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Date Formed 1983

Categories: Black Metal


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Instigators of the monumental Norwegian Black Metal scene. Oslo / Langhus based MAYHEM have inspired a myriad of imitators and their own personal heritage is woven with tragedy and controversy befitting the undisputed leaders of the genre. MAYHEM leader Euronymous was instrumental in establishing the notorious Norwegian Black Metal scene, running his own label Deathlike Silence Productions and record shop Helvete (Hell). Not content with the blatant Satanic overtures, acts such as MAYHEM, DARKTHRONE and BURZUM have been blighted by supposedly propagating national socialist ideas.

As MAYHEM's originator, Øystein Aarseth's formative musical steps in learning guitar were taken with vocalist Nils Svensson from Ski based band HELL RATS. The MAYHEM concept was manifested at this time, circa 1983, Aarseth spotting the name in a news item on VENOM's 'Welcome To Hell' debut album and the song 'Mayhem With Mercy'. The very first MAYHEM comprised Aarseth on guitar, singer Truls, bassist Glenn Larsen and HELL RATS drummer Espen Mortensen. Performing cover versions, this proto-unit, which lasted into mid 1984, performed a solitary gig at a high school party.

The 16 year old Øystein Aarseth, now dubbing himself 'Destructor', forged a union with MUSTA players bassist Necrobutcher (a.k.a. Jørn Stubberud) and drummer Kjetil Mannheim. Rehearsals in Langhus saw Aarseth's former colleague Nils Svensson handling vocals for a period. Following Svensson, Mayhem briefly employed singer Stele. Even though MAYHEM in their formative stages were covering songs by the likes of CELTIC FROST, BATHORY and VENOM at live gigs, Aarseth, now titled Euronymous was already experimenting with the ghoulish white make up later to be termed 'corpsepaint' and a staple of the Black Metal legions for many years to come.

Having released a demo in 1986, subtly entitled 'Voice Of A Tortured Skull', MAYHEM, comprising vocalist Messiah, Euronymous, Necrobutcher and Mannheim, were proud to announce that this tape featured "the worst possible sound quality" and few could disagree. The four song effort included a cover version of VENOM's 'Black Metal'. Following the tape Messiah's place was taken by Maniac (real name Sven Erik Kristiansen). Further demos were titled 'Pure Fucking Armageddon'. That same year Posercorpse Music issued a further cassette, also titled 'Pure Fucking Armageddon', but comprising the 'Voice Of A Tortured Skull' sessions (on side 'Fuck') and rehearsal recordings (on side 'Off').

In December 1986 an unlikely union took place when MAYHEM was on a promotional trip to Europe to market the 'Pure Fucking Armageddon' demo. Involved in this impromptu, yet notorious diversion dubbed CHECKER PATROL would be the German ASSASSIN trio of vocalist Robert Gonnella, guitarist Michael Hoffman and bass player Markus Ludwig in collaboration with Euronymous and Necrobutcher, described on the cassette cover as "Evil fucking noise and drunken screams". Inebriation may be the cause of the mis-spelling of the band title on the demo front cover as "Cheker Patrol".

A MAYHEM rehearsal session, recorded on 17th and 18th January 1987, also saw issue. This cassette would feature cover renditions of VENOM's 'Witching Hour' and DEAD KENNEDY's 'California Über Alles'. Their debut 1987 album, 'Deathcrush' pressed by Posercorpse Music, was more of the same. The original manufacturing run distributed 1000 vinyl albums and the same quota of cassettes. Only this inaugural batch of albums hosted a closing outro track. 'Deathcrush', sporting a grim photographic sleeve of two severed hands, is widely acknowledged as the first true Black Metal album. Although it was VENOM that had instigated the concept, it was MAYHEM that would mould those ideals into a new form of music, far beyond the regular Rock n' Roll format. Introduced by the Conrad Schnitzer composed militaristic, yet overly ambitious, march of 'Silvester Anfang' the album then launched into the breakneck 'Deathcrush'. The most rustic of production values undoubtedly only served to enhance the ferocity of 'Deathcrush', highlighted by 'Necrolust', the riff dominant infamy of 'Chainsaw Gutsfuck' and a cover of VENOM's 'Witching Hour', performed even faster than the original. Musicianship was amateur at best but the intent shone through and Maniac's vocal performance, hugely emotive screeching for the most part, inspired legions globally to follow in their wake. So influential would this album become that it was almost a staple requirement for literally thousands of budding black metal disciples to tutor themselves on these tracks.

MAYHEM underwent an evolution. Maniac and Mannheim quit the band. For a brief period in the summer of 1988 MAYHEM employed vocalist Kittel Kittilsen and drummer Torben Grue from Death Metal combo VOMIT. However, that same year the band saw the acquisition of drummer Hellhammer (Jan Axel Blomberg) and Swedish vocalist Dead (real name Per Yngve Ohlin). This latter recruit had previously fronted Stockholm's MORBID, a band that also included in the ranks the pre-ENTOMBED duo of Lars Göran Petrov and guitarist Ulf Cederlund. With this new blood, MAYHEM's music evolved into paths ever bleaker and starker than before fuelled by Dead's lyrics.

Pivotal to the rise of MAYHEM was the opening of the 'Helvete' ("Hell") record store in Oslo's old quarter, at Schweigaardsgate 56, during mid 1991. This latest Euronymous venture was established in order to generate funds for the next MAYHEM release and give a focal point for the burgeoning Black Metal scene. Associates of the Mayhem leader at this time included IMMORTAL, DARKTHRONE, ENSLAVED, THORNS, EMPEROR, BURZUM and ARCTURUS. Although a grand self-publicist, it is generally acknowledged that Euronymous was the prime factor in persuading these acts to switch their allegiance from Death Metal over to Black Metal. Euronymous had also issued the first product on his Deathlike Silence imprint, named after a the lead in track on SODOM's 1986 album 'Obsessed By Cruelty', for MERCILESS 'The Awakening'.

Despite the limited nature of their releases, the band were by now beginning to create waves internationally. Their extreme measures often found pig's heads scattered about the stage and Dead finally hospitalized himself after his penchant for cutting himself on stage led to severe blood loss at one gig. Severe delays meant it was to be six years before a follow up to 'Deathcrush' appeared, although constant demand led to Euronymous to issue it on CD via Deathlike Silence in 1993.

During this time MAYHEM conducted only a smattering of live gigs, one of which on November 26th 1990 was recorded for 'Live In Leipzig' for the Italian Avantgarde Music label's Obscure Plasma subsidiary, the only recorded product to feature Dead. Once more production quality was roughshod, the concert recordings on the finished product even suffering from tape skip during the intro. Thankfully Hellhammer's drumming discipline held the show together as 'Live In Leipzig's flaws accentuated the band's ill rehearsed nature by way of mis-cued intros, forgotten riffs and general sloppiness. All this would be superfluous though when Dead's quite inhuman wails and the harsh crudity of Euronymous' playing was considered. Myths were soon fostered around these tapes, claiming the band doused their audience with festering cuts of meat and positioned bags of crow carrion onstage so as to revel in the odour of death whilst they performed. What is known is that, in a practice which was to become tradition, MAYHEM impaled pig's head on poles for the duration.

The 21 year old Dead apparently committed suicide in his residence on Sørumviein Road in the Kråkstad district on April 8th 1991 under suspicious circumstances, with Hellhammer accusing Euronymous of provocation at the very least. Apparently Dead was jocular on the day of his suicide, an act he allegedly carried out by slashing his wrists and blowing half his head off with a shotgun ironically with ammunition given to him as a present by Count Grisnackh of BURZUM. His unlikely suicide note simply read "Excuse all the blood". It was Euronymous and Hellhammer who found the body and before calling the authorities decided to take some photographs of it as a memento. Hellhammer himself made a necklace from pieces of Dead's skull as a gory keepsake and, according to the drummer, Euronymous collected up his deceased band mates brain tissue to concoct a cannibalistic stew. Dead had died wearing a T-shirt bearing the mis-spelt legend "I Love Transilvania". This motif combined with Euronymous post mortem culinary exploits inspiring the title of DARKTHRONE's 'Transilvanian Hunger' album.

The now infamous photo of Dead, slumped over his bed with his brain hanging out of his shattered skull was used as the front cover the a live bootleg, 'Dawn Of The Black Hearts', Dead's final MAYHEM concert recorded in Sarpsborg. Although the official explanation for Dead's death was that he had sliced his wrists with a large kitchen knife then shot himself, the 'Dawn Of The Black Hearts' cover raised questions, as it clearly shows the knife on top of the shotgun.

Necrobutcher bailed out of MAYHEM seemingly at odds with Euronymous's attempts to position himself as a Black Metal figurehead. MAYHEM recruited ex-THYABHORRENT vocalist / bassist Occultus (Stian Johannsen) and THORNS guitarist Blackthorn (Snorre Ruch) in an attempt to push forward. Occultus also happened to be editor of the 'Sepulchral Noize' fanzine and an employee of Euronymous working in the 'Helvete' shop. Deathlike Silence Productions was also growing, Euronymous issuing the 'Obscuritatem Advoco Amplectereme' album from Swedish act ABRUPTUM and 'Scorn Defeat' from Japan's SIGH.

Occultus lasted a matter of weeks exiting to found PERDITION HEARSE and later Goth Rock act SHADOW DANCERS. Lacking a vocalist and bassist MAYHEM pulled in a guest for the album 'De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas' and were thus supplied by Atilla Csihar of Hungary's TORMENTOR. Bass was supplied by Varg Vikernes (alias Count Grisnackh) of BURZUM. This apparent camaraderie was less so than appeared though as Vikernes had an outstanding unpaid loan owing from Euronymous, for the manufacturing costs of the debut BURZUM album. Euronymous also had other problems bearing down on him with an impending court appearance for having attacked two people with a broken bottle.

MAYHEM and BURZUM began to vie for the title of Black Metal leaders and a bitter war of words erupted between Euronymous and Grisnackh. This culminated in Euronymous being stabbed to death by Grisnackh. In the early hours of August 10th 1993, Vikernes and Blackthorn arrived at Euronymous' apartment in Oslo after a seven hour drive from Bergen. When the MAYHEM leader answered his knock to the door, Vikernes stabbed Euronymous with a knife, inflicting over twenty separate wounds. An autopsy revealed that Euronymous had suffered two piercings to the head, five to the neck, and sixteen in his back. Initially authorities believed that an ongoing verbal feud between Norwegian and Swedish bands was to blame although Vikernes was implicated when a bloodied contract left at the scene was discovered to carry his fingerprints.

Vikernes received a jail sentence of 21 years, this not preventing the continuation of his BURZUM career though, and the myth of Euronymous began to grow. Hellhammer actually teamed up with MYSTICUM during this period but was to reconcentrate his efforts on MAYHEM once more. MYSTICUM, unable to locate a human equivalent with the desired skills, promptly replaced him with a drum computer.

'De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas' (a Latin mis-translation of "Lord Satan's Secret Rites") arrived in May 1994. Despite the family of Euronymous putting in a request to have Grishnackh's bass parts removed they remained on the completed disc.

Hellhammer vowed to continue with MAYHEM re-drafting Maniac, Necro Butcher with Blasphemer (a.k.a. Rune Ericksen) of IN SILENCE and AURA NOIR. Hellhammer was involving himself in the side project ARCTURUS with ULVER vocalist Kristoffer Rygg, (a.k.a. Garm) and Samoth (Tomas Haugen) of EMPEROR. However, he did briefly join EMPEROR in order to appear on their debut album. Seemingly unable to keep out of a recording studio, Hellhammer also appeared on the 1998 album by the COVENANT, 'Nexus Polaris', yet another project act put together by DIMMU BORGIR, CRADLE OF FILTH and ARCTURUS members.

Towards the end of 1995 a new semi-official MAYHEM album emerged entitled 'Dawn Of The Blackhearts'. This epitaph grimly featured a photograph depicting the aftermath of Dead's suicide taken by his erstwhile band mates upon discovery of the body. The album itself was made up of early tracks including live cuts dating back to 1986 including two CELTIC FROST and two VENOM tracks. Black Metal Records also weighed in with a 1996 picture disc, 'Out From The Dark', comprising tracks from the last rehearsal conducted with Dead. A further release 'A Tribute To The Black Emperors' paired MAYHEM's demo songs together with tracks from Dead's band MORBID. MAYHEM's 1997 single release is culled from the two studio tracks, 'Carnage' and 'Freezing Moon', originally laid down for the Swedish label CBR in 1991.

The band returned with the 1997 EP 'Wolf's Lair Abyss' being released through the artful new British imprint Misanthropy Records. MAYHEM surprised many when they actually took to the world's stage in late 1997 for a whirlwind of live performances that easily re-established the veracity of their claim to lead the Black Metal clans. The touring line-up found Hellhammer alongside Maniac, Blasphemer, Necrobutcher and stand-in guitarist Alexander on loan from FLEURETY. A further live album, 'Mediolanum Capta Est', surfaced in 1999 via Avantgarde Music.

The now stable MAYHEM switched labels again to contract with French concern Season Of Mist for the highly experimental and semi-conceptual June 2000 'Grand Declaration Of War'. This work broke the group free from its past finally, incorporating clean vocals from Maniac, discordant song structures and the employment of industrialisation. SPIRAL ARCHITECT singer Oyvind guested in the studio. Hardened fans baulked at uncharacteristic mellow passages and the near techno-trance of 'A Bloodsword And A Colder Sun' came in for outright condemnation in some quarters.

In side activity, Maniac appeared alongside PANTERA's Phil Anselmo, SATYRICON's Saytr Wongraven, NECROPHAGIA's Killjoy and DARKTHRONE's Fenriz for the EIBON side project that issued one track on the 'Moonfog 2000' compilation. Meantime, Blasphemer crafted an IN SILENCE demo, 'The Suicide Revolution' in 1999 featuring contributions from members of DØDHEIMSGARD, DIMMU BORGIR and GEHENNAH

Hellhammer guested on the TROLL 2000 album 'The Last Predators', a project of THE KOVENANT and ex-DIMMU BORGIR man Nagash. Maniac guested on FLEURETY's 2000 album 'Department Of Apocalyptic Affairs'. Meantime, Trym teamed up with OLD MAN'S CHILD for a European tour during late 2000. Also in keeping with Black Metal tradition Necrobutcher operates an obligatory side project titled KVIKKSØLVGUTTENE. The man would also turn up as a guest on the BLOODTHORN album 'Under The Reign Of Terror' suitably contributing to a cover of MAYHEM's very own 'Deathcrush'.

During October of 2001 rumours circulated that Maniac was about to decamp and MAYHEM were to fold. Later official statements confirmed Maniac had indeed pondered leaving but had revised his opinion following an enthusiastic tour response.

Hellhammer would be found operating under his real name of Jan Axel Blomberg as drummer for Melodic Rock outfit JORN and for Swedish 'suicidal' Black Metal act SHINING. Meantime Maniac would donate his services to the 'all star' Black Metal project 'Ceremony In Flames' album from WURDULAK assembled by Killjoy of NECROPHAGIA. Blasphemer too ket busy with his MEZZERSCHMITT venture and session guitar work on the 2002 GEHENNA album 'Murder'. MEZZERSCHMITT with Blasphemer as 'Herr Schmitt', also comprising Hellhammer ('Hauptmann Hammer') along with RED HARVEST keyboardist Lrz, arrived touting the EP 'Weltherrschaft'.

During 2002 the Season Of Mist label released a lavish box set, 'The Studio Experience', of MAYHEM's entire official catalogue on vinyl LP. Included would be 'Deathcrush', 'De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas', 'Wolf's Lair Abyss' and 'Grand Declaration Of War'. Limited to 2000 copies the set also included a 7" single comprising two ultra rare early previously unreleased tracks recorded with Dead on lead vocals.

MAYHEM came in for some unwelcome, if bizarre, attention in March when a sheep's head thrown from the stage in Bergen on 6th March fractured the skull of a 25 year old audience member Per Kristian Hagen. More practical matters saw the band retreating to mountains of Norway with a mobile studio to cut a new album entitled 'Chimera'. Hellhammer would also be drumming for trad Metal band CARNIVORA, the brainchild of former JORN LANDE guitarist Tore Moren, at this juncture, laying down drums on their debut 'Judas' opus.

Issued in April of 2004, 'Chimera's first manufacturing run included 1,000 coloured vinyl albums and 500 picture discs. The album landed at no. 28 in the national Norwegian charts. MAYHEM united with Poland's DECAPITATED, Estonian band MANATARK and Japanese act DEFILED for a European tour commencing early April. The band announced plans to celebrate their 20th anniversary with a special show at the Rockefeller in Oslo to be recorded for DVD.

Rumours circulating in June suggested that Maniac had been expelled from the ranks and former singer Attila Csihar, who had featured on the 1993 release 'De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas', had been re-installed. Within hours this conjecture had been officially denied. Touring plans for the Autumn of 2004 saw the band joining up with the DANZIG headed 'Blackest Of The Black' tour, organised by Glenn Danzig and comprising DOYLE, featuring ex-MISFITS guitarist Doyle, DEVILDRIVER, Thrash veterans DEATH ANGEL and EYES OF FIRE. However, with just days to go before these dates the entire tour was abrutly cancelled.

That same year the band would have their classic cut 'The Freezing Moon' chosen as a pioneering piece of music for a compilation assembled by DARKTHRONE drummer Fenriz, released through Peaceville Records and entitled 'Fenriz Presents The Best Of Old School Black Metal'. In August of former MAYHEM frontman Attlia Csihar revealed plans for an extreme Metal "supergroup" BORN TO MURDER THIS WORLD, this projected union set to comprise Necrobutcher, Mick of ANAAL NATHRAKH, Shane Embury of NAPALM DEATH and former CRADLE OF FILTH and DIMMU BORGIR drummer Nick Barker.

MAYHEM began the process of assembling a new album in August, the first signs of new material being the inclusion of a brand new track 'Anno Vampir' on a Season Of Mist double compilation album released in September. In Mid November the previously circulated rumours citing Maniac's departure and the re-installment of Attila Csihar would be officially confirmed. On November 17th Csihar stepped up onstage with DISSECTION for renditions of two old school black classics 'Elizabeth Bathory' by TORMENTOR and MAYHEM's own 'Freezing Moon' during the band's appearance at Kultiplex in Budapest, Hungary.

In early 2005 the erstwhile MAYHEM singer Maniac announced a Punk project BOMBEROS in union with ex-EMPEROR and THORNS drummer Bård 'Faust' Eithun. Meantime, Hellhammer was confirmed as sessioning on album recordings for DIMMU BORGIR. The band's first official performance with the re-instated Attila Csihar came on 10th December at Budapest's Petofi Hall. Shows in late January and February saw scheduled stops in Indonesia, Taiwan, Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia. The latter date was duly banned by the authorities and shortly afterwards the Jakarta, Indonesia show was also cancelled.

Re-signing with Season Of Mist in May 2006, MAYHEM revealed 'Ordo Ab Chao' as the title of a new album. The band's headline performance at the 'Gates Of Metal' festival in Hultsfred, Sweden during August stirred controversy when it was learned that their traditional use of pigs heads onstage and broken Swedish laws.

Former MAYHEM singer Mayhem returned with SKITLIV in 2006, a multi-national collaboration with guitarist Ingvar, from Iceland, Peter from Sweden on bass and Canadian drummer Trish. MAYHEM finalised work on the 'Ordo Ab Chao' album in December. Csihar also announced an extracurricular project, BURIAL CHAMBER TRIO, a Doom union with Greg Anderson, of BURNING WITCH, GOATSNAKE, TEETH OF LIONS RULE THE DIVINE and THORR'S HAMMER. Upon release, 'Order Ab Chao' scored a no. 12 position on the national Norwegian charts, the band's highest placing to date.

Guitarist Rune 'Blasphemer' Eriksen played his final Norwegian concert with MAYHEM on 6th August 2008 at the Øyafestivalen in Oslo. DIMENSION F3H frontman Krister Dreyer joined forces with MAYHEM as the session guitarist for South American tour commencing on 24th October 2008 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. 

MAYHEM announced the addition of French guitarist Silmaeth, ex-VORKREIST, in March 2009. This unit conducted the US 'Blackenedfest' dates, opening Thursday, 21st May in New York City, featuring a support cast of MARDUK, CEPHALIC CARNAGE, CATTLE DECAPITATION and WITHERED. The band conducted Mexican dates in May.

In August 2009 it was learned that former frontman Maniac had united with Andrew Liles (a.k.a. "Ripping Penis" / "Pig Slaughter"), of CURRENT 93, NURSE WITH WOUND and SEHNSUCHT, plus Czral (Carl-Michael Eide), of VIRUS, DIMMU BORGIR, SATYRICON, VED BUENS ENDE, AURA NOIR and DØDHEIMSGARD repute, to release an album that he and Czral had begun working on in 1996. The resulting album, 'Det Skjedde Noe Når Du Var I Belgia' (English translation: "Something Happened While You Were In Belgium"), credited simply to MANIAC/LILES/CZRAL, was made available on the U.K.'s Dirter label. 

Garry Sharpe-Young

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