coming years after their 1987 debut EP, Deathcrush. The album title is Latin that is meant to translate to "Lord Satan's Secret Rites," although the phrase is reportedly somewhat ambiguous. Writing for the record actually began shortly after 1987, but the final release had to be delayed for multiple reasons. In 1991, Mayhem's original vocalist, Dead, slit his wrists and throat and shot himself in the head with a shotgun. Euronymous, the band's guitarist, found the body and took several photographs (one that made it onto an infamous live bootleg) before fashioning necklaces out of bits of the skull, which he gave to other musicians in the black metal scene. This act provoked the departure of Necrobutcher, the band's original bassist, who was replaced by Varg Vikernes, from the one-man band Burzum. Two years later, Vikernes - previously convicted of three church burnings in Norway - murdered Euronymous, allegedly over musical differences. The drummer, Hellhammer, and Necrobutcher worked to finish up the rest of De Mysteriis in tribute to their friend, releasing it at last in 1994.

The story of these events (and similar cases in the early black metal scene) is related more in-depth in the book Lords of Chaos, suffice it to say that it has become a notorious legend in the history of 'the devil's music.' Were that not enough to qualify this as a heinously wicked album, the music itself stands quite well on its own too. From the frantic tremolo-picked, blast-drumming frenzy of "Funeral Fog" to the simple headbanging groove of "Pagan Fears" and the slow icy crawl of "Freezing Moon," the songwriting on this album is infectious and evil-sounding indeed. It may be worth listening to just to hear the mad precision and technique behind Hellhammer's drumming, often held up as some of the best in the genre. I can't be sure if Euronymous either captured the spirit of Norwegian black metal guitar playing or if he actually did his part to establish it, but whatever the reality is, his work on De Mysteriis is certainly noteworthy as well.

Most of the lyrics are written by the former vocalist, Dead, and Euronymous, but are performed by Attila Csihar on the record. They deal with death, darkness, the occult, and, of course, Satanism. One of the biggest complaints listeners make against De Mysteriis is Attila's vocals. To be honest, they get on my nerves at times too, but I don't feel that it's the end of the world. Sometimes he can do a good growl or a great scream... other times he sounds more like Gollum. He does bring something unique to the album, though, even if it's not for everyone. On a side note, there are live versions of several of these songs that feature Dead on vocals, such as those on the Live in Leipzig release, recorded in 1990.

De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas is often cited as one of the most influential black metal albums of all time, and whether you love it or despise it, there's really no doubting its impact. Among the black metal genre, Mayhem covers are practically as commonplace as Bob Dylan covers are among the rock genre. Some people like their horror to be more about the story and build up than the really dark and disturbing stuff. But some of us can't get the same enjoyment out of the mundane, and some of us like variety too. This is one album I can't recommend for everyone, but if you're intrigued by what you've read here, then give it a try. I'm not much of a fan of Mayhem's other material, yet I regularly bust out De Mysteriis when October rolls around.

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