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Mayhem, "De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas"

How do you review a classic? Do you write as though no one's ever heard it before, when in fact, they probably have? Do you write to the unfortunate few who haven't heard it, since everyone who has doesn't give a damn what you think anyway? Or should you write about the impact it's had since it's release? This is so much more difficult than it seems, but I'll try to do all three. And if I have any of these facts wrong, please E-mail me with any corrections.

Norwegian black metal was in turmoil. Church arsons, prison sentences, suicides and murder were taking their toll and mainstream attention was being drawn to a small group of young, angry men holding anti-Christain grudges and backing them up with action. What was happening in Norway with early 90's black metal was just as significant as what happened in the States with the 60's counterculture and in the UK with 70's punk. And while it may be dangerous to give this movement the blind admiration that so many do, it does deserve respect for being an honest and painful expression of religious and political ideas, as fucked up, bigoted and ignorant as some of them may have been.

Out of all that chaos came De Mysteriis dom Sathanas. Mayhem released De Mysteriis a while after the departure of vocalist Dead [who later departed this world via a self-inflicted shotgun wound to the head] and shortly after the murder of guitarist / figurehead Euronymous by temporary bassist Count Grishnacht [aka: Varg Vikernes of Burzum; now rotting in jail being a scary-nazi-keyboard guy]. It was an immediate benchmark and has become a standard-bearer for second-generation black metal. It sits easily alongside Paranoid, Reign in Blood, Master of Puppets and Blessed are the Sick as a landmark of dark music.

New vocalist Atilla was both horrible and horrifying to listen to, half-growling, half-singing and at one point singing the most off key, fake-opera vocals I've ever heard, he makes you cringe every time he opens his mouth. He was the vocal equivalent of the necro-sound : unpolished, primal and raw.

Euronymous proved himself a master of atmosphere, creating with six strings a mood and heartless emotion that the third-wavers are still trying to recapture with racks of keyboards and female singers. Much of that atmosphere comes from the interaction between his guitar and the bass [which he also played?], as you can hear in the middle of Life Eternal.

Hellhammer at this point was just a skin pounder. He bashed his kit with little originality or skill, only anger. He plays so repetitively and blast-beat oriented that the drums almost become ambiance, a technique that has since been employed on hundreds of records. To hear his playing here and compare it with Grand Declaration of War is a testament to his dedication and growth as a musician.

Together, for one album, they forged a sound that is revered and copied by many, and matched by none. Even today, De Mysteriis feels as dangerous as the times it was written in. It is one of the rare albums that is not meant to be a pleasant experience. Hooks are rare, melodies are all but unsingable, songs feel emotionless and dead. And that, of course, was exactly the point.

Standout Tracks

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