Mayhem

support Merrimack + Satanic Assault Division
author AP date 31/05/14 venue Pumpehuset, Copenhagen, DEN

It's a festive year for Norway's and the world's most infamous black metal band, Mayhem. Not only are they celebrating their 30th Anniversary as a band, this year also marks the 20th Anniversary of their 1994 début album "De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas", and the release of the much anticipated follow-up to 2007's "Ordo ad Chao": "Esoteric Warfare", out this Friday. That's three good reasons to embark on a tour, and Copenhagen venue Pumpehuset did the right thing in securing one of the shows for its 600-capacity upstairs room.

All photos by Peter Troest / troest.nu

Satanic Assault Division

The clock nears 22:00 when the Danish black metal outfit Satanic Assault Division take to the stage - an unusually late start by this venue's standards. Their entrance is a bit too casual for a band masked with corpse paint, though the cool monochrome lighting is a big plus. Musically, SAD aren't particularly spectacular: the quartet's weapon of choice is standard fare Norwegian black metal that is neither extreme nor theatrical enough to push the band to the next level. Mind you, the menacing third song steps it up a good notch, with overt Gorgoroth influences audible in its blend of thrashy onslaught and slower atmospheric bits, and it is here that vocalist Thomas Haxen cements his place as the leading figure in a band whose remaining members - guitarist Martin 'Tyfus' Hamann, bassist Simon 'Helgarm' Springborg & drummer Danni 'Lord Vold' Jelsgaard - do little to put on a scintillating show; gesticulating wildly and acting much like the infamous Hoest - though nowhere near as demonic or convincing as that man.

It's not that SAD's music lacks variety, however, as the blackened thrash of the evening's fifth song swiftly proves. It's that the band is hard to take seriously, with the constant "Come on, Copenhagen!" mongering and absurd growls of "We are so happy to be here, warming up for Merrimack & Mayhem!" best left to poppier artists doing serious damage to their integrity, all but forfeiting the enigma that, in my opinion, makes black metal bands such an intriguing proposition. Try as I might to focus on the captivating rhythmic syncopation in the bombastic seventh track, the issues at hand - the overly enthusiastic behaviour of Haxen in between the songs, and the fact that despite enlisting virtually all of the black metal essentials in crafting their songs, SAD never manage to establish an identity of their own and solidify in my memory as a band to watch out for. I suppose the fact that a solid cover of a Murder Junkies song as the conclusion emerges as the band's best song of the concert speaks for itself.

6

Merrimack

Merrimack is a different story altogether. I've read other reviews commenting on their blandness and unwillingness to stage a performance worth watching - and those lead me to wonder whether said journalists might have mixed up the two support bands? For me, at least, Merrimack are the epitome of what I want black metal to sound like: eerie, off the hinges, and full of maleficient melodies. Though the music is of a more melodic character, vocalist Vestal's deep growl reminds me of the panzer black metal of Marduk, as does the deafening volume and pronounced rumble of the band's low end. In the space of just two songs - "When the Stars Align" & "Seraphic Conspiracy" - I am sold to the frenzied, mental approach to the genre that this quintet (note: in a number of the songs in the latter half of the set a guitar tech joins in to provide the power of an additional axe) profess.

Naturally, Merrimack also look the part, with each member (save for said session guitarist) wearing corpse paint and shredded, blood splattered garb; and offer no interaction in between their songs, preferring instead to thunder through their setlist with intensity whilst preserving the image of being mere vessels for their hellish music. In this sense they remind me also of Taake - especially in "Arousing Wombs in Nine Angles Pleroma" - with the excellent combination of rich melody and unsettling darkness, and Vestal's imposing presence on stage, all wild arm gestures and ghastly movements. So although many of my peers will, and have already disagreed, Merrimack play the theatrical variant of black metal as it should be played (albeit lacking their own identity), and my eyes are peeled throughout.

Mayhem

Some feel Mayhem is a band held aloft more by infamy than musical achievements, but the Norwegians' influence on black metal cannot be denied. Pumpehuset may not be rammed, or anywhere close, but there seems to be a unanimous, lingering sense of anticipation in the air among the 200 or so of us gathered here to behold the notoriety with our own eyes. This is Mayhem's first Danish concert since their 2011 showing at Copenhell - a concert which at times verged on tragicomical, and understandably, chatter around the place suggests people are unsure of what to expect: the stuff of legend from one of the progenitors of Norwegian black metal, or a farcical attempt at riding on the evil surrounding this band (suicide, murder, church burning, drugs & prison) and cashing in.

Of course the aforementioned Copenhell performance took place in broad daylight, which by itself is antithetical to a successful black metal show, and so the ambient light free confines of Pumpehuset already offer a much better setting for this ritual. And when the band - comprising Hungarian vocalist Attila Csihar, guitarist Teloch, bassist Necrobutcher & revered drummer Hellhammer, as well as session guitarist Charles Hedger - finally enters around midnight (a suiting time to start a concert of this nature, I feel) to the Scandinavian tribal percussion of "Silvester Anfang", it's also clear they're going to be using as little light as possible to illuminate their performance.

This usage of only a few pale yellow lights coupled with Hellhammer's total obscuration by his colossal drum rig and Hedger's loss of identity by virtue of the faceless Reaper garb he's wearing, gives Mayhem's performance an eerie, at times terrifying vibe made even more disquieting by Csihar's ungodly rasp. Csihar is once again wearing the Dracula robes that raised so many eyebrows at Copenhell, his face painted white, with blood and runes adorning it; his microphone is an upside down cross, and he delivers much of his vocals through what looks to be an actual human skull. But here in this darkness, these theatrics seem much less amusing, and that much more unholy than they did in the baking sun of Refshaleøen three years ago - and certainly the opening duo of "Pagan Fears" (the fourth track off 1994's "De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas") and the title track to the band's 1987 EP "Deathcrush" erases any remaining doubts about the integrity of this band.

Mayhem spew pure, unadulterated evil through a setlist stretching the entirety of their 30 year career, including a live airing of new song "Psywar" off the forthcoming "Esoteric Warfare" LP, and though there are passages when one feels Mayhem may be lacking some tightness, this stripped down spectacle is still a lesson in how to play black metal of the blackest, most controversial kind. The show is extreme intense and, despite the scant audience, suffocating; the rawness and speed of many of the band's songs placing us under some dark spell, and the conclusion consisting of "Chainsaw Gutsfuck", "Freezing Moon", "Carnage" and "Pure Fucking Armageddon" verges on the otherworldly. Mayhem are in frightening form tonight, and though others have established themselves as more prominent representatives of the genre these days, there can be no denying the vitality of this band from a historical perspective. And to hear and see them explore their own history with such flair is, to me, a privilege.

Setlist:

  • Pagan Fears
  • Deathcrush
  • Buried by Time and Dust
  • To Daimonion
  • Symbols of Bloodswords
  • My Death
  • A Time to Die
  • Psywar
  • Illuminate Eliminate
  • Whore
  • De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas
  • Chainsaw Gutsfuck
  • Freezing Moon
  • Carnage
  • Pure Fucking Armageddon

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