De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas Alive
Reviewed By Andrew McKaysmith
What is there possibly left to say about one of black metal’s most storied and notorious musical landmarks? Among the plethora of reviews and opinion pieces found both online and via the still traded fanzines from the period the album was conceived, can new insight be offered?
For those yet to sample the studio recording of De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, despite its 1994 release date, the album contains the genesis of what would become Mk 2 black metal (assuming one accepts that Bathory and Venom are Mk 1...). The tracks were essentially written by a rowdy crew of delinquents from 1987 to 1992, most of which were separately involved in Norwegian church burnings, suicide, murder (the band's members feature both a protagonist and a victim), and imprisonment. In spite of, or maybe even because of this, the musical characteristics of what would essentially become universally known as 'black metal' start here.
On this release, De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas Alive, Mayhem offer a recording of the Norrköping, Sweden show performed in mid-December 2015. Apparently this is the first time the album would be performed from start to finish.
The first thing that one will notice is that the sonic depth of the recording far eclipses the studio release. I actually reviewed the album by listening to the version on this release and compared the songs against the original recording, and the superb drumming was certainly no accident or one off.
Jan Axel "Hellhammer" Blomberg is one of the first drummers to truly perfect the art of the blast beat. How he moves from semiquaver and demisemiquaver at well over 180 bpm to the Buddy Rich affected swing that is such a unique characteristic of his playing is a marvel. On 'Alive it is his feel and timing that allows some of the more straightforward and frankly more listenable moments to shine. An example is the opening stanza to "Pagan Fears". Without taking anything away from the iconic and legendary status the original recording warrants, the single only change that I would have suggested to the album’s architects is to incorporate more of the swing that Hellhammer offers. Given the album/s contain only the eight tracks- by means of the addition of (say) a couple of numbers in the vein of the down-tempo parts of "Freezing Moon", "Life Eternal" and the previously mentioned "Pagan Fears" the album would almost certainly be, with all due respect, a perfect colossus from black metal’s foremost vanguard.
Attila Csihar's vocals sound remarkably similar over 20 years later. The unmistakable croaked groan still sounds as if a corpse has been rudely awakened from an arctic slumber. The reality is that Csihar is the consummate front-man who has sought professional advice on how to maintain his vocals, and the benefit is certainly obvious as he makes relatively easy work of such a gruelling set list.
Guitarists Morten Iversen (AKA Teloch) and Charles Hedger (AKA Ghul) perform admirably, playing Euronymous's tricky guitar parts virtually note for note. Both bring a wealth of experience and are effectively Black Metals foremost session guitarists with a golden (blackened...?!) résumé that includes Gorgoroth, 1349, Cradle of Filth, and the under-appreciated Myrkur between them.
As someone who has been following black metal with interest since the early ‘90s, I can say without causing controversy that when it's all said and done, Mayhem in this day and age is a damn fine rock'n'roll band.
As many fans approach middle age, have children, and work in jobs/ have careers that are little more than a means to pay the rent or mortgage, the manner in which their hard earned is spent comes under increasing scrutiny. What I can say for certain is that on the strength of 'Alive, a night spent at a venue watching Mahyem blitz the stage is a sound investment. The fact that they have such a profound release and the catalogue to back it up is a bonus.
More from Mayhem
- Esoteric Warfare [review]