The year is 1995. You’re at the local record shop, looking for the next thing you’ll delve into and become a little bit too obsessed with for several days, maybe even find a few good shows to go to later on.
You wander into the metal section, and about halfway through, you see something that absolutely disgusts you, making you sick to your stomach — on the cover, a dead man, shown in gory detail, and the band name in harsh, nearly unreadable font.
Mayhem is (yes, is, they still exist, and we’ll get into that later) a Black Metal band from Norway that rose to prominence in the 80s and 90s as one of the earliest proponents for extremism in metal.
During this period, they were a fairly standard band. They performed a few shows, played a lot of covers, and finally managed to put out a few EPs and demos. They experienced a few lineup changes, and in 1988, they were joined by one of the most notable faces in Black Metal, a man still recognized as one of the most driving forces behind extreme metal, Per Yngve Ohlin, better known by his chosen stage name, Dead.
Dead crafted the atmosphere that Black Metal would eventually become famous for, wearing corpse paint as it’s known today in an attempt to truly look like a corpse, cutting himself on stage, and was even known to have buried his clothing before shows to achieve a more corpse-like persona.
Not only this, but the band also often had Pig and Sheep heads impaled on stakes to be placed in front of their shows, and were even known to throw around dead animal heads at shows, saying that those who left were posers, scared away by death. Dead himself even found a dead bird, which he carried with him and sniffed before going on stage in order to perform with the “stench of death in his nostrils.”
Obviously a disturbed individual, Dead was described by those who knew him as extremely introverted, depressed, and difficult to befriend, a persona which grew even worse as he neared his death. Additionally, it was claimed that he did not think of himself as a real living person, but some kind of entity of death, often speaking of how he was dead or did not belong here.
On April 8, 1991, Dead committed suicide at the age of 22, and left the note below (translated to English), along with new lyrics as his final work:
Excuse the blood, but I have slit my wrists and neck. It was the intention that I would die in the woods so that it would take a few days before I was possibly found. I belong in the woods and have always done so. No one will understand the reason for this anyway. To give some semblance of an explanation I’m not a human, this is just a dream and soon I will awake. It was too cold and the blood kept clotting, plus my new knife is too dull. If I don’t succeed dying to the knife I will blow all the shit out of my skull. Yet I do not know. I left all my lyrics by “Let the good times roll” — plus the rest of the money. Whoever finds it gets the fucking thing. As a last salutation may I present “Life Eternal”. Do whatever you want with the fucking thing. / Pelle. I didn’t come up with this now, but seventeen years ago.
(Note: Pelle was another nickname of his)
Dead’s body was found by none other than Euronymous, his roommate at the time, who responded in a truly sickening way.
Euronymous, instead of alerting the authorities or having a breakdown, went out to purchase a camera and took several photos of Dead’s body, one of which even became the cover photo of a 1995 live album “Dawn of the Black Arts,” which I will not post here, but can be easily found online.
Not only this, but he even went so far as to create necklaces from the bones of Dead’s skull, which were distributed among the band and other members of the Black Metal scene who were deemed worthy.
These actions were described by then-bassist Varg Vikernes to be what he believed were the actions of an indescribably sad man, a man who just witnessed his friend’s gruesome corpse and could not cope in any rational manner.
And now we go on to the second part of this story.
After this happened, Euronymous became the de facto leader of the Black Metal scene, and he took this position and ran with it. A self-described- though often disputed- Satanist and misanthropist, Euronymous used his position as the new owner of a local record shop to hold meetings with other local Black Metal musicians he deemed to be serious in their views, often referred to as the “Black Metal Inner Circle,” and established a much larger circle of Black Metal musicians, often assisting up-and-coming bands and recommending them to record labels.
After much work to expand the amount of followers and trusted compatriots, the infamous Norwegian church burnings began on June 6, 1992, and a rippling effect followed, with church burnings being committed by followers of the Black Metal and Satanist ideologies in the area and Euronymous and Vikernes themselves even participating.
Finally, the saga ends on August 10, 1993. Euronymous and Vikernes had grown slowly tired of each other, and on this night, Vikernes murdered Euronymous in his apartment, stabbing him 23 times, twice in the head, 5 times in the neck, and the remaining 16 times in the back.
Vikernes himself claims he did this in self-defense, with convoluted claims of death-threats and plans of filmed torture by Euronymous as his defense. Nonetheless, Vikernes was sentenced to 21 years in prison for the murder, church burning incidents, and theft of explosives on May 16, 1994, and was released on Parole in 2009.
This is an incredibly dense subject that I truly cannot fit into one article, but anyone who is intrigued by this subject matter will find hours or even days of depth in the Norwegian Black Metal scene.
Today, Mayhem continues to tour without incident from various other members of the local music scene and band who had previously disassociated themselves from this evil behavior.
And so concludes the story of the tragic and wicked Mayhem, the band who wished to “spread hatred, sorrow, and evil.”