De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas is the first full-length studio album by Norwegian black metal band Mayhem. Songwriting began as early as 1987, but due to the suicide of vocalist Per “Dead” Ohlin and murder of guitarist Øystein “Euronymous” Aarseth, the album’s release was delayed until May 1994. De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas is widely considered one of the most influential black metal albums of all time. Recorded 1992–93 at Grieg Hall in Bergen, Norway. Released on Deathlike Silence Productions.
I was at university in St Andrews, I had just finished my third year I think, when I first became aware of the Norwegian black metal scene. I was a keen reader of Kerrang! magazine, back in the day that it covered more heavy and extreme metal bands than it does now, and was quite shocked by a cover article entitled “Arson… Death… Satanic Ritual—the ugly truth about black metal”. It told the story of Varg Vikernes (aka Count Grishnacht) a member of black metal bands Burzum and Mayhem, who had been arrested and charged with the arson and attempted arson of a number of historic Christian churches in Norway.
As a Christian and as an extreme music fan I was shocked. Typically, as the news spread wider than the metal community, I frequently found myself having to defend my musical genre of choice to more evangelical and charismatic Christian friends of mine who, as this often goes, saw this as proof that all heavy metal and all extreme music was satanic and evil. It’s not, but I don’t think I managed to convince anyone. By the time Varg Vikernes had murdered Mayhem guitarist Øystein Aarseth (aka Euronymous) in August 1993 I had graduated.
Sure, Varg Vikernes, the bassist, may have burned down a number of churches and murdered the guitarist Øystein Aarseth but Euronymous himself wasn’t exactly sweetness and light himself. When Mayhem’s original vocalist and lyricist Per Yngve Ohlin (aka Dead) committed suicide his body was discovered by Aarseth who firsts took photographs of the body before calling the police. One of those photos was later used as the cover of Mayhem’s bootleg album Dawn of the Black Hearts.
Having followed the news, as reported in Kerrang! and Metal Hammer, in the early 90s remarkably this is the first time I’ve listened to Mayhem; I’ve still never listened to any Burzum.
This album, Mayhem’s debut, was released after Euronymous’s death; released the same month that Count Grishnacht was sentenced to 21 years imprisonment for his murder. Despite assurances given to Aarseth’s family that the original bass parts laid down by Vikernes would be recorded again they never were. This album features both convicted murderer and victim. Given the nature of the music it really couldn’t be any other way.
Without a doubt this is a bleak album. Even without the unhappy history surrounding it, this is not a hopeful album.
The lyrics are dark and nihilistic.
It’s perhaps no coincidence that there is a lifelessness that exists throughout this album, if that is not too much of a contradiction.
That said there are some really cool riffs on this album, not least “Life eternal” which is possibly my favourite song on the album. It manages to etch out a melody amidst the white noise and gloom. Once you accept the general landscape of emptiness you can listen for moments of unexpected beauty and harmony. Something it would appear the band had little of.
I feel torn listening to this album, knowing something of the sad history surrounding the band. This music obviously emerges from the depths of some very unhappy places. But isn’t that true of a lot of great art, the inspiration for a lot of great and influential music? I guess the question then is: is this great music? Is this influential music?
There is no denying that Euronymous was the founder and leader of the early black metal movement in Norway in the early 90s, and that Mayhem was his creation. Black metal to him had to be Satanic (and by that theistic Satanism rather than the individualism of Anton LaVey), although there is some debate over just how much he lived what he preached.
Whatever the truth he certainly created something that holds a special place in the history of extreme music. This album is to black metal what Slayer’s Reign in Blood is to thrash metal. It doesn’t get much bleaker than this.
It’s just a shame that neither Dead nor Euronymous were around to hear the finished opus.
Review score: 85%
As I write this review I am struggling to see; I have my monitors zoomed to 300%. I write this review on the evening of Sunday 10 August, having emerged from hospital on Tuesday afternoon where I was eventually diagnosed with viral meningitis.
For about five uncomfortable days it was suspected that may have had, like my father before me, a sub-arachnoid (brain) haemorrhage. Thankfully, following a lumbar puncture and a couple of brain scans, it was determined that I hadn’t. For the first time in my life I spent a few days praying that I had meningitis! Certainly not something that I had expected ever to wish for.
I am now, thankfully, recovering. I have been free from headaches for two days now, and my eyesight (double vision, flashing, blind spots) is slowly returning day by day.
Perhaps this is an appropriate album to review in such a condition. Perhaps my diminished vision has enabled me to listen to it more attentively.
Anyway… it’s good to be back. Or at least it will be once I can focus…