Mayhem – De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas

One of the most well known classics of the Norwegian 2nd wave of Black Metal in the late 80’s and early nineties, and rightfully so, De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas (translated to "The Secret Rights of Lord Satan", kvlt enough for ya?) is one the greatest black metal albums of all time and should be in every self respecting black metal fans collection.  Heck, it should even be in every non-self respecting black metal fans collection (just figured I’d add that since many in the scene have a rather intense hatred of the “disgusting human shell of rotting meat” that they’ve been trapped in here on earth).  Considering how influential this album is, as touted by many in the modern black metal scene, it’s actually surprising that it sounds so distinct.  The only band I can think of that has attempted to imitate the unique style of this album is Frost (Mick Kenney and Co from the Necrodeath camp’s now defunct “old school” black metal band).  Even Mayhem themselves sound nothing like this on any of their other albums, before or after.

The first thing that separates this album from the majority of the black metal scene (and we’re talking real black metal, not the goth stadium rock Dimmu Borgir and Cradle of Filth are peddling these days) is that it has a clear and powerful production with a prominent, almost crusty sounding bass guitar (bass guitar on a black metal cd?), almost non-stop blasting, untriggered drums (not unusual) with every hit coming through crystal clear in the mix (more unusual), and trebly tremolo guitar playing that’s filled with the trademark black metal coldness (again not unusual), but not as a result of the tininess of a 4 track basement recording, but because it’s actually tuned that way (again more unusual).  Everything is bathed in just the right amount of reverberation, which apparently was achieved without studio tricks but because the album was recorded in the famous (to fans of Norwegian black metal anyway) Grieg Hall (or Grieghallen in Norwegian), which lends the recording a really huge sound usually reserved for something like a symphony, but here it works wonders for the atmosphere.  This thing literally sounds like its being played in a huge crypt or cavern.

Secondly, Attlia’s vocals on this album sounded completely different from all of the other bands in the scene at the time.  Instead of the usual raspy shrieking or snarling vocals usually associated with the genre, Attila’s delivery sounds more like a demomic preist chanting at a satanic ritual, complete with the occasional moaning-meets-operatic singing to complete the picture. This seems to be the aspect of the album that polarizes most black metallers.  Many felt Dead was the superior vocalist, and while I agree his vocals delivered in terms of sheer ugly nastiness, Attila for me gets the win for originality, and for this album I think the vocals fit in perfectly.

Euronymous’ guitar work on this album perfectly walks the line between thrashing old school death metal ferocity, and the sorrowful, dark tremolo style of most “true” black metal acts.  Varg Vikernes’(Burzum) bass playing (there are varying reports as to whether or not his tracks were re-recorded before the release of the album due to the rest of the band being a little pissed off about him stabbing Euronymous 20+ times) delivers some of the most morbid sounds I’ve ever heard come from the instrument.  Combined with Dead’s incredibly dark poetry (and we’re not talking that faggothic pseudo Shakespearean shit Dani Filth screeches on his albums, Dead blew his brains out with a shotgun after writing the lyrics for this album) and the non-stop battery of Hellhammer most uninitiated will probably be worrying that they’re literally summoning the dark spirits of hell into their living rooms.  Combined with the very real crimes surrounding the release of this album (church burnings, murder, suicide, reported cannibalism and desecration of the dead, etc) you have an audio experience that carries with it all sorts of bad karma and truly embodies the cold hearted spirit of pure evil more than practically anything else out there.

De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas is a black masterpiece.  If you don’t own this album and call yourself a fan of black metal you’re honestly fooling yourself and should probably just stick with “safe” mainstream heavy metal that only pretends to be evil.